Spring training games are finally underway, and it really feels like baseball is just about here. As many of us excitedly watch how the Yankees and their players look headed into a fresh season, 29 other teams and fanbases do the same. Today, I’ll begin our leaguewide season preview by previewing one of the sport’s less inspiring clubs these days, the Washington Nationals. It doesn’t feel like that long ago that Daniel Hudson was launching his glove in celebration as the Nats defeated the Astros in the World Series. But, fortunes have changed rather quickly.
2022 record: 55-107 (5th, NL East)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 66-96 (5th, NL East)
2022 was about as bad as it gets for the Nationals, as they finished with the worst record in the majors by a five-game margin. They were a bottom-10 offense in baseball, featuring just four players with 200 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 100 or better (and two of them were the eventually-traded Juan Soto and Josh Bell). They only featured three total hitters who had enough time to be qualified.
The pitching was much of the same story, if not worse. Washington had fairly easily the worst pitching corps in the sport. As a team, they accumulated just 1.0 fWAR, and had ERA and FIP marks of 5.00 and 4.98, respectively. Sadly, things aren’t looking up for them on any front either.
The projected lineup is about as uninspiring as you’d probably expect, but there are at least a few interesting names. In the corner outfield spots, they have Corey Dickerson (former All-Star starter, believe it or not) and Lane Thomas, who at best average-ish bats at the plate.
The infield is a bit more interesting, albeit still not quite anything to write home about. Behind the plate, they have Keibert Ruiz, who hasn’t fully caught on in the bigs yet, but is just 24 and was a legitimate catching prospect in the return from the Trea Turner deal. They also have Jeimer Candelario, who they signed after a brutal 2022 season with the Tigers. He did, however, have two very good seasons prior to that, and he is a fine bounce-back candidate. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he ended up being their best position player.
They also have Dominic Smith, who looked to be a part of the Mets’ future after a 166 wRC+ 2020 season, but was derailed by miserable 2021-22 seasons. CJ Abrams projects to be the starting shortstop. I have never been particularly high on him, and he had a rough rookie season last year. But as recently as last year, he was close to a top-10 prospect.
The biggest bright spot here is last year’s big surprise Joey Meneses. He came out of nowhere as a 30-year-old rookie last year, hitting 16 homers in 56 games, good for a 156 wRC+. He’ll deservedly be given a real shot in the middle of this order, and the projections aren’t totally convinced. Still, the power seems legit.
As far as the pitching goes, it would be hard for this group to go anywhere but up. The starting rotation projects as Josiah Gray, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, Cade Cavalli, and Mackenzie Gore. They’re all either middling or come with a catch. Corbin, who signed the six-year $140 million deal after the 2018 season, did help them win their World Series in ‘19, but has been one of the worst starters in baseball over the last two years. Gray has talent, but hasn’t been able to put it together in the bigs, not posting sub-5 ERA in two seasons. Gore was a Top-100 Prospect per MLB Pipeline for five years in a row from 2018-22 and was a key part of the Soto deal, but like much of this team, he remains unproven.
The bullpen is a real pieced-together group, filled with low-level free agent signings are waiver pickups. Roster resource has the Nats with just three guys under 30, and just one projected to have a sub-4 ERA.
Once again, Washington is projected to be at or near the bottom of the Major League standings, with FanGraphs penciling them in for a 66-96 record while Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA estimates 61-101. The former goes along with an unsurprising 0.1 percent chance to make the playoffs; the latter doesn’t even go that far. Sadly for Nats fans, these figures are pretty hard to disagree with.
The roster is filled mostly with unproven youngsters and reclamation projects. Given the nature of this squad, it’s certainly possible that they have a handful of solid big league seasons from some of their guys. However, it would be quite surprising for the 2023 Nationals to eclipse 70 wins.
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