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2016 Team Previews: Washington Nationals

Throughout the long, cold offseason, I am doing team by team previews to get you ready for the 2016 fantasy baseball season. Today it's the Nats.

Obviously, the Nationals are now the Bryce Harper show, but there is a lot of fantasy talent on this roster after him.
Obviously, the Nationals are now the Bryce Harper show, but there is a lot of fantasy talent on this roster after him.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to my 2016 fantasy team previews. I will be breaking down 2016 prospects for the relevant fantasy players on all 30 teams, one team at a time. Check back throughout the offseason for new team previews. You can catch up on old ones in my archive (here) or in the section (here). Because there are 30 teams to cover in limited time, I have to get started now, even though there will certainly be some trades that move players around and open up larger roles for existing players. Also, free agents and guys that moved midseason will be analyzed with one of the teams they played for, even though they likely (or definitely) won't be on that team in 2016 so they don't get missed. Hopefully you can bear with me on those issues and remember that these were written before those trades occurred.

I am starting at the bottom of the standings and working my way up. In each team preview, I will attempt to follow the same layout. First, there will be two tables of stats for hitters (showing stats acquired while playing for this team; traded players will be missing some stats) followed by quick analysis of the most fantasy relevant of those hitters (relevance at my discretion). After that, two tables for the pitching stats and some pitcher analysis. I will then present one breakout player (aka sleeper) and one breakdown player (or bust, if you prefer) for the team. Got it? Ok, let's get started.

Washington Nationals

Hitters

Name Position PA HR R RBI SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Tyler Moore 1B 200 6 14 27 0 0 5.50% 22.50% 0.203 0.25 0.364
Ryan Zimmerman 1B, 3B*, OF* 390 16 43 73 1 0 8.50% 20.30% 0.249 0.308 0.465
Clint Robinson 1B, OF 352 10 44 34 0 0 10.50% 14.80% 0.272 0.358 0.424
Dan Uggla 2B 141 2 12 16 0 1 13.50% 28.40% 0.183 0.298 0.3
Anthony Rendon 2B, 3B 355 5 43 25 1 2 10.10% 19.70% 0.264 0.344 0.363
Danny Espinosa 2B, 3B* 412 13 59 37 5 2 8.00% 25.70% 0.24 0.311 0.409
Yunel Escobar 3B, SS* 591 9 75 56 2 2 7.60% 11.80% 0.314 0.375 0.415
Wilson Ramos C 504 15 41 68 0 0 4.20% 20.00% 0.229 0.258 0.358
Jose Lobaton C 155 3 11 20 0 0 9.70% 25.80% 0.199 0.279 0.294
Bryce Harper OF 654 42 118 99 6 4 19.00% 20.00% 0.33 0.46 0.649
Denard Span OF 275 5 38 22 11 0 9.10% 9.50% 0.301 0.365 0.431
Matt den Dekker OF 110 5 12 12 0 1 8.20% 18.20% 0.253 0.315 0.485
Jayson Werth OF 378 12 51 42 0 1 10.10% 22.20% 0.221 0.302 0.384
Ian Desmond OF 641 19 69 62 13 5 7.00% 29.20% 0.233 0.29 0.384
Michael Taylor OF 511 14 49 63 16 3 6.80% 30.90% 0.229 0.282 0.358

Name BABIP LD% GB% FB% HR/FB SwStr% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Tyler Moore 0.234 17.50% 39.90% 42.70% 9.80% 11.40% 16.80% 53.90% 29.40% -2.73
Ryan Zimmerman 0.268 16.60% 48.40% 35.00% 16.50% 8.20% 14.40% 48.00% 37.60% 1.84
Clint Robinson 0.298 24.80% 40.70% 34.50% 11.20% 7.30% 16.30% 55.00% 28.70% 0.54
Dan Uggla 0.253 17.50% 41.30% 41.30% 6.10% 11.60% 22.20% 50.60% 27.20% -3.49
Anthony Rendon 0.321 21.40% 45.30% 33.30% 6.20% 5.30% 12.70% 55.50% 31.80% -0.47
Danny Espinosa 0.299 18.40% 44.80% 36.80% 14.10% 14.10% 23.60% 48.70% 27.70% 1.04
Yunel Escobar 0.347 22.30% 54.50% 23.20% 8.30% 7.80% 17.50% 54.70% 27.80% 5.02
Wilson Ramos 0.256 19.60% 55.50% 24.90% 15.80% 12.10% 15.50% 58.40% 26.20% 0.34
Jose Lobaton 0.253 19.40% 46.90% 33.70% 9.10% 12.30% 15.20% 60.60% 24.20% -3.18
Bryce Harper 0.369 22.20% 38.50% 39.30% 27.30% 10.80% 11.90% 47.20% 40.90% 12.89
Denard Span 0.318 23.90% 50.50% 25.70% 8.80% 4.10% 19.70% 55.60% 24.70% 1.61
Matt den Dekker 0.27 17.90% 44.90% 37.20% 17.20% 10.10% 24.70% 53.10% 22.20% -2.36
Jayson Werth 0.253 21.70% 34.40% 43.90% 10.80% 8.30% 18.60% 47.80% 33.60% -0.48
Ian Desmond 0.307 15.60% 53.40% 31.00% 15.40% 13.20% 20.70% 51.20% 28.10% 3.30
Michael Taylor 0.311 22.20% 46.00% 31.80% 14.60% 16.00% 18.00% 50.80% 31.20% 2.55

*Will lose this eligibility in 2016

**The ESPN player rater is based on a player's standard 5 x 5 category performance relative to average. A score of 0 is replacement level and negative values mean the player is actually hurting your team. Values in the 1-2 range generally are for your worst starting player, unless you are unlucky. There are no positional adjustments, though, so shortstops and catchers will often have very low scores relative to everyone else. It is normalized so that guys with little playing time can be compared to guys that played all year.

Analysis

Ryan Zimmerman showed that his power is not gone, with 16 HR in just 390 PA. However, he was still injured too much and only had a 0.249 average. He is now only 1B eligible, which means he needs to stay healthy and hit 25 HR to have much value. Getting his average back up to 0.280 would also be helpful. At this point in his career, he is only a corner infielder option. The health issues and age make him a big gamble. I was high on him going into 2015, but no longer. He was victimized by a low BABIP, but he was injured and slow and hit lots of ground balls, so I'm not surprised it was low.

As much as I like what Clint Robinson did in his half-season worth of at bats, playing time concerns coupled with a lack of MLB success make me wary of trusting the 30-year-old. He spent a long time in the minors, despite having success at that level (29 HR in one season in AA, 23 HR in another with good averages). So, it is clear that MLB teams haven't thought much of him even with his good play in AAA. We don't know how much playing time he will have in Washington, as long as Zimmerman is healthy. Jaysen Werth could get hurt again, but this is all speculation. While there is a small probability of a Steve Pearce 2014 season, I think it is a gamble not worth taking.

Anthony Rendon went from second (or even first) round draft pick in 2015 drafts to a complete bust. Injuries slowed him down big time and he never really recovered. 2015 was basically a lost season for him. I still believe in what we saw in 2014 and I expect second-round production in 2016. Nothing he did in 2014 was fluky and he showed great knowledge of the strike zone and pitch recognition, which are skills that don't disappear. With a full spring training and full health, he should be great again. Health will always be an issue (it has been for several years going back to college), but, unlike Zimmerman, he is worth the risk. We've seen the upside.

Danny Espniosa showed surprising power in part time action. When he was SS eligible, he was actually pretty useful, even with limited at bats. Now that he is only eligible at 2B in most leagues, his value is down. While his power was excellent, his triple slash rates, strikeout rate, and swinging strike rates were all sub par. He had a higher percentage of swings and misses than anyone not named Michael Taylor on this team. He may get consistent at-bats as a utility infielder, but I'm still shying away from him. That plate discipline scares me too much. Even with all those home runs, his slugging percentage barely cracked 0.400. That's not a good sign for future power.

Yunel Escobar put up a very good season for a SS-eligible player. Unfortunately, in most leagues he will be 3B-only in 2016. Further, he has moved on to Anaheim, which is not a good hitter's park and shortstop belongs to Andrelton Simmons there. His value came almost exclusively from his high batting average. Both his average and BABIP were almost career highs (only his short 2007 season was higher in both). His BABIP had hovered around 0.280 since 2012, so this was a very unexpected jump. His power and speed were both very close to his previous years, so his value was driven entirely by BABIP. If you look at his career, his fantasy value has always been tied to BABIP and average. He hits a lot of ground balls with single digit home runs and steals, so he is dependent on getting infield and ground ball hits for fantasy relevance. I'm not betting on a repeat of 2015 in 2016.

Wilson Ramos actually made it through an entire season healthy! Unfortunately, other than 15 HR, he contributed nothing to fantasy owners. He isn't worth owning. There are better, younger, healthier, more reliable options at catcher.

Talk about burying the lede, I haven't gotten to the NL MVP yet. He's still only 23 years old! I don't expect much of a drop off in 2016 and his youth could mean there is even more to come. However, it seems unlikely that he could top a season like this, so I don't know what to think. Is he the #1 pick in fantasy drafts in 2016? That is a good conversation to have, as Trout is still amazing and consistent and has done this for years with good health. Goldschmidt at least belongs in the conversation as well with his elite track record. I would go Trout right now, then Harper, then Goldy, but it is very close.

When healthy, Denard Span quietly had an excellent season. His average, OBP, slugging, steals and home run totals were all very good for 275 PA. I think the slugging comes down with more at bats and we don't know where this free agent will be playing in 2016, so he is still more of an OF4 in fantasy leagues.

Jayson Werth's best days are behind him, but I'm not ready to write him off completely. He was so consistent for so many years that I have to believe he has one more good season left. If he can just stay healthy, I'm going to boldly say he gets to 20 HR with a 0.280 average. The steals are not coming back, but I think he has one more useful fantasy season. Now, don't pay much for him because his value is currently in the pit and you can probably draft him at the very end or pick him up as a free agent.

Ian Desmond was mostly terrible for the first half of the season. He scraped together 19 HR and 13 steals somehow by the end of the year, though. His average was awful, along with his strikeout rate and slugging percentage. He's another free agent without a team at this time, so we don't know who he will be playing for. Steamer predicts an almost identical season in 2016, which seems reasonable. With his very bad plate discipline, his average will always be a risk and the power/speed combo has been very reliable. If you can take the average hit, his power and steals can be helpful at the awful shortstop position. If you are scared off by the fact that he can go into month-long slumps easily, you should probably avoid him. He will probably sneak into the top 10 shortstops, but not the top 5 like he used to be.

Michael Taylor is like the outfield version of Desmond. No plate discipline, good power, good speed. He's much younger than Desmond, but also even less disciplined, which seems impossible. Unlike Desmond, Taylor plays a position with lots of offensive production, so his high risk, low average, slump-prone profile isn't as palatable. Yes, the counting stats are good and steals are at a premium in baseball, but you have to decide if it is worth it.

Wilmer Difo is the first prospect I want to touch on. He was called up last year for little bit and plays middle infield positions. He doesn't have a clear path to playing time with Espinosa and the newly-acquired Daniel Murphy, along with Trea Turner. With Murphy on board and Difo's average potential, there isn't much to get excited about. Turner is a speedy SS prospect with the potential for 30+ steals. He doesn't have much power, but he has hit for average throughout the minors. He uses his speed to grind out infield hits, kind of like Dee Gordon. I don't think he will hit for a 0.300+ average right away in his first full season, but he should hit well enough to get some steals and have value at the very shallow SS position.

Pitchers

Name Position IP ERA FIP xFIP WHIP BABIP LOB% GB% SwStr%
Matt Thornton RP 41.1 2.18 3.52 4.5 1.06 0.231 78.20% 43.60% 8.60%
Felipe Rivero RP 48.1 2.79 2.64 3.44 0.95 0.25 72.40% 45.50% 11.40%
Jonathan Papelbon RP 23.2 3.04 4.87 4.35 1.1 0.25 68.40% 46.60% 9.80%
Sammy Solis RP 21.1 3.38 3.46 3.9 1.36 0.329 69.90% 45.10% 9.60%
Drew Storen RP 55 3.44 2.79 3.24 1.11 0.301 71.20% 38.40% 12.20%
Aaron Barrett RP 29.1 4.6 2.21 3.03 1.19 0.351 62.80% 43.40% 13.60%
Casey Janssen RP 40 4.95 4.08 4.6 1.15 0.264 62.50% 29.40% 6.80%
Blake Treinen RP, SP* 67.2 3.86 3.49 3.31 1.39 0.328 70.80% 62.70% 10.90%
Max Scherzer SP 228.2 2.79 2.77 2.88 0.92 0.268 79.60% 36.00% 15.30%
Stephen Strasburg SP 127.1 3.46 2.81 2.69 1.11 0.311 70.70% 42.20% 11.20%
Joe Ross SP 76.2 3.64 3.42 3.62 1.11 0.265 70.00% 49.80% 11.90%
Jordan Zimmermann SP 201.2 3.66 3.75 3.82 1.2 0.302 74.50% 42.00% 8.40%
Gio Gonzalez SP 175.2 3.79 3.05 3.59 1.42 0.341 72.10% 53.80% 9.80%
Doug Fister SP 103 4.19 4.55 4.46 1.4 0.31 72.10% 44.60% 5.20%
Tanner Roark SP, RP 111 4.38 4.7 4.17 1.31 0.292 75.30% 47.80% 7.10%

Name SV HLD K% BB% Soft% Med% Hard% ESPN Player Rater
Matt Thornton 0 18 13.50% 6.40% 24.30% 50.70% 25.00% 0.47
Felipe Rivero 2 6 22.80% 5.80% 15.70% 56.70% 27.60% 1.28
Jonathan Papelbon 7 0 16.20% 4.00% 17.10% 47.40% 35.50% 5.31
Sammy Solis 0 1 18.10% 4.30% 19.40% 63.90% 16.70% -1.27
Drew Storen 29 5 29.40% 7.00% 24.30% 50.70% 25.00% 4.31
Aaron Barrett 0 10 28.50% 5.70% 16.70% 56.40% 26.90% -0.64
Casey Janssen 0 13 16.30% 4.80% 22.30% 47.70% 30.00% -1.04
Blake Treinen 0 10 23.20% 11.40% 27.10% 51.40% 21.60% -0.66
Max Scherzer 0 0 30.70% 3.80% 20.90% 51.40% 27.70% 11.90
Stephen Strasburg 0 0 29.60% 5.00% 21.80% 49.30% 28.90% 4.98
Joe Ross 0 0 22.00% 6.70% 18.00% 52.30% 29.70% 1.50
Jordan Zimmermann 0 0 19.70% 4.70% 20.20% 50.70% 29.20% 5.02
Gio Gonzalez 0 0 22.30% 9.10% 18.80% 52.70% 28.50% 2.39
Doug Fister 1 0 14.00% 5.40% 17.10% 53.40% 29.50% -0.48
Tanner Roark 1 4 15.00% 5.60% 21.90% 51.80% 26.30% -0.26

*If they were outside the top 550 pitchers on the player rater, they will show up as #N/A

Analysis

Max Scherzer remained dominant in 2015 and doesn't seem to be slowing down at all yet. He seems to like being in the NL. He's very much in the conversation for the top 3 starters in drafts and has clearly passed Felix Hernandez, among others. He's durable, dominant, and backed up by the advanced stats. A 15% swinging strike rate is great for a relief pitcher. I would take him over Greinke and Arrieta, personally.

When Stephen Strasburg was healthy in 2015, he was his usual self. He wasn't as good as Scherzer overall, but his 2.69 xFIP was actually lower than Scherzer's and all his stats were ace-like. Health is a constant battle for him and keeps his value in the third round of drafts. His skills still look good to me. Your risk tolerance will impact how much you are willing to pay for him. There is no reason to believe he won't be as good when he's on the field in 2016 as he was in 2015.

Joe Ross made the most of his first taste of the big leagues. He surprised many by transitioning from AA to MLB and playing very well. He looks a lot like his brother Tyson with his pitching style. His slider is great and his fastball is good in its own right. He's got a very good whiff rate, ground ball rate, and WHIP. His xFIP is higher than I would expect and his K% is surprisingly low for a guy that gets that many swings and misses. I think the BABIP will come up a little bit and his two-pitch mix is a bit risky, but his brother makes it work and the swinging strike rate and ground ball rate will always give him a chance. A 3.30 ERA is very much in reach with good strikeout totals. If people are still unfamiliar with him in drafts, you might get a bargain #2 or #3 fantasy starter.

Jordan Zimmermann is now in Detroit and was a disappointment in 2015. His strikeout rate was only 19%, his xFIP was 3.82, he walked more guys than he usually does, he didn't get many grounders, and his swinging strike rate was sub par. While he was durable this year, he is in the danger window for post-Tommy John, since his surgery was over 4 years ago. Between the move to the AL, the potential health issues, and the lack of strikeouts, he is a "stay away" guy for me.

Gio Gonzalez was frustrating to own in 2015. I picked him up and dropped him a few times. His xFIP in the low threes kept tempting me, but the sky-high WHIP and his tendency to give up lots of hits scared me away. His walk rate is too high but his swinging strike rate is a little above average. He was hurt by a very high BABIP, but I just can't trust him. He walks too fine a line and is always at risk for a blow up. He could be a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter for you (mostly due to his great ground ball rate), but he probably isn't good enough to keep on your roster long-term. He also offers little upside at this point in his career.

The rest of the rotation isn't worth much time. Roark and Treinen made some starts but don't offer much beyond great groundball rates. They have low ceilings.

The bullpen starts with Jonathon Papelbon. Despite good results, he didn't pitch well in Washington, perhaps starting to show some decline. He did pitch well in Philly early in the year. In Washington, his strikeout rate dropped hard, his swinging strike rate was bad for a reliever, and his FIP and xFIP were horrible. His K/9 for the season was at a career low 7.96, his xFIP was at a near career high 3.71, and his 91.4 mph fastball doesn't have its former zip. He was extremely lucky to have the ERA he did overall (2.13) in 2015. He is due for some bad regression. I expect him to have a fairly firm hold on the closer job, but he is in shaky closer territory skills-wise. He's not far from guys like Francisco Rodriguez. Don't overpay for this guy in drafts and I would stay away personally since there are always high upside volatile closer options late in drafts.

Drew Storen is a better pitcher right now than Papelbon, but will have to settle for the setup role. He's a decent option for holds leagues. Aaron Barrett was one of my favorite middle relievers going into 2015 and his injuries and up-and-down performance made me look bad. He's still got great strikeout skills and put up a 3.03 xFIP, even with injuries, so there is hope for him once he gets fully healthy. I still believe in his talent, so in very deep holds leagues, he still has potential.

AJ Cole is one pitching prospect I want to discuss. He got a taste of the MLB last year. He has a future value of 45, according to Fangraphs, but I could see him filling in nicely as a number 5 starter on this team and being useful as a streaming starter in fantasy some of the time. His lack of strikeouts in AA and AAA is a big concern. Don't pay too much attention to him, with his low upside.

If you want upside, may I interest you in a Lucas Giolito? Now here's a pitching prospect with high upside. Giolito is the top pitching prospect in baseball with a ceiling of, say, Max Scherzer. He's got the velocity and two dominant secondary pitches (with the curveball being his best weapon). With only a partial season at AA, he may not spend much of 2016 in Washington, but it is possible. He is such a rare talent that they may move him up quickly. He's the best minor league pitching stash there is this year. Sure, he won't reach his high ceiling this year, but he could do what Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz did in their first years.

Breakout

Joe Ross

There are lots of good candidates for this including Anthony Rendon (really a rebound, not a breakout) and Trea Turner, but I'm going with a guy that surprised everyone last year and may just continue the breakout for a full season. I'm taking a risk here because he only has two good pitches, but his peripherals are so good that he makes it work. The younger Ross brother may even outperform the older one and be a great draft day value.

Breakdown

Jonathan Papelbon

I could have gone with Espinosa here, but Papelbon has a longer track record and more name recognition. This was all described above, but I believe Papelbon is in the steep decline phase of his career and will see a big ERA rise this year. There are much better closer options at the same draft round with less downside.

Check back soon for the next team preview as we keep moving up the standings. Tschus!