The Washington Nationals' starting position players have not changed, despite rumors to the contrary.
Will the same be said for the Nationals' batting order once the 2014 MLB season gets underway?
After all, the Nationals did hire a new manager in Matt Williams. The first-year skipper will want to leave his own signature on his new team.
With that in mind, here is a projection of the Washington Nationals' 2014 batting order.
Note All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.
Denard Span had a solid first season with the Washington Nationals. The 29-year-old hit .279 in 610 at-bats over 153 games with 28 doubles, 11 triples, four home runs, 47 RBI and 75 runs scored. Span also walked 42 times and struck out 77 times with a .327 on-base percentage and a .380 slugging percentage while stealing 20 bases in 26 attempts.
However, Span struggled at times during the season and was demoted from the lead-off spot to the seventh spot. This was reflected in his splits, as he hit .269 with a .322 on-base percentage in 561 at-bats while leading off but hit .356 with a .356 on-base percentage in 45 at-bats while batting seventh.
Despite this disparity, Span was undeterred, as he told Julie Alexandria of MASNSports on July 30 (transcript via Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post):
Well, I view myself as a leadoff hitter. That’s something I’ve done for 11 years now. You know, I’m 29; I’ve been doing it since day one I got drafted. And I think I fit the role to still be a leadoff hitter.
Plus, a player who has a .355 OBP for his career needs to be given a second chance as the leadoff man.
Ian Desmond could hit anywhere from first through seventh in this lineup. But the best fit for the two-time defending Silver Slugger is to bat second.
Desmond has everything you could possibly want out of the second spot in the order. In 2013, he had a .336 BAbip, which measures his ability to make contact. In terms of situational batting, Desmond advanced the runner 58 percent of the time when batting with a runner on second base and nobody out.
Furthermore, Desmond is a skilled base stealer whose felonious talents are wasted at the back end of the batting order. Desmond stole 21 of 27 bases in 2013 for 77.8 percent and has stolen 85 of 112 bases in his career for 75.9 percent.
The third spot in the order should be occupied by the lineup's best hitter for average.
Who better to fill that role for the 2014 Washington Nationals than the man who finished the 2013 season ranked fifth in the National League in batting average, according to MLB.com?
None other than Jayson Werth.
In fact, Werth's .318 average was 38 points higher than Ian Desmond, the second-best qualified starter on the Nationals in terms of batting average, according to MLB.com.
Starting last August, he used a lighter bat, hit to all fields more, cut his strikeouts by a third and even batted leadoff to help win the NL East last year...As his wrist has strengthened this year, he has been able to crouch less, stand more erect in the box and blend his new approach with much of his old power. His height (6'5") and chopping axe-like stroke helps keep his bat “on plane” through the strike zone. That helps foul off tough pitches, allows him to wear out pitchers (4.26 pitches per plate appearance, one of the highest in baseball) and get cheap hits when fooled.
With his new approach, expect Werth to repeat his batting average in 2014.
Like Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper can be slotted into any number of spots in the Nationals' batting order. Here's betting that Harper's new manager—a former slugger in his own right—will make sure that Washington's most potent bat will hit clean-up.
Harper has 42 home runs and 117 RBI in 257 career games over two seasons. His 162-game averages translate to 26 home runs and 74 RBI with a .481 slugging percentage.
While batting clean-up and under Williams' tutelage, Harper is capable of much more. The process of fulfilling his vast offensive potential will come to fruition in 2014.
But in this lineup, Zimmerman is best suited for the fifth spot.
Zimmerman is a consistent run producer. He drives in 96 runs per season, according to his 162-game averages. That is exactly the type of batter who slots in nicely to the fifth spot in the order and will provide the young Harper with ample protection.
Wilson Ramos can mash. The 2014 season should be his first, and best, opportunity to prove that to all of MLB.
The 26-year-old Venezuelan has only played 238 games in parts of four seasons with both Minnesota and Washington, as he has dealt with multiple injuries. Despite his lack of experience, he has still managed to flex his muscles. He has 24 home runs, 86 RBI and a .270 batting average, according to his 162-game averages.
Those are impressive numbers. However, his performance in 2013 may give a better clue as to his full capabilities with a baseball bat.
Ramos hit 16 home runs with 59 RBI in only 287 at-bats. Using the 570 at-bats of his 162-game averages, his 2013 numbers would project to 32 home runs and 117 RBI over a full season.
If Ramos puts up those types of numbers, he may not be batting sixth for long.
Adam LaRoche does not deserve to bat any higher than seventh in this lineup.
Not after the season he had in 2013. And not with the young talent nipping at his heels in the batting order.
LaRoche needs to take his medicine and not complain about his demotion. He needs to prove that the 20 home runs, 62 RBI and .237 batting average he produced in 2013 were an aberration and that he is still capable of the 33 home runs, 100 RBI and .271 batting average that he produced in 2012.
Hell, even if LaRoche produced 26 home runs, 90 RBI and .264 batting average, according to his 162-game averages, that would suffice.
Until then, the 34-year-old deserves to bat seventh.
Not everyone is able to bat eighth in the National League.
With the pitcher up next, the hitter in the eighth spot gets absolutely no protection. Yet, at the same time, this player is still under pressure to get on base so the pitcher can advance them with a sacrifice bunt.
Anthony Rendon was able to get the job done despite the undesirable nature of the assignment. As a rookie, no less.
Rendon logged 24 of 98 games in the eighth batting order position, accounting for two home runs, 12 RBI and .275 batting average in 80 at-bats. All told, Rendon hit seven home runs with 35 RBI and .265 batting average in 351 at-bats.
The Nationals have found a talented player who can succeed in the eighth spot, and they cannot afford to mess with the formula.