August 23, 2014

DC-IBWA announces 2012 Pre-Season Survey Results

Members of the Washington, DC chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association were asked to reply to a survey of 11 questions regarding the Washington Nationals upcoming season. Twenty-one members of the association replied to the survey, which asked for predictions on several position battles, statistical leaders, and win projections for the 2012 Nats.

You can find a link to the survey responses here.

As a founding member of the DC-IBWA, we of course responded. Below were our choices, and we welcome your comments or opinions.

1. Who will lead the Nats in home runs?  Dave: Zimmerman; Cheryl: Zimmerman; Tyler: Morse.

If Ryan Zimmerman can stay healthy all season, he could be in line for a career year at age 27, just entering his prime. 

2. Who will lead the Nats in RBIs?  Dave: Morse; Cheryl: Zimmerman; Tyler: Zimmerman.

As I’ll explain further below, the Nats top of the order lacks in on-base skills, so I went with Morse for the RBI category, who at least will have Zimmerman getting on base ahead of him. Though if Morse missed more than a couple of weeks, this prediction will be off.

3. Who will led the Nats in stolen bases?  Dave: Desmond; Cheryl: Espinosa; Tyler: Desmond.
 
Desmond, Espinosa and Bernadina all are fairly efficient stealing bases, but Desmond takes the opportunity much more often than Espinosa. Bernadina just won’t have the playing time to keep up with the other two.
 
4. Who will lead the Nats in wins? Dave: Gonzalez; Cheryl: Zimmermann; Tyler: Zimmermann.
 
Gonzalez has been a work horse the last two years, starting 33 and 32 games and going over 200 innings both times. Starts and innings pitched are keys for pitcher’s wins. The deeper you pitch into games the more likely you are to be the winning pitcher. Gonzalez might not end up the best or most efficient pitcher the Nats have, but he likely will be the work horse of this staff as well.

5. Which pitcher (Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan or Ross Detwiler) will make more starts for the Nats? Dave: Detwiler; Cheryl: Detwiler; Tyler: Detwiler.
 
Most of the survey answers came in before John Lannan was demoted on Tuesday, but the Nats really want to see what they have in Detwiler. This is his best, and perhaps last, opportunity to finally prove he belongs in the Major League rotation. Detwiler, 26, is not all that young anymore.
 
6. Which center field candidate (Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina or Bryce Harper) will get more at bats for the Nats? Dave: Bernadina; Cheryl: Bernadina; Tyler: Ankiel.
 
It could still be Harper, but my guess is that he ends up playing in the minors to long to have more games at center than Bernie and will eventually be at a corner once he gets up to the bigs anyway.
 
7. What date will Bryce Harper make his MLB debut? Dave: June 19; Cheryl: June 1; Tyler: June 15
 
My response was June 19, but I could envision a bunch of scenarios. Really, it’s going to depend on Harper. If he makes a swift and resounding transition to the more experienced pitchers of Triple-A, we could see him a few weeks earlier, and you know he’d love to be in uniform for the Yankees series June 15-17. I can also picture him playing in the minors all season and coming up when rosters expand. Regardless, it will be fascinating to watch when he does arrive.
 
8. Which minor leaguer are you most excited to watch this season? Dave: Matt Purke; Cheryl: Ryan Tatusko and Eury Perez; Tyler: Destin Hood.
 
To me, Matt Purke is the most interesting minor leaguer the Nats have, other than Harper. Purke was the best pitcher in college his freshman year at TCU and he exhibited top of the first round stuff. If he’s fully healthy after injuries limited him his sophomore year, he could be a real difference-maker for the Nats and wind up being a steal out of the third round of last year’s draft.
 
9. How many all-stars will the Nats have and whom? Dave: One, Zimmerman; Cheryl: Three, Zimmerman, Espinosa, Strasburg; Tyler: Two, Strasburg and Zimmerman.
 
Even though the Nats are seemingly the darling of the national media right now, the trendy pick for a playoff spot, it’s tough for me to envision them getting more than one All-Star representative. They won’t have anyone voted on to the team by the fans, that’s for certain. Zimmerman is the only position player with enough name recognition, and I just don’t think Strasburg will get out of the box quickly enough to merit his inclusion. But if they get off to a hot start, who knows?
 
10. Number of wins and place in division? Dave: 83 wins, third place; Cheryl: 87 wins, second place; Tyler: 87 wins, second place.
 
As I mentioned in my projections post yesterday, I think the Nats are closer to playoff-quality baseball than they ever have been, but aren’t quite there yet. I just don’t think there’s enough offense to push them over the top. We’re going to see a lot of 3-2 games — winning and losing — this season. But I expect the pitching will keep them in the conversation all season long.
 
11. Most important development for 2011? Dave: Top of the order offense; Cheryl: Outfield situation; Tyler: Top of the order offense.
 
If the Nats are going to make strides in their offensive game, it’s got to start at the top of the order. The Nats were 13th in the N.L. is total base runners last season and to score more runs they simply have to get more runners on base. In 2011, Nationals 1-2 hitters OBP’d .285 and .283 for the season. That’s not batting average, that’s on-base percentage, and it’s atrocious. In order to score more runs the top of the order has to do a better job of reaching base.

Our official predictions and projections for the 2012 Washington Nationals

Everyone’s got ‘em.

What self-respecting blogger or independent journalist isn’t going to do a predictions post? We certainly aren’t going to let the opportunity to make fools of ourselves pass without jumping right in. So, with no further ado, here are District Sports Page’s official predictions and projections for the 2012 season.  Feel free to rip us in the comments, but please refrain from vulgarity.

General projections and 2012 Record:

It’s a lot easier to go from sub-70 wins to 80 than it is to go from 80 to 90-plus. It helps if you field average Major League players at every position, something the Washington Nationals had trouble with the first few years after moving from Montreal. The Nats have made remarkable progress though in this regard, going from 59 to 69 to 80 wins in the last three seasons. Many pundits and national publications expect the Nats to make another leap this season, making them a darling wild-card pick. I don’t think they’re quite ready for that yet, but they are getting closer. And if most thing breaks right for them (and they get/stay healthy), it’s not entirely out of the question.

If the Nats are going to make gains in the win column this season, especially enough to contend, it will have to come from the offensive side of the ball. They scored 624 runs last season and allowed 643, so the Nats’ real-life results of 80 wins outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by a couple of games. The Nats were 11th in the league in runs per game and 13th in the league in total baserunners, while finishing seventh in runs allowed. So the pitching, while not elite, was still pretty good.

(***For comparison, the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals were first in the league in runs scored, with 762 and ninth in runs allowed, with 692, and finished the regular season with a 90-72 record and the N.L. Wild Card.)

The Nats big off-season moves were all to the pitching staff, though. I don’t think the pitching gains will be quite as dramatic as some do, so the incremental gains this year’s staff will make over last year’s will need to be coupled by a dramatic increase in scoring if the Nationals are to pick up another 8-10 wins and truly contend for a playoff spot. The Nats did not make any significant additions to the offense over the winter, so any increase will have to come from within.

With the rash of injuries the Nats have already sustained, making solid projections for playing time is very difficult, especially for the players we know will miss the beginning of the season. Michael Morse (lat), Rick Ankiel (quad), Drew Storen (biceps/triceps) and Chien-Ming Wang (ankle/hamstring) all begin 2012 on the D.L.

The player the Nats can least afford to lose for an extended period of time in Morse, the team’s clean-up hitter. Most people will not be surprised to learn that I’m not particularly bullish on Morse repeating his stellar numbers from last season even if he was perfectly healthy. The power is real, but his OBP has been fueled by his hit rate and as that normalizes, his OBP and average will as well. I don’t expect a collapse, but something along the lines of .280/.325/.475. Of course, if the lat issue lingers deeper into the season than the reported expectation, all bets are off.

If Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche can stay healthy for a full season and put up numbers that resemble their career averages, that will be a boost. We can be more confident projecting Zimmerman, as his injuries of the last few seasons have been of an acute nature, and not chronic. Plus, at age 27, he’s just entering the prime of his career. 

With LaRoche, we didn’t really get a chance to see during the spring if his shoulder is 100 percent, as he missed quite a bit of time nursing a foot injury. I’m skeptical his power will return fully with the surgically repaired shoulder, and I expect him to be better in the second half of the season as he gets stronger.

As for the rest, a return to career norms from Jayson Werth would be nice. He seems to think last season was a blip and we’ll see what he’s capable of this season. Last season, his contact rate, isolated power, and success against lefties all crashed, while his ground ball percentage spiked. That’s a recipe for disaster, and we saw that in his stats. Is this a case of skills eroding or “just a bad year”? We’ll all find out together. I’ve got him for a modest bounce back, along the lines of .265/.340/.415.

But the Nats won’t score more runs unless they get more baserunners, and that — for better or worse — will be the jobs of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa. Neither Desmond nor Espinosa are classic top-of-the-order hitters. Desmond career walk rate of 5.5 percent is atrocious for a lead-off hitter and his contact rate fell in his second full big league season as pitchers took full advantage of his free-swinging ways. Espinosa is more of a slugger in the mold of a No. 6 or 7 hitter, a risk/reward guy who will homer or strike out. His walk rate is N.L. average, so if his contact rate rebounds he could still become a very valuable hitter.

Even if Bryce Harper debuts earlier this season than later, the best we can hope for out of a 19-year old isn’t going to make enough of a difference to sway projections all that much. But he will be exciting once he gets here.

As for the pitching, 160 innings of Stephen Strasburg will be very enjoyable, but he’ll have some rocky times, just as Jordan Zimmermann did last season. Tommy John recovery is a 12-18 month-long process, so the first half of the season Strasburg will (hopefully) be regaining his pinpoint command and control. Just like Zimmermann last year, as soon as Strasburg feels like he’s fully “back”, the Nats will shut him down around Sept. 1.

Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson both walk too many hitters, and their adjustments in that regard will be the difference between being splashy off-season moves and real difference-makers in the rotation. It’s critical for Gonzalez, whom the Nats traded four of their top 15 prospects for in the off-season, then gave him a multi-year contract extension.

The bullpen should be a strength, even accounting for Drew Storen missing time. If Storen’s injury turns out to be more severe than is being advertised, the Nats are actually fairly well prepared to mitigate the damage it would do to their plans in the pen. There’s no shortage of candidates to take the ball in the ninth inning.

Where does that leave us, numbers-wise, at the end of the season? I’m of the opinion this team will be closer to true playoff contention than any time in their history since the move, but I don’t think they’re there just yet. I can’t confidently project enough offense to get the runs scored high enough to elevate the Nats much higher than .500.

I’ve got them at 83 wins. Morse missing more than two weeks would be bad.

Biggest pleasant surprise? Jesus Flores. I think the strength has fully returned to his surgically repaired shoulder and Zeus will put up enough offense for the Nats to play him twice a week and keep Wilson Ramos fresh all season long, perhaps earning enough recognition to be an enticing piece on the trade market later in the season for a full-time job of his own. The Nats catching tandem is the least of their worries this season.

Biggest disappointment? I got ripped here last year for saying Michael Morse, but he performed about as I predicted, albeit in much more playing time than I projected, which accounted for better counting numbers. Please remember, this is relative to expectations.

This year I’ll go with Stephen Strasburg. I know, BLASPHEMY!!! But hear me out. Most casual fans are going to expect the 14-strikeout, no walk dominance of his debut, and I just think that pitcher doesn’t exist right now. He’s throwing hard and getting his Ks during spring training, but he also missed his spots a lot and the frustration showed, at least in the two games I saw him pitch in person. He’ll need most of his alloted 160 innings this season to regain his command and control, and I expect it to be bumpy sometimes. I’m not projecting bust — far from it – but he’ll be much better next season than this one. Once the restrictions are lifted, look out.

Best off-season move?  I wasn’t a fan of it at the beginning, but I’ve come around. Brad Lidge looks healthy, is being feisty taunting the Philly media, and could be a critical component of the bullpen if Storen misses significant time. Plus, he came cheap so if the injury bug rears its ugly head again, nothing lost, really.

Worst off-season move? It’s hard to argue with anything GM Mike Rizzo did this off-season, so we’ll take him to task for something he didn’t do: Acquire a lead-off hitter. This team is poor generating base-runners, especially at the top of the order, and Rizzo was unable to address that during the off-season. There’s no real lead-off candidate in the organization, though I think Anthony Rendon will be a perfect fit in the two-hole eventually. Can Rizzo pull something off at the deadline? Will he wait until the off-season to bite on Michael Bourn? Unless Ian Desmond does something dramatic this season, the Nats will continue to be OBP challenged at the top.

When will we see Bryce Harper debut? Tuesday, June 19 against the Tampa Bay Rays. The urge will be there two weeks earlier for a three-game set against the Mets, then have him for the interleague road trip before facing the Yankees at Nats Park. And you know Harper would love to be on the roster for that. But I’ll say he’s activated for the mid-week series against the Rays, then goes out on the long 10-game road trip to end the month of June.

What’s the most important development for 2012? Watching the draft class of 2011. Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin and Matt Purke all have the talent to be game-changers for this franchise. Their development, especially Rendon and Goodwin, will be critical for this franchise in the coming years because they — and not Michael Morse, Adam LaRoche or maybe even Jayson Werth – should be Bryce Harper’s teammates when this team should be competing for the playoffs and perhaps even World Series glory.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear your feeback in the comments. Either way, it’s great to have the game back with a young team still on the rise.

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