Opening Day is just around the corner, and many readers will be taking part in fantasy baseball drafts soon. I figured I would give my take on which Nationals should find a place on your team and which ones you should stay far, far away from.
Draft these guys:
Ryan Zimmerman – It should come as no surprise to anyone that Ryan Zimmerman is the premiere player on the Nationals, both fantasy-wise and in real life. He has quickly become the face of the franchise, and after signing a five-year extension, Zimmerman will remain a National through at least 2013.
Last year was Zimmerman’s coming out party. He produced a career high 178 hits, 33 home runs, 110 runs, and a .292 batting average. As a result, Zimmerman’s .377 wOBA ranked third in the National League. Zimmerman’s numbers likely came as a result of two things. First, he did not chase pitches out of the strike zone as much as he has in the past (21.3% O-Swing% in 2009 vs. 24.2% career). Second, Zimmerman absolutely destroyed fastballs last year. He produced 21 runs above average against fastballs, second among National League third basemen.
What can you expect from Zimmerman in 2010? I expect some regression, although I do feel like Zimmerman has matured as a hitter, as evidenced by his reduction of chasing pitches out of the zone. Barring injury, you can expect Zimmerman to play over 150 games and rack up about 680 plate appearances. I expect him to hit about 35 doubles, 28 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs, and around a .285 batting average. If your league uses on-base percentage or slugging, those will lie around .355 and .510, respectively. These numbers make Zimmerman the fifth best third base option in all of Baseball (behind Youkilis, Reynolds, Rodriguez, and Longoria – but don’t be so quick to anoint Longoria the higher spot).
Adam Dunn – Adam Dunn is the second most qualified fantasy player on the Nationals due to his consistency and power. For whatever reason, Dunn believes he can hit .300 and has stated so more than once this spring. While it is highly unlikely that Dunn does reach his goal, he did show significant improvements last season. Dunn hit a career high .267 in 2009, aided by a .324 BABIP. His batting average is still his weak spot, but it will not hurt a team as much as it would have in the past. Last year was the first in which Dunn did not eclipse the 40-home run plateau since 2003. This was not a function of power decline; rather, it was the result of a move from the bandbox in Cincinnati to the more pitcher-friendly Nationals Park.
Dunn is a lock for 35+ home runs and 100 RBI. Proceed with caution, though. Among first basemen, Dunn’s power is not too rare. His batting average will hurt not help your team – although, Dunn hit .290 on the road last year. I would attribute much of this to luck (.366 BABIP, career .244 BA on the road), but it might be worth it platoon Dunn on road games and see how he does.
Nyjer Morgan – I suggest Nyjer Morgan passively because he is unproven. He has had one productive year, and his offensive numbers suit those of a middle infielder rather than an outfielder. Generally targeted fantasy outfielders are those with power, especially those with a good amount of stolen bases. Morgan is a base stealing machine, fantasy-wise. Only three players stole more than Nyjer Morgan’s 42 bases last year, and Morgan did it in fewer plate appearances than his superiors. Among players who stole at least 20 bases in 2009, Morgan ranked 6th in SBAvg.* Morgan stole a base 21% of the time he got on base. In other words, Morgan steals a lot of bases, and he gets on base at a good clip (.369 OBP last year). Morgan could be a useful fourth or fifth outfielder on a good fantasy team.
Josh Willingham makes a great fourth outfielder. In his career, he averages just about 24 plate appearances per home run. His wOBA is consistently in the mid-.360s, although it shot up to .373 in 2009. Fantasy-wise, Willingham makes a good player to have on the bench, able to start when your start outfielder has a day off. Willingham’s career SLG against left-handed pitchers is .496 and .472 vs. right-handers. This is not a terrible split, but it is sizable enough to consider a platoon with Willingham vs. lefties.
Ian Desmond was named the starting shortstop today, but he will share at-bats with Cristian Guzman. Desmond seems to be ready with the bat, but his defense is not yet at Major League level (and might never be). In 89 plate appearances last September, Desmond hit .280 with 4 home runs, and 12 RBI. It was a very small sample size indeed, but his numbers were consistent with his 2009 Triple-A performance. Jim Riggleman will likely have a short leash with him, not wanting to see him fail. Also, the Nationals need to give Guzman playing time to salvage his value. Expect Desmond to start strong in April, resulting from his determination to stick around, but also expect some regression.
Matt Capps is the slated to start the year as the Nationals’ closer, but I don’t think he will finish the year in the position. The Nationals will not compete in 2010, and the lack of wins will hurt Capps’ save numbers to start. However, if the team falls out of the race quickly, Capps could be traded (to a team like the Twins, who need a closer and can compete). Capps’ saves have increased every year since 2007. Last year was an off-year for Capps, who had a 5.80 ERA to show for it. But his 4.90 FIP and 4.37 xFIP seem to suggest a bit of bad luck with the home run ball. Nationals Park is bigger than PNC Park, so the home runs could even out and give Capps some more saves.
Keep them for later:
Stephen Strasburg will be called up sometime in late May or early June. There is no doubt that you have heard of him, and you know what he is capable of. Strasburg is the real deal, and when he gets called up, he will be here to stay. Strasburg could win 10 games, sport an ERA in the mid-3s, and strike out almost a batter per inning. Draft him, keep him on your bench, and reap the rewards when he does get the call.
Drew Storen will also be promoted to the Nationals during the 2010 season. In fact, his call may come sooner than Strasburg’s. I believe that Storen will finish the year as the Nationals’ closer. He could wind up with 20 saves, an ERA in the high-2s, and a strike out per inning. Get this guy and don’t look back.
Ivan Rodriguez had a good spring, and you might find yourself in need of a catcher. Do not fall for this trap. Rodriguez has little to no offensive ability left in his tank. Plus, spring stats really do not matter.
*SBAvg stands for Stolen Base Average. I thought of it while writing this blog, so maybe it will have some use. It is simply OBP + SB/PA. Or, it is the equivalent of adding SB to the numerator of OBP. Let’s see if it caches on.
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Written by Sam Diament