Needless to say, 2019 was a pretty eventful year for the Washington Nationals. Not only did they advance past the first round for the first time in team playoff history, they also won their first playoff series, went undefeated in their first NLCS, and won the first World Series in franchise history by becoming the first team ever to win 4 games on the road to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy. Just for the record, Diamond Digest was all over the Nats chances to win the ‘ship since day one. My very first article for DD was about how this very thing could happen, and my boy Brian Schlosser discussed the same thing right before the playoffs started. So yeah, we’re pretty cool.
Anyway, to recap this Nationals season, I wanted to go over some stats about each position’s production, then take a look at some of the predictions and statements that I made in my season preview article back in March. Spoiler: some of them were very wrong.
I’ll start with Washington’s starting rotation. When looking at the 2019 NL Individual Stats leaders for pitchers, the Nats’ Big Three of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin are all over it. The three combined were:
Top-6 in pitching bWAR
Top-10 in ERA Top-8 in K/9 Ranked 2-4 in strikeouts
Top-8 in adjusted ERA+
Top-10 in FIP (fielding independent pitching)
And if you narrow it to just Scherzer and Strasburg, these two were
Tenth and fifth respectively in bWAR for the ~entire~ NL (including position players)
Fourth and fifth in WHIP
First and tenth in K/BB
Fifth and ninth in HR/9
So, yeah. They were pretty good. And all of this was with Scherzer missing six or seven starts with various health issues, primarily some back issues. Outside of this Big Three, Anibal Sanchez put together an excellent 3.3 bWAR season, while Joe Ross, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde and Jeremy Hellickson shared starts in what was a tumultuous fifth spot in the rotation. As a staff, these Nats had the second-highest average game score in the NL (56), behind only the Dodgers, as well as the most innings pitched per start (5.8). Clearly, this was one of the best rotations in not just the NL, but the entire league. Unfortunately, they paired that elite starting pitching with what can only be described as an abysmal bullpen.
Anybody who followed baseball this season knew the Nationals bullpen was really bad. In fact, this shoddy back-end work could likely be why the Nats led the NL in innings pitched per start – Manager Dave Martinez knew what he was working with. A whopping 25 different pitchers threw innings out of the ‘pen for this team, a number that increases to 27 if you include outings by Gerardo Parra and Brian Dozier in an August blowout in Phoenix. Additionally, the Nats had the fewest relief outings in the NL where the pitcher recorded more than three outs, with 71 such occurrences. The next closest was the Braves, who had almost 30 more (98). They also allowed the highest percentage of inherited runners to score (42%), and, if you care about this kind of thing, tied for the league lead in blown saves with the Dodgers (29). Their ERA of 5.68 was the worst in the NL (by an entire half a run) and was topped in all of baseball by only the lowly Orioles (5.79). And to think I said in my season preview that “the Nats finally appear to have an above-average bullpen.” Whoops.
Moving on to the lineup, as a team, the Nationals were among the NL’s elite. They came in second to the Dodgers in runs scored (886 to 873) and runs per game (5.47 to 5.39), struck out the second-fewest times (1308), had the highest OBP (.342), the third-highest OPS (.796), and tied for first in steals with 116. Not too shabby for a team that didn’t even manage to win its own division. Now, I want to briefly break down the Nats’ offensive contributions by position.
Behind the plate, Mike Rizzo’s Yan Gomes–Kurt Suzuki platoon experiment seems to have paid off, especially in terms of power numbers. They combined for 29 HRs and 106 RBI, nearly doubling the combined 2018 output by Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino, and Spencer Kieboom. At first base, Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Adams got most of the time, but neither produced particularly well (.736 and .741 OPS respectively). Luckily, Howie Kendrick (.344/.395/.572 over 370 PA) was able to spend some time at first, as well as stats at second base, in what was sort of renaissance year for him). Brian Dozier played second for most of the year and was serviceable there, mashing 20 home runs for the sixth year in a row. Trea Turner raked to an .850 OPS with 35 steals after returning from a broken finger suffered in the first weeks of the season. Third base was incredibly productive for the Nats in 2019, as now-Angel Anthony Rendon slashed .319/.412/.598 with 34 home runs and an NL-leading 126 RBI on his way to a third-place finish in NL MVP voting. Young studs Juan Soto and Victor Robles, as well as veteran Adam Eaton, all played at least 150 games in the outfield, and all three were productive. Soto (.949 OPS with 34 HR) and Eaton (.792 OPS with 15 steals) got it done offensively, while Robles shined in center field (24 DRS).
In March I made some predictions, both about the Nats’ final record and finish in the NL East, as well as any awards that players may have received. I guessed that Gomes, Scherzer, Rendon, and Soto would be All-Stars, and I was pretty close. Scherzer and Rendon made the squad, and Soto absolutely should have, but Gomes suffered a severe regression offensively. I added that Scherzer would finish top-5 for the NL Cy Young , Rendon and Soto top-5 for MVP, and that Robles would finish among the top five Rookie of the Year vote-getters. Again, I had mixed results. Rendon and Scherzer each finished third, Soto ninth, and Robles sixth. Stephen Strasburg ended up finishing fifth in Cy Young voting, so I missed on that one. In terms of record, I had the Nats winning the division with a 90-72 record. They ended up finishing 93-69, four games behind Atlanta in the NL East.
If I am being honest though, I could have been wrong on everything and not cared, since they won the 12 games that mattered in October.
Featured Image: Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports