Season in Review: Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals are the reigning champions of the MLB for the 2019 season. I was personally luckily to see the dominance of their pitching staff in the NLCS game when I saw them in Busch Stadium. One word could fill my head in the duration of both of those games, magic. The Nationals obviously had some magic going their way to get to this point and if we know anything about World Series Champs, it is that most of them herald the magic to win in those big moments. The Nationals, who at the middle of the season were an afterthought turned around and won it all, but how does that happen?
The Nationals finished the season with a record of 93-69, finishing in 2nd place in a stout NL East. They fell right behind the Atlanta Braves that ended up falling to the Cardinals in a drumming to the tune of over 10 runs in the first inning. I guess the Nationals had a flair for the dramatic. If you followed their postseason run, they won a Wild Card series game because of a missed ground ball in the outfield (where Christian Yelich would normally roam). The Brewers were the first of their victims. The next of their victims was the Dodgers, with that huge homer of Howie Kendrick. Following that was the Cardinals and last but not least, the Astros. If you want to check out the last few minutes of the final game for the Nationals. I feel that we should bring it up again. That moment is what all the fans, players, and people crave for their team.
Now the highest point of the season might have been the stellar job the team did bringing that magic to the World Series victory but, there are some players that played a large part in the win for the Nationals.
So a pitching staff that is led by Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer is sounds like a dream right? Not only were those two major parts of the victory but they also had Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom played a large part in the season turnaround. Their fifth starter of Erick Fedde was not impressive however, but he was not expected to be.
Max Scherzer continues to impress like a fine wine ages over time. The real question is when will he start to slow down? There may have been some worries when the report of him in the World Series came out that he couldn’t lift his arm over his head. However, he soon turn those worries into a thought of the past as he came out and shoved in the final game of the World Series. That alone should be enough to cement him as a solid pitcher. There was also the moment in the middle of the season that he broke his nose and still went out and pitched anyway. I think that seeing Scherzer on the mound is scary enough, but with a broken nose, he almost seemed angrier than normal. Even though, he battled through a few injuries on the season he finished with 172.1 innings and a 2.92 ERA. What is more impressive is his FIP on the year of 2.45. He defintely is a scary pitcher and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear his name in the Cy Young chatter for the next 3 years. What is more impressive is that he finished second on the Nationals with strikeouts on the season just behind Stephen Strasburg. Stephen pitched 37 more innings than him but, Scherzer still was only 8 strikeouts behind him. To think of Max Scherzer as the best pitcher in baseball would be a worthwhile thought. He deserves it, his fastball velocity, spin rate, strikeout rate, xwOBA, and xBA are still in elite territory. Of course anything could happen like an injury or he just retires, but I see Mad Max strutting around on the rubber for years to come. If you came here for filth check out this video of his stellar postseason.
The next of those stellar starters was Stephen Strasburg. Stephen just got resigned by the Nationals. It appears as if he wants to be a Nat for life, but we will see in the long run how that turns out. His contract was worth 245 million dollars over the next 7 years. The next time we could see Stephen on the open market would be in 2027, by then lots could change. I guarantee that most people will still remember the heroics that Stephen had in the World Series and how he was the MVP. His regular season wasn’t too shabby either, he posted a total of 209 innings, 251 strikeouts, and a 3.32 ERA. One big change that Stephen made was to eliminate the use of his slider this year. He went from an 8.6% usage in 2018 to .4% usage. Which would more than like be due to the fact that Stephen or Nationals pitching analytics guys saw something with his slider. It appeared to improve form the course of last season with a value of -3.6 in 2018 to a value of 6.7 in 2019. However, his changeup and curveball both were in elite form this past year. I believe that anyone who has watched him before would know that his curveball and changeup give some of the best hitters in the game nightmares and for good reason. His curveball spin rate is one of the highest in the game. His average fastball velocity has fallen over the course of the years. This doesn’t impact him nearly as much because he has stellar secondary pitches to utilize in absence of the extra 1-2 mph he could pump out. I know that most of you out there may not have thoroughly studied his changeup but just have a look.
The last of the trio that I would like to focus on is Patrick Corbin. I loved how Corbin came out of the bullpen in the postseason and continued to help his team by any means necessary. If there was one weakness to the Nationals, it would surely be there bullpen. Patrick Corbin has what most would call electric stuff. He posted a K/9 of 10.20 this past season which is considered to be top notch for a pitcher. He ended up striking out roughly 29% of the batters that he faced on the season. With his transition from the Diamondbacks to the Nationals, it appears that he changed the amount he used his changeup, which increased to 5.8% from the 1.1% that he has the prior season. What makes Corbin a great pitcher is the fact that he has his slider. Which is the ++ pitch for him. The values on his sliders are off the charts at 27.0 in 2018 and 21.3 in 2019. This helped him miss many barrels over the course of the season and made him a valuable piece in the bullpen for the World Series run. You can see that he was simply elite when it came to missing bats too, posting an elite number of 14.2 % striking strikes. It seems that this 30 year old lefty will continue to command the zone and be a force on the Nationals rotation. The real question is that when will he break away from the shadows of Scherzer and Strasburg? Corbin would be a number one starter on over 60% of the teams in the league. This three headed beast of a rotation should continue to impress for years to come and I am here to sit back in my couch, pop some popcorn, drink something cold, and watch as the next chapter is here for this starting staff.
Juan Soto is one player that does not get near the appreciate that he deserves. To have such talent at the age of 21, puts him in some elite categories. In his first 162 games in his career, he was comparable if not better than Bryce Harper. He has his name atop of the homers before 21 list with the likes of Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Bryce Harper. This is saying quite a bit for a kid who has only played in two different seasons with 266 games under his belt. He has already mashed 56 homers in that time frame as well. That production alone is rather elite. He is the type of player who could easily compete for over 400+ career homers. What is impressive is that fans got their first real good look at Juan in the playoffs. They saw a young, albeit cocky kid with the knack for the limelight (insert homer off Gerrit Cole here). I wouldn’t be surprised to see him continue his ascent into stardom. His career wOBA has been .393 which is rather elite too and on top of that his wRC+ is 143. Yeah…. 143 and he hasn’t hit his prime yet. In the near future we may be talking about Juan Soto as a perennial MVP candidate. Juan just finds a way to get on base and is very successful at that. His BB% was rather high at 16.4% last season and a k% of 20%. He also carries a nice ISO of .266 from 2019, up from his 2018 number of .225. One of the large reasons that his homers have increased was due to his flyball percentage increasing and the amount of groundballs decreasing. It shows that he able to gauge pitching more efficiently than he was in his rookie campaign. His hard hit percentage is also elite with a 41.3% rate. I am already in love with this kid, and it only gets better. He has a rare discpline at the plate, hence the higher walk rate. He only swings at pitches outside the strike zone at a rate of 23.4%. You couple that with his swinging strike rate of 9%, he is a killer at the plate, when he decides to swing he normally makes solid contact. If you want to see how he compares to other players in some key categories just check this out.
His exit velocity, hard hit %, outs above average, outfielder jump, xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG are all in elite territory. He is only 21 years old now, but this kid has a big future ahead of him disregarding any future obstacles. In 10 years, you’ll come back here and say “We were right about Juan.” I will set my reminder, until this enjoy this blast Juan hit in the World Series against Gerrit Cole.
The Nationals had some low points in the 2019 season. If you were thinking of World Series champions at the All-Star break, you would be crazy to have said the Nationals. However, they got hot, stayed hot, and pulverized their way to that championship. They had a couple of low points that they should attempt to fix before this next season, but hey if it isn’t broke don’t fix it?
The Nationals bullpen seemed to be a little shaky at times this year but they were able to fight through that. I believe that this upcoming season may see them fighting more of the same problems.
The Nationals have Carter Kieboom coming up in this next few years and he should make a big impact on the team as a whole. The rest of these guys should also play a big factor in the future of the Nationals program.
|9||Jeremy De La Rosa|
#1: The Nationals make a run for back-to-back World Series rings
#2: Juan Soto will finish top four for MVP
#3: Max Scherzer upsets Degrom for Cy Young