Washington Nationals' Most Intriguing Position Battles
The Washington Nationals have some intriguing position battles on the horizon, which will begin to play out during spring training.
Some of these position battles emerged after the Nationals made certain offseason additions, such as the signings of a veteran starter and a world-class closer.
Other potential position battles arose from previous roster moves. The Nationals now have two quality second basemen on their big league roster, both of whom were drafted by this organization. And late last season, Washington traded for a Gold Glove-caliber catcher while the incumbent starter was recovering from a significant injury.
So, without further ado, here are the Washington Nationals' most intriguing position battles.
4. Fourth Starter: Dan Haren vs. Ross Detwiler
The Nationals signed Dan Haren to replace Edwin Jackson as the fourth starter in a strong rotation.
In 286 starts over 10 seasons, Haren has a career record of 119-97 with a 3.66 ERA, 1,585 strikeouts and a 1.181 WHIP. In his postseason career, Haren is 2-0 in seven appearances and two starts, with a 3.26 ERA and 16 strikeouts on 19.1 innings pitched,
Haren was not signed with a position battle in mind, but incumbent fifth starter Ross Detwiler may have other ideas.
Detwiler has pitched in parts of only five seasons. In that time, he has compiled a meager record of 16-22 with a 3.74 ERA and 207 strikeouts in only 336.2 innings pitched. In his one postseason appearance, Detwiler earned a no decision after surrendering only three hits in six scoreless innings of work.
Ross Detwiler's career numbers may pale in comparison to those of Dan Haren. However, Detwiler actually had a better 2012 season than his new teammate. Detwiler finished 2012 with a 10-8 record in 164.1 innings pitched over 33 appearances and 27 starts, with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP to go along with 105 strikeouts and 52 walks.
Haren, on the other hand, compiled a 12-13 record while throwing 176.2 innings in 30 starts, totaling a 4.33 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP, with 142 strikeouts and 38 walks.
If both pitchers show signs of repeating their performances from 2012, then Ross Detwiler and not Dan Haren would earn a spot as the fourth starter in the Washington Nationals starting rotation.
3. Catcher: Wilson Ramos vs. Kurt Suzuki
The competition at catcher for the Washington Nationals should ultimately result in the platooning of Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki.
Wilson Ramos is the presumptive starter, but is trying to make his way back from an ACL tear suffered in May 2012. When Ramos is healthy, he makes a a strong lineup downright scary. He is the only catcher the Nationals have fielded in recent seasons who could bat anywhere other than eighth. And the 2011 season provides a clue as to what he is capable of. In 113 games, Ramos batted .267 with 15 home runs and 52 RBI.
But Kurt Suzuki is an excellent defensive catcher, a claim Ramos cannot boast. In six major league seasons, Suzuki has only 33 errors in 5173 total chances, for a .994 fielding percentage, to go with a range factor of 7.23. Suzuki has 304 assists, 30 double plays and only 33 passed balls, with a career caught stealing percentage of 27 percent. Suzuki's presence in the lineup helps complete an elite defensive infield.
As far as the sentimental favorite in this particular position battle, Ramos was the starting catcher when he was injured last season. However, Suzuki finished the season as the starter, and played every game in the postseason as well.
2. Second Base: Danny Espinosa vs. Steve Lombardozzi
This debate will never die. Not as long as Steve Lombardozzi and Danny Espinosa are both members of the Washington Nationals.
Danny Espinosa has much better power numbers. For his 162-game average, Espinosa hits 21 home runs with 64 RBI while Lombardozzi only averages three home runs and 33 RBI over a 162-game span (Baseball Reference).
But Lombardozzi strikes out a lot less. Lombardozzi compiles 58 strikeouts for his 162-game average while Espinosa averages a whopping 180.
However, Espinosa is slightly better at making contact, drawing walks and getting on base. Over 162 games, Espinosa has a .307 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) with 52 walks and a .315 OBP. Lombardozzi has a .298 BABIP with 23 walks and a .310 OBP for his 162-game average.
To further complicate matters, Lombardozzi is a better defensive second baseman than Espinosa. In 249 chances at second base, Lombardozzi has a .992 fielding percentage with a range factor per nine innings (RF/9) of 5.37. Espinosa has had 1,441 chances as a second baseman, with a .986 fielding percentage with a RF/9 of 4.78.
Such a heated competition creates a good problem for Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson, a former second baseman himself.
1. Closer: Rafael Soriano vs. Drew Storen vs. Tyler Clippard
After the Washington Nationals made a bold statement by signing veteran closer Rafael Soriano, general manager Mike Rizzo attempted to quell any controversy that may have been brewing in his bullpen (via Mark Zuckerman of CSNWashington):
Suffice it to say, Raffy is here to pitch the ninth inning. He has done it successfully everywhere he has been, and we expect him to continue that.
But Rizzo in fact did nothing to quell any controversy. In fact, he may have fanned the very flames in the same press conference, when talking about Drew Storen:
Drew Storen is a closer. He's going to be a closer. He's got closer stuff. He's got a closer mentality. By no means the signing of Rafael Soriano was based on one inning and one game at the end of the season.
And do not forget about Tyler Clippard. The bespectacled right hander was the Nats eighth-inning specialist since 2010, until Storen missed the first three months of the 2012 season. All Clippard did was step in for his roommate and convert 32 of 37 save opportunities. And according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post, Clippard "openly told McCatty he wanted the job last season, and...it remains his ambition."
This trio could create one of the fiercest battles for a closer position in recent memory. Or, this cauldron of competition could forge the deadliest three-pronged bullpen attack since the "Nasty Boys."