2022 Season Preview: Washington Nationals

Image: G Fiume/Getty Images

Washington Nationals

By Ryan Sim

2021 Record: 65-97 (.401 win%, 5th in Division)

2021 Payroll: $144,415,187 (14th)

Projected 2022 Lineup:

1. 2B Cesar Hernandez, .249 AVG/.322 OBP/.385 SLG, 1.4 fWAR

2. RF Juan Soto, .314 AVG/.461 OBP/.581 SLG, 7.7 fWAR

3. DH Nelson Cruz, .257 AVG/.327 OBP/.474 SLG, 1.9 fWAR

4. 1B Josh Bell, .273 AVG/.357 OBP/.505 SLG, 2.3 fWAR 

5. LF Lane Thomas .235 AVG/.317 OBP/.413 SLG, 1.3 fWAR

6. C Keibert Ruiz, .269 AVG/.326 OBP/.454 SLG, 2.5 fWAR

7. SS Alcides Escobar .246 AVG/.293 OBP/.346 SLG, -0.1 fWAR  

8. 3B Carter Kieboom, .238 AVG/.330 OBP/.388 SLG, 1.2 fWAR

9. CF Victor Robles .236 AVG/.320 OBP/.371 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

Projected 2022 Rotation:

1. Stephen Strasburg, 115.3 IP/3.67 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR

2. Patrick Corbin, 168.7 IP/4.16 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 2.4 fWAR

3. Josiah Gray, 91.0 IP/4.55 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 1.1 fWAR

4. Joe Ross, 103.0 IP/4.37 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 1.3 fWAR

5. Erick Fedde, 125.0 IP/4.82 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 0.9 fWAR

Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:

1. Kyle Finnegan, 59.0 IP/3.81 ERA/1.36 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

2. Will Harris, 35.0IP/3.60 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR

3. Jace Fry, 50.0 IP/3.96 ERA/1.40 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with a direction the franchise had not seen in nearly a decade; enter a rebuild and reset. The Nationals posted a record of 18-42 down the stretch after a 2021 trade deadline that saw them move All-Stars Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, and longtime franchise cornerstone Max Scherzer. 

Their only noteworthy move so far this offseason has been signing 17 year veteran Nelson Cruz to a one year $15 million contract. At first glance, Cruz seems like a player whose role may seem best fit for a team ready to contend immediately, but perhaps the team wants to fit Cruz in an otherwise unspectacular lineup and add a small spark to their offense as they attempt to show the least bit of life.

Other than the Cruz signing, the rest of the Nationals’s offseason remained quiet. The team inked former gold glove winner Cesar Hernandez to a one year $6.25 million contract to help tighten up the infield. Hernandez struggled in 2021, only posting a WRC+ of 90, and his OPS fell from 0.763 to 0.694. Hernandez is great defensively, as last year his UZR was 5.8, which is actually higher than his 2020 Gold Glove winning season, but offensively he leaves much to be desired. 

Shortstop ​​Alcides Escobar was re-signed on a one year deal after joining the Nationals last season having not played in the big leagues since 2018. Even still, in 75 games he hit for a league average 100 WRC+ and 1.7 fWAR. Escobar is now 35, so durability may become a concern, but Nationals fans are hoping that Escobar can serve as a stopgap starting shortstop during the team’s transitional period. 

For the pitching staff, the Nationals brought back familiar face Sean Doolittle for another year. Doolittle spent his 2021 with both the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners and was disappointing with an unimpressive 5.78 ERA, the worst he’s posted in his nine year career. Other than Doolittle, the Nationals did not make any other noteworthy additions to their staff. Carl Edwards Jr. and Jace Fry both signed minor league contracts and could accompany Doolittle in the bullpen. Former Nationals Tyler Clippard and Anibal Sanchez were also signed to minor league contracts, but it’s no guarantee that they’ll play a major role this season for the Nats. 

2022 Season Preview:

Washington may boast perhaps the league’s best hitter in Juan Soto, but it’s hard to find an aspect of this team that appears above league average, let alone championship ready. 

Soto and Cruz appear to be the only players who will contribute in a major way on offense. First baseman Josh Bell had a decent 2021 season with a 118 WRC+, but the Nationals will more than likely need him to play at an even higher level if they wish to show any competitive effort. Third base could be occupied by either Makiel Franco or Carter Kieboom, depending on whether or not Washington still has hopes that the 24 year old Kieboom can develop and become an everyday player. 

Victor Robles and Lane Thomas will likely share the outfield with Soto. Robles is still relatively young as he enters his age 25 season, but he has yet to fully live up to the high expectations set for him when he entered the league as one of the National’s top prospects. Robles played just 107 games in 2021 and despite his stellar fielding his hitting left much to be desired as he posted a 67 WRC+. 

Thomas showed some promise in 2021 as after he was traded to Washington he had a .853 OPS in 45 games. Thomas has yet to play a full season in the big leagues so it’s hard to tell whether or not this level of play will be sustained but the Nationals hope that Thomas can be a bright spot alongside Soto in an otherwise subpar lineup. 

Pitching-wise the Nationals starting rotation looks interesting to say the least. Stephen Strasburg returns from injury but it’s hard to say how well he will perform. Baseball fans have seen Strasburg be dominant, especially during the Nationals 2019 World Series run, however, Strasburg only started 5 games in 2021 posting a 4.57 ERA and pitched in only 2 games in 2020. 

To say that Strasburg has not lived up to his 245 million dollar 7 year contract that he signed in 2019 is an understatement, but Nationals fans certainly hope that he’s able to pitch like he’s done in years prior. 

Joining Strasburg in the rotation is lefty Patrick Corbin who has also struggled since 2019.  Like Strasburg, Corbin is also signed to a lengthy deal (6 years, 140 million) and like Strasburg, Corbin struggled last season as he had a 5.82 ERA and threw just 171.2 innings, the least he’s thrown in a full season since 2016. 

The rotation shows slightly more promise than the lineup especially if Corbin and Strasburg can return to the level Nats fans have seen them play at, and the strength of rotation will depend heavily on their success. 

Record Prediction: 70-92

The Nationals did not make any major improvements to the team so it’s hard to think this upcoming season will go any differently than what we saw at the end of 2021. It also does not help that the rest of the NL East got better this offseason as the Mets, Phillies, and Braves all made moves to either maintain or improve their roster strength. There are worse teams in the National League, but there are certainly a lot better ones, and it’s hard envisioning this Nationals team making a championship run. 

Player to Watch #1: RF Juan Soto

What else is there to say about Soto that hasn’t already been said? After an impressive 2020 season Soto elevated his game even further as he finished 2nd in NL MVP voting with a 7.7 fWAR and 163 WRC+. 

Even Soto’s defense improved, as he posted 4 DRS after the Nationals moved him to right field. Soto is one of baseball’s brightest stars both on and off the field and if he continues his superstar level of play he’ll make any team worth watching. 

Player to Watch #2: P Josiah Gray 

Once a top prospect in the Dodgers’s organization Gray enters his second big league season with high expectations. Gray was included in the deal that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles and in his first few starts with the Nationals he showed early signs of promise. 

However, he did slow down near the end of the season and reminded everybody that he still has a long way to go in his development. Gray’s glaring weakness is giving up the long ball as last season as he totaled a HR/9 of 2.2. It’s unlikely he’ll immediately reach his full potential this season, but how far he progresses this season is something to keep an eye out for.  

Player to Watch #3: C Keibert Ruiz

Included in the Max Scherzer, Trea Turner blockbuster besides Josiah Gray was top catching prospect Keiburt Ruiz. Ruiz did not play as much as Gray after they were traded but still posted decent numbers as he had a 105 OPS+ in 23 games with the Nats. Ruiz spent more time in AAA after the trade but he continued to play well as he had a 146 WRC+ and a strikeout percentage of just 7.7%. 

The development of both Ruiz’s and Gray’s this upcoming season is arguably the most important factor in deciding the direction of the franchise in the future. If they show significant improvement compared to 2021 the Nationals may be more active next offseason as the team may feel ready to compete. It’s challenging and oftentimes unfair to pin the future of a franchise to 2 up-and-coming players, but it certainly feels as if that is the case for Ruiz and Gray going into the 2022 season.

Categories: 2022 Season Preview

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