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January 2, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Nats team of the first decade

As the Nats mark their first decade in Washington, it’s appropriate to select an all-star team. We’ve already seen a few writers make their selections.

Of course, the selection of such a team is going to be largely determined by the rules that the writer sets. Here are the rules I’ve decided to go by:

  1. All performance (and value) while playing for the Washington Nationals counts. The rest of the player’s career doesn’t count. My metric is closer to cumulative value rather than peak value, and counts value at all positions played (not just at the position for which the player is selected).
  2. For the starting position players, a player must have played at least 100 games for the Nationals at the position. Also, the games played at that position must represent at least 35% of all games played for the Nationals. In other words, I’m trying to avoid slotting players at positions where they didn’t spend much time.
  3. The team composition should reflect a typical, standard roster—that is, in addition to 8 starting position players, I’ll have 5 starting pitchers, 7 relief pitchers, a backup catcher, and 4 other bench players. The bench must versatile enough to cover an injury at any position.
  4. I try, as best I can, to account for all aspects of performance, including batting, fielding, base running, etc. Length of service also counts. I pay especial attention to wins above replacement (WAR). However, I don’t go strictly by WAR – for example, Adam Dunn’s WAR is low partly because of low fielding scores when the Nats had him playing in the outfield—an obvious misuse of Dunn’s talents.

For each position, I’ll list the candidates (that is, the players with at least 100 games) and my selection.

  • Catcher – Candidates: Brian Schneider (358 games), Wilson Ramos (311), Jesus Flores (263), Wil Nieves (183), Ivan Rodriguez (136), Kurt Suzuki (120). My selection is Wilson Ramos (2010–2014). His batting has been strong enough (.268, .317, .432, 105 wRC+, that is, “weighted runs created relative to league”) to more than make up for the difference with Schneider in service time. The knock against Ramos is health, but a strong bat from a defense-first position can make up for a lot of qualms about health.
  • First base – Candidates: Adam LaRoche (481 games), Nick Johnson (407), Adam Dunn (220), Dmitri Young (154), Michael Morse (116). My selection is Nick Johnson (2005–2009). Again, the bat is able to overcome the effects of his injuries. Johnson’s (.286, .416, .471, 137 wRC+) statistical line is well above LaRoche’s (113 wRC+), and Johnson was probably the better defensive player too.
  • Second base – Candidates: Danny Espinosa (441 games), Ronnie Belliard (194), Jose Vidro (186), Felipe Lopez (121), Anthony Rendon (110), Steve Lombardozzi (102). This is probably the toughest choice, but I’m going to go with Anthony Rendon (2013–14; .279, .343, .445, 119 wRC+) over Espinosa. Both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs suggest that Espinosa’s 2010–2012 were nearly as valuable as Rendon’s 2013–2014, and Rendon has played more games (and better) at third base than at second. But Espinosa’s last two seasons have had little, if any, value, and Rendon’s overall hitting has been more valuable than Espinosa’s defense and home runs.
  • Third base – Candidates: Ryan Zimmerman (1,133 games), Rendon (149), Vinny Castilla (138). The selection is Ryan Zimmerman (2005–2014; .286, .352, .476, 120 wRC+). Well, that one was easy!
  • Shortstop – Candidates: Ian Desmond (758 games), Cristian Guzman (459), Felipe Lopez (190). The selection is Ian Desmond (2009–2014; .270, .317, .431, 104 wRC+). Again, a pretty easy selection.
  • Left field – Candidates: Josh Willingham (195 games), Bryce Harper (194), Willie Harris (177), Roger Bernadina (173), Alfonso Soriano (158), Ryan Church (144), Michael Morse (124). As you can see, this has been the Nats’ least settled position. My selection is Bryce Harper (2012–2014; .272, .351, .465, 125 wRC+). Harper benefits from my decision to include his value from other positions; if I were going just based on his time in left field, I would have gone with Soriano. But Harper has put together substantial value at a remarkably young age.
  • Center field – Candidates: Denard Span (300 games), Nyjer Morgan (181), Rick Ankiel (167), Roger Bernadina (140), Lastings Milledge (139), Nook Logan (137), Ryan Church (112), Bryce Harper (108). My selection is Denard Span (2013–2014; .290, .341, .398; 107 wRC+). Ryan Church is another plausible choice, but I prefer Span’s glove to Church’s bat.
  • Right field – Candidates: Jayson Werth (475 games), Austin Kearns (356), Jose Guillen (208), Elijah Dukes (134), Roger Bernadina (123), Michael Morse (111). My selection is Jayson Werth (2011–2014; .282, .375, .452, 131 wRC+).
  • Starting pitchers – My selections are: (1) Jordan Zimmermann (2009–2014; 57–40, 3.24, 739 K), (2) Stephen Strasburg (2010–2014; 43–30, 3.02, 746 K), (3) Gio Gonzalez (2012–2014; 42–26, 3.25, 561 K), (4) John Lannan (2007–2012; 42–52, 4.01, 410 K), and (5) Livan Hernandez (2005–2006, 2009–2011; 44–47, 4.32, 476 K).
  • Relief pitchers – My selections are: (1) Tyler Clippard (2008–2014; 414 games, 34 saves, 2.68), (2) Drew Storen (2010–2014; 297, 66, 2.94), (3) Chad Cordero (2005–2008; 224, 113, 2.78), (4) Jon Rauch (2005–2008; 236, 23, 3.40), (5) Craig Stammen (2009–2014, 224, 1, 3.94), (6) Sean Burnett (2009–2012; 245, 9, 2.81), and (7) Saul Rivera (2006–2009; 245, 4, 4.05).
  • Backup catcher – Brian Schneider (2005–2007; .253, .325, .356, 79). He was an able defensive catcher and a fan favorite.
  • Bench – My selections are: (1) Danny Espinosa (backup at 2B/SS, could cover 3B in a pinch, though it would make more sense to move Rendon to third and Espinosa to second) (2010–2014; .228/.299/.387; 87); (2) Ryan Church (OF; 2005–2007; .277, .354, .478, 118); (3) Alfonso Soriano (LF; 2006; .277, .351, .560, 129)—only one season in Washington, but it was a great one; (4) Adam Dunn (1B/PH; 2009–2010; .264, .378, .533, 139)—despite the poor defense and the ugly years after leaving Washington, we shouldn’t forget that he could really hit.

The outcome of this exercise is that the Nats’ all-stars look a lot like the team that’s been playing for Washington over the last three seasons. I guess that shouldn’t have been surprising, since looking at these names, it’s clear that the quality of the team’s lineup is much better now than it was during the team’s first six years in Washington. There are some names listed among “Candidates” that I’d really like to forget, but they are part of the team’s history too. I guess the other thing I learned is that the Nats have always been able to put together at least a semi-decent bullpen. Maybe that’s the easiest thing for a weak team to cobble together.

Let’s enjoy the current version of the Nats while they’re still together.

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