The Washington Nationals are coming to Chase Field for a four game set, Thursday through Sunday.
How have the Nationals done this year?
The Nationals are 20-18, good for third place in the NL East, behind a young Atlanta Braves team in first (21-14), and uh, whatever the Phillies are doing (21-15). The Nationals have scored 177 runs, and allowed 147 runs, which works out to be a 22-16 Pythagorean W-L. The Nationals have been streaking as of late, winning eight of their last eleven games, though they are coming off a loss last night. We faced the Nationals earlier this year back in April, playing a three game set, taking two of three.
How do the Nationals stack up compared to the Diamondbacks?
The Nationals have done as well as they have thanks to being a well rounded team, having above average offense, pitching, and defense. The one area the Nationals have a clear advantage over the Dbacks is offensively, where the Nationals rank 11th overall. The Nationals ranked 10th overall by ERA+, also putting them above average in pitching as well. The Nationals rank in the top third of teams defensively as well, placing sixth in overall defensive efficiency. The Dbacks for comparison, rank second in pitching with 137 ERA+ and are in the bottom half offensively, ranked 23rd offensively with a 90 OPS+. Defensively the Diamondbacks also excel over the Nationals, ranking second in Defensive Efficiency, first in Fielding Percentage, First in Total Fielding Runs Above Average, and first or second in just about every defensive statistic.
Offense: Washington Nationals
Defense: Arizona Diamondbacks
Pitching: Arizona Diamondbacks
Overall: Arizona Diamondbacks
You may not want to read about Bryce Harper, you in fact, may be sick of reading about Bryce Harper, but none of that matters, because I want to write about Bryce Harper. Harper is in the final year of team control and is likely due for a massive pay raise as he enters free agency for the first time after this season. There’s been talk about a 26 year old Bryce Harper getting a 400 million dollar contract. Will he get a contract that big? In this day and agee, I think it likelier that he gets a contract with less years and a shorter AV or a deal with an opt out, so he can re-enter the market when he’s 29. Or he could get a massive deal, he will be 26 after all, and he’s likely to actually perform through a 7 or 8 year deal. Given all this talk, a casual fan would expect Bryce Harper to be the most valuable player on the team, maybe second behind starting pitcher Max Scherzer. You’d be right about the latter, but Harper isn’t even the second or third most valuable National by bWAR, he’s the ninth most vauable player on the team, behind (in order) Scherzer, Matt Adams, Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo(who the heck is Wilmer Difo?), Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hellickson, Stephen Strasburg, and Tanner Roark. Harper has been quite valuable, worth 0.7 bWAR already, and he’s got a 158 OPS+ and 148 wRC+. The scary thing is that Harper’s .184 batting average on balls in play suggests that he’s had some bad luck, and that .230 batting average is due for some positive regression.
Max Scherzer has been insanely good this season, and we’ll face him in the second game of the series. As noted earlier, Scherzer leads the team in bWAR, already accumulating 2 WAR this early in the season. Scherzer is 6-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 51.2 innings pitched this year, with a 80:13 K:BB ratio. Scherzer ranks first in the league with a 1.75 FIP, first in K/9 at 13.94, second in K% at 40%, second in K-BB% at 33.5%, fourth in ERA- with a 44 ERA-, fourth xFIP- at 64, and ranks sixth in WHIP at 0.85. The one chink in his armor, where he doesn’t rank in the top five, is his BB%, which at 6.5% ranks 30th.
Other Players of Note
As I noted earlier, left fielder and first baseman Matt Adams has been the second most valuable player after Max Scherzer for the Nationals, and has been the most valuable position player. Adams is hitting .304/.421/.734 with four doubles and ten home runs, and has already accumulated 1.3 bWAR. Adams ranks in the top ten in most offensive statistical categories, and his 7.9 at bats per home run ranks first in the National League. Adams strikes out a decent clip, 22.1% of of his at bats this year, but he’s walking a lot more now, 14.7%
Shortstop Trea Turner is hitting .269/.376/.393, good for a 111 OPS+ and accounts for most of his value, as he’s been average to slightly below average defensively.
Left handed starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez has been the second most valuable pitcher for the Nationals, but we will miss him in the series. Tanner Roark is a pitcher we will be seeing who’s done quite well for the Nationals, and has also been more valuable than Bryce Harper. Roark has a been a solid mid-rotation starter, posting a 3.65 ERA with a 1.083 WHIP. Roarks’ peripheral stats are basically the same as last year when he posted a 4.67 ERA, and his FIP of 4.59 and xFIP of 4.19 suggests that his ERA is due to go up to be in line with last year as well.
Finally, to answer my own question, Wilmer Difo is a 26 year old second baseman and shortstop, in his second full year with the Nationals. Difo is hitting .278/.377/.392, which as a middle infielder, makes him more valuable than Bryce Harper.
The most notable National on the DL is outfielder, and former Diamondback, Adam Eaton. Eaton landed on the 10 Day DL with a strained ankle on April 29th, but it’s unlikely we’ll see him during the series since he’s suffered some setbacks. Although Eaton is great when healthy, he’s been unable to stay healthy, so he’s an afterthought to me as far as Nationals go. Daniel Murphy, Joaquin Benoit, Koda Glover, Raudy Reed, Joe Ross, Jhonatan Solano, Matt Grace, and Brian Goodwin are all also on the disabled list as well
I’m not going to go into the individual pitching match ups, but I would like to note that Matt Koch once again has a tough match up, with him squaring off against Sherzer in the second game of the series.
Game 1 Thursday, May 10, 6:40 PM MT
Tanner Roark (2-3, 3.65 ERA) VS Zach Grienke (3-2 4.10 ERA)
Game 2 Friday, May 11 6:40 PM MT
Max Sherzer (6-1, 1.74 ERA) VS Matt Koch (2-0, 2.13 ERA)
Game 3 Saturday May 12 1:05 PM MT
Stephen Strasburg (4-3, 3.52 ERA) VS TBD
Game 4 Sunday May 13th 5:08 PM MT
Jeremy Hellickson (1-0, 2.28 ERA) vs Zack Godley (3.83 ERA)