Each Washington Nationals Starting Player's Biggest Strength
The Washington Nationals are very nearly a complete team.
But each starter on this team brings something different to the table. And together, they have tuned the once-woeful Nats into a legitimate World Series contender. ESPN even predicted that Washington would bring home the World Series title.
To see how this squad may achieve that goal, here are the greatest strengths of each of the Washington Nationals' starting players.
Note: All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com except where noted otherwise.
CATCHER Wilson Ramos: Lineup Strength
Wilson Ramos brings pop to the tail end of the Nats' batting order.
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When Davey Johnson creates his lineup, he likes to follow a couple important guidelines. One of those guiding principles is to have power throughout the lineup, to keep constant pressure on the opponents' pitchers and defense.
Hitting Wilson Ramos in the eighth spot allows Johnson to accomplish just that.
The 25-year-old Venezuelan backstop has two home runs this season, while collecting nine at-bats in three games as Johnson platoons him with Kurt Suzuki. In 560 career at-bats over 163 games, Ramos has 21 home runs and 31 doubles with 70 RBI while batting .271. Ramos also has a career on-base percentage of .338 with a .443 slugging percentage.
A hitter of Wilson Ramos' caliber does not normally bat eighth, and it's pretty unfair to the opponent.
But that's exactly the idea.
FIRST BASE Adam LaRoche: Defense
Adam LaRoche is the cornerstone of a solid defensive infield.
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The Washington Nationals let Adam Dunn walk during the 2011 offseason and signed Adam LaRoche instead.
Yes, the Nationals miss Dunn's bat. Adam Dunn hit 38 home runs in each of his two seasons in Washington. He struggled in his first season in the AL while hitting only 11 homers, then returned to form last season with 41. Adam LaRoche may have had a career year last season with 33 home runs and 100 RBI, but that still does not equal Dunn's offensive production.
But the Nationals don't miss Dunn's glove. In his career, Dunn has played 435 games at first base, compiling a .988 fielding percentage and a 9.27 range factor per nine innings. Both numbers are below the league averages.
Adam LaRoche, on the other hand, is an excellent defensive first baseman. In his career, LaRoche has played all 1139 games at first base, compiling a .995 fielding percentage and a 9.58 range factor per nine innings. Both numbers are above the league averages. Plus, he won the 2012 NL Gold Glove.
That is why the Nationals signed Adam LaRoche and not Adam Dunn.
SECOND BASE Danny Espinosa: Lineup Balance
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For Davey Johnson, the other principle he always tries to adhere to with regards to his lineup is balance.
Johnson likes to alternate his left-handed and right-handed hitters as much as possible. With the switch-hitting Danny Espinosa hitting in the seventh spot, Johnson can achieve this goal. Take a look:
- Denard Span: LEFT
- Jayson Werth: RIGHT
- Bryce Harper: LEFT
- Ryan Zimmerman: RIGHT
- Adam LaRoche: LEFT
- Ian Desmond: RIGHT
- Danny Espinosa: SWITCH
- Wilson Ramos: RIGHT
Espinosa has hit 33 of his 44 career home runs from the left side of the plate, although his average is only .225 as a lefty. In the later innings, Espinosa gives Johnson even more options to hold an advantage over put the opposing bullpen, as Espinosa bats .276 in his career as a right-handed batter against a left-handed pitcher.
As Davey Johnson recently told Patrick Reddington of Federal Baseball, "Our lineup is not easy to match up against, and it's going to be tough."
THIRD BASE Ryan Zimmerman: Consistency
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Opportunistic baseball commentators claim that the Washington Nationals have built their team around Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.
But those who actually follow the Washington Nationals know that long before Harper and Strasburg had even been molded into baseball clay, the Nationals had already begun to construct the foundation of a winning franchise.
And the cornerstone was Ryan Zimmerman.
The native of North Carolina was drafted fourth overall in the 2005 MLB draft out of the University of Virginia. He debuted later that year, playing 20 games that season.
In 2006, he was named the Nationals' top prospect by Baseball America, and then proceeded to make the Opening Day roster. He played 157 games that season, 162 the next and would never again be demoted to the minor leagues.
Excluding his debut season of 2005, Zimmerman has played at least 142 games in five of his seven MLB seasons. The 2008 and 2011 campaigns were cut short due to injuries, and he only played 106 and 101 games respectively.
Zimmerman has been the model of consistency when healthy, and to a certain extent even when not completely healthy. In each of those five full seasons, Zimmerman has hit at least 20 home runs, driven in at least 85 runs and scored at least 84 runs. His career batting average in 3882 at-bats is a respectable .287, and he won the Silver Slugger award in 2009 and 2010.
In the field, Zimmerman has been just as consistent, if not more. Zimmerman has played 975 of his 976 games in the field at third base. He has a career fielding percentage of .959 and a range factor per game of 2.70 at the "hot corner", winning the 2009 Gold Glove.
During his time with the franchise, the Nationals moved into a brand new ballpark in 2008. Fittingly, Zimmerman christened "The House that Ryan Built" with a walk-off home run on the first night at Nationals Park.
Contrary to a nascient and misguided belief, "Ryan Zimmerman is the now-and-forever Face of the Franchise." (h/t Dan Steinberg, The Washington Post) And fans always know where to look for him.
SHORT STOP Ian Desmond: Leadership
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Despite being the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman has oftentimes been a reluctant leader.
But Ian Desmond has never hesitated to lead the Washington Nationals.
As far back as 2010, Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post noticed this quality in Desmond, who was only a rookie at the time:
Desmond has come to the point where he's setting the example for call-ups and, really, setting a tone for the entire team. He may be only a rookie, but in many ways Desmond already is the best leader the Nationals have. His playing last night showed why.
Ian Desmond has not wavered from his desire to lead the Nationals, and the team has profited from it.
LEFT FIELD Bryce Harper: Energy
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Bryce Harper brings a spark to the Washington Nationals, and his teammates thrive off it.
The Nationals offense is powered by Harper's ferocious swing and his breakneck baserunning.
And the Nationals defense relies on his reckless abandon in the outfield and his itchy trigger finger on that high-powered sniper rifle of a throwing arm.
Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com recently commented on this very quality in the 20-year-old dynamo:
He wants to turn every single into a double, every double into a triple. He wants to make every play. He wants to throw every runner out. 'He goes 100 mph, with his hair on fire,' Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. 'I think that's what endears him to his teammates and the rest of the league.'
In 2012, Harper's energy help sparked the Nationals to their first NL East title since arriving in Washington. This season, Harper plans to set off bigger fireworks.
CENTER FIELD Denard Span: The Missing Piece
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Denard Span is the missing piece of the puzzle for Davey Johnson and the Washington Nationals.
Span is the true lead-off hitter Johnson has been looking for to start this offense on the right foot. For his career, Span has a .358 on-base percentage (OBP) with a .319 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
And at the same time, Span is the natural center fielder Johnson has been looking for to anchor the outfield defense. In 579 career games in center field, Span has a .990 fielding percentage, which is equal to the league average. His range factor per nine innings of 2.86 is greater than the league average.
Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post explained the importance of Span's arrival on March 18:
For the first time since baseball returned to Washington, the Nationals will place three everyday players at each outfield position on opening day, the platoons featuring Brandon Watson or Willie Harris or Rick Ankiel buried mercifully in the past. From April 1 through October, only injury or an occasional day off will keep Bryce Harper, Span and Werth from sharing the outfield, occupying their spots in left, center and right. Each has experience in center field, and together they possess the talent to form one of the best defensive outfields in the majors.
With Denard Span in place, the Washington Nationals hope to solve the championship puzzle.
RIGHT FIELD Jayson Werth: Experience
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Jayson Werth provides invaluable experience to the Washington Nationals, which he has gained over 11 MLB seasons.
Werth first passes on his experience in the outfield to his young teammates, Bryce Harper and Denard Span. Center fielder Span would typically be the captain of the outfield, but he defers to the wisdom of Werth (Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post):
Even though I’m the center fielder, he’s really the captain out there. He has the most experience out of the three of us out there. He’s constantly positioning me and Bryce. If I see something, I’ll let him know. But I’m looking at him.
But Jayson Werth provides more than just his experience as an outfielder. He provides experience as a winner. Werth has played in six NLDS, three NLCS and two World Series in his postseason career, winning one title. And he wants to take the Nationals to those same heights.
On March 23, Werth told Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post his true purpose for joining the Washington Nationals:
I’m here to win. I’m here to play baseball. I’m not here to make friends. I’m not here to be your pal. I’m here to win.