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Washington Nationals - 2007 Team Preview
Predicted Finish
63-99
5th Place
NL East

by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
March 8, 2007

2006 Record - 71-91, 5th Place NL East, 26.0 behind the Mets
2006 Runs Scored - 746
2006 Runs Allowed - 872
Pythagorean Projection - 70-92



Last year, the Washington Nationals featured an offense which finished in the bottom half of the National League in runs scored per game, and a pitching staff that finished dead last in the majors in runs allowed per game. This year, the Nationals enter the season having made no significant additions to their pitching staff, and they have lost Alfonso Soriano, their top offensive player from a year ago. Meanwhile, the Mets, Phillies, Braves, and Marlins all look as strong or stronger than they did a year ago. It should be a long season for the Washington Nationals.

Catcher
2006 Starter - Brian Schneider
Projected 2007 Starter - Brian Schneider

Brian Schneider is a blue-collar player who can handle a full load behind the plate, but is a liability at bat. Pencil him in for the eighth spot in the order all year.

First Base
2006 Starter - Nick Johnson
Projected 2007 Starter - Nick Johnson

Poor old Nick Johnson. Last year I said that Johnson reminds me of Todd Helton when he is healthy, and for the first time in his career, he got 500 at-bats and looked very good. His OBP of .428, OPS of .948, and 23 homeruns were very Helton-esque, post-Coors Field adjustment. Then Johnson goes and breaks his leg in a collision with his own teammate. Assuming he is ready for the start of the season, Johnson could hit 30 homeruns and put his OPS over 1.000 this season.

Second Base
2006 Starter - Jose Vidro
Projected 2007 Starter - Felipe Lopez

The Jose Vidro Era is finally over in Washington, which is ironic since it was Vidro that forced the Soriano move the left field in the first place. At 32, losing the oft-injured Vidro is probably not a bad thing.

Felipe Lopez takes over at second after playing shortstop for most of his career. Lopez is not a very good fielding shortstop, so this is probably a good move. Despite his shocking 81 walks last season, his OBP was only .358, which tells you something about his value as a hitter. Nevertheless, Lopez played 156 games last season for the Reds and Nationals combined, which makes him one of three returning Nationals to accomplish that feat. The Nats will take the consistency where ever they can get it.

Third Base
2006 Starter - Ryan Zimmerman
Projected 2007 Starter - Ryan Zimmerman

Not much needs to be said here. Zimmerman is face of the Nationals, and at 21 years old played like a veteran last season. If he can continue to mature, that should translate into 25-30 homeruns, under 100 strikeouts, an average around .300, and a slugging percentage over .500. Of course, Zimmerman could also suffer a sophomore slump; with Soriano gone, it will be hard for Zimmerman to top 100 RBI again. No fear, though - this guy is legit.

Shortstop
2006 Starter - Royce Clayton
Projected 2007 Starter - Cristian Guzman

This guy was walking down the street one day when a hoodlum approached him with a gun.

The hoodlum took out two bullets, and said to the guy, "I am going to shoot you in the foot. Would you prefer that I used Bullet A or Bullet B?"

The guy stood there staring at the hoodlum for a moment, and then responded

"Either way I'm getting shot in the foot, so use whichever bullet you want."

Outfield
2006 Starters - Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd, Jose Guillen, Ryan Church, Nook Logan, Austin Kearns
Projected 2007 Starter - Austin Kearns, Nook Logan, Kory Castro

This outfield is very interesting. Kearns seems to have limitless potential, but can't stay healthy. Nook Logan can flat out fly, but can't get the bat on the ball. Former third base prospect Kory Castro can hit for power and average, but has never played an inning in the majors.

Nationals Fun Fact - The Nationals were the only team in all of Major League Baseball to score the same number of runs at home and on the road in 2006.
Why they will succeed - Austin Kearns will be 27 this year, and just played over 112 games for the first time in his career (he played 150). His high strikeout total from the last couple of years probably has to do with his not being healthy long enough to get consistent, but he should figure it out this year. His OBP has always been 80-100 points higher than his average, so if he gets his average up to the .280-.300 mark, his OBP should be very high.

Nook Logan will also be 27 this season, and actually managed to hit the ball well in his 27 games with the Nationals. The Nationals do not have any talent to push Logan, so he will have all the time he needs to figure things out. Should be good for 60 steals and 150 strikeouts.

At 25, Castro has had all the seasoning he needs, and coming off back-to-back Nationals Minor League Player of the Year Awards, he is ready to be a regular on a team of this caliber.

Why they will fail - Kearns will not be healthy, Logan will not hit, and Castro will not be ready.

Starting Pitchers

2006 Starters - Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas, Livan Hernandez, Mike O'Connor, Pedro Astacio, John Patterson
Projected 2007 Starters - Patterson, Jerome Williams, Tim Redding, O'Connor, Shawn Hill

Last season, none of the Nationals starters posted an ERA above the league average. This year, three of them are no longer with the club.

John Patterson is this team's ace, which is somewhat scary, since he has pitched over 100 innings exactly once in five seasons. When healthy, he is a prototype strikeout pitcher with a 6'5" frame, and has pretty good control. Can he stay healthy?

Jerome Williams is still quite young, and if healthy could log 200 innings of 4.50 ERA. That would be pretty good given what the Nationals have had on the mound the last couple of years.

Tim Redding hasn't pitched since 2005, hasn't won a game since 2004, and hasn't been very good since 2003. So, his slot as the number three starter for the Nationals would have to be a classic "fresh start" opportunity.

Mike O'Connor looked solid in A+ ball in 2005. In 105.0 innings with the big club last year, he gave up 15 homeruns and posted 45 walks compared to 59 strikeouts. O'Connor may be more of a AA pitcher at this point.

Shawn Hill is a big question mark. After missing all of 2005, he looked really good in AA last year, posting a 32/5 K/BB ratio, along with a 2.68 ERA. He didn't fare as well as the major league level, but certainly has upside.

Relief Pitchers
2006 Relievers - Chad Cordero, Jon Rauch, Mike Stanton, Saul Rivera, Gary Majewski
Projected 2007 Relievers - Cordero, Rauch, Rivera, Micah Bowie, Ryan Wagner, Emiliano Fruto

The Nationals bullpen was actually stellar last season, as they featured four pitchers with an ERA+ of 120 or higher (ERA 20% better than the league average). Three of those four - Cordero, Rauch, and Rivera, return and join newcomers Micah Bowie and Emiliano Fruto, both of whom have promise. If the Nationals manage to take any leads into the sixth inning this season, they should be secure.

Outlook for the Season

This team has some good components - Zimmerman, Johnson, Castro, Patterson, Rauch, and Cordero are all solid players with good upside. Health will be a key factor for the Nationals, as many of their players have injury histories. Overall, this team is full of youngsters and re-treads, and won't likely be ready to compete in the NL East this season.


Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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