Check out my 2022 Season Preview Article for the Washington Nationals here.
Image: Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports
2022 Record: 55-107 (.340 win%, 5th in Division)
2022 Payroll: $140,772,735 (20th)
1. RF Lane Thomas, .243 AVG/.303 OBP/.407 SLG, 1.2 fWAR
2. SS CJ Abrams, .246 AVG/.280 OBP/.324 SLG, -0.2 fWAR
3. 1B Joey Meneses, .329 AVG/.369 OBP/.571 SLG, 1.6 fWAR
4. DH Luke Voit, .228 AVG/.310 OBP/.405 SLG, 0.3 fWAR
5. 2B Luis García .272 AVG/.293 OBP/.407 SLG, 0.0 fWAR
6. LF César Hernández .248 AVG/.311 OBP/.318 SLG, 0.5 fWAR
7. 3B Ildemaro Vargas, .263 AVG/.300 OBP/.395 SLG, 1.4 fWAR
8. CF Victor Robles, .224 AVG/.273 OBP/.311 SLG, 0.3 fWAR
9. C Keibert Ruiz, .251 AVG/.313 OBP/.360 SLG, 1.7 fWAR
1. Josiah Gray, 148.2 IP/ 5.02 ERA/ 1.36 WHIP, -0.6 fWAR
2. Patrick Corbin, 152.2 IP/ 6.31 ERA/ 1.70 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
3. Paolo Espino, 113.1 IP/ 4.84 ERA/ 1.37 WHIP, -0.1 fWAR
4. Erick Fedde, 124.2 IP/ 5.27 ERA/ 1.57 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR
5. Aníbal Sánchez, 69.1 IP/ 4.28 ERA/ 1.27 WHIP, -0.2 fWAR
2022 Top 4 Relievers:
1. CL Kyle Finnegan, 65.2 IP/ 3.56 ERA/ 1.14 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
2. Victor Arano, 42.0 IP/ 4.50 ERA/ 1.40 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR
3. Andres Machado, 59.1 IP/ 3.34 ERA/ 1.37 WHIP, -0.1 fWAR
4. Carl Edwards Jr., 62.0 IP/ 2.76 ERA/ 1.23 WHIP, 0.1 fWAR
Regular Season Recap:
I’ll cut right to the chase. The Washington Nationals did not have an average season, they did not even have a bad season; their season went about as poorly as one could have imagined. I don’t think Nats fans, myself included, had very high expectations for this team, but everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong. The only notable moments of the season were a certain bombshell during the trade deadline, and in the draft, where the Nationals took Elijah Green with the fifth overall pick.
In terms of play on the field, thrilling moments were hard to come by, but there were a few, I suppose. Shortstop CJ Abrams had an exciting walk-off hit, which hopefully will spark confidence for the young and developing shortstop. Josiah Gray had some nice starts, including a 7-inning, 9-strikeout performance vs the Rangers in June, and Patrick Corbin had a handful of performances where he looked like the player who the Nationals deemed was worth a 6-year $140 million contract back in the 2019 offseason.
It is hard to enjoy any of the positives the Nationals had this season without stopping to remember that this team managed to lose 107 games, though, the most the franchise has seen since moving to Washington DC. Many of the players that fans hoped could have bounce-back years regressed, and almost every player failed to make a positive contribution at least on the field.
When the Nationals won the world series 3 years ago manager Davey Martinez famously said that “bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.” The Nationals are now facing the bumpiest road the franchise has encountered in recent history, and one can only hope that the place ahead is as beautiful as promised.
M-SABR Predicted Record (70-92) vs. Actual (55-107):
I was correct in predicting that the Nationals would not have an impressive season, yet my record prediction was off by 15 games, meaning that although I knew this team would disappoint, I could not predict that they would be this historically bad. I wrote that although the Nationals were extremely far from being a championship team that there were still “there are worse teams in the National League,” which also ended up being incorrect.
In hindsight, 70 wins was definitely a high mark to reach considering that outside of Juan Soto, the team lacked any sort of star power, but I was being optimistic and was hoping certain players could take leaps or at least not regress drastically, which certainly did not end up happening. This year’s Nationals team could not meet the relatively low expectations I set for them, and somewhat surprisingly, they did not even come close.
Surprise of the Season: Trading Juan Soto
If you would have told me at the start of the season that the Nationals would trade Juan Soto at this year’s deadline I would have asked for you to be checked into a mental asylum. Dealing perhaps the franchise’s most talented player in its history was a move that nobody could have seen coming. General Manager Mike Rizzo made it very clear that Juan Soto would be the face of the franchise for years to come, and the cornerstone for a rebuild that would hopefully return the team to being an NL East contender. “I want him here for the long term,” Rizzo said back in March, and for most of the first half of the year, there was very little indication that Soto would be suiting up anywhere else besides Washington.
Unfortunately, the Nationals found out the hard way that having a bleak future with one of the worst farm systems in baseball, combined with the city of Washington not being able to provide an attractive market for its athletes, is a recipe for making your superstar player not want to spend the rest of his career with you, which is precisely what Soto turned down when he declined the Nationals’s 15-year $440 million extension in August.
To be fair, the Nationals offering Soto even more money would perhaps have come at the expense of being unable to field a championship team around him. This is a potential side-effect with massive contracts in Major League Baseball, and their return for Soto (along with first baseman Josh Bell) included top tier prospects that helped move the Nats’s farm system from 24th to 8th according to Fangraphs.
Whether the Nats won or lost this trade can only be determined later down the line, but Juan Soto may end up becoming one of the best pure hitters the game has ever seen, and it’s hard to justify letting him go in exchange for several “what-ifs.” Seeing Soto join the likes of Harper, Rendon, Scherzer, and Turner as stars who left Washington too soon may have been the final nail in the coffin for Nats fans, and Soto’s departure officially marks the end to the most successful era in Nationals history.
Players We Watched: RF Juan Soto, C Keibert Ruiz, and SP Josiah Gray
Well, this is awkward. “Disappointing” is a word you will rarely find associated with Soto, and compared to most players, Soto had a stellar season posting 145 WRC+ and an .853 OPS. The problem is that Soto is not supposed to be like most players, and he had massive expectations coming into this season after finishing second in MVP voting the year prior. Although his OBP was high at .401, it’s the lowest he’s had since the 2019 season, and I understand that batting average is not the best stat to evaluate players but a .242 batting average nex to to Soto’s name just doesn’t look right. Soto’s floor as a player is still comparable to many players’ ceilings, but overall, Soto was slightly underwhelming at the plate this past season compared to what we’ve seen in years past.
The two other players to watch were catcher Keibert Ruiz and starting pitcher Josiah Gray, who were the two main pieces in the Max Scherzer and Trea Turner deal from a year ago. Ruiz missed 50 games due to injury, and when he did play he was fairly mediocre. His fielding behind the plate was decent, and his hitting was more or less on par for a catcher. Gray, on the other hand, did not look very good. He posted both an ERA and FIP above 5.00, and his strikeout and walk rate both went down from the season prior. Gray and Ruiz are both just 24 years old, so they will have time to develop, but so far it has not looked great for these two important pieces in the Nats rebuild.
It’s hard to predict who exactly this team plans on signing or trading for since every position on the roster needs to be improved. The only positions I can say for sure the Nationals may not alter too much are shortstop and catcher, as CJ Abrams has shown promise during his time with the Nats, and Keibert Ruiz is still developing and is only 24 years old.
Perhaps first baseman Joey Meneses could be dealt, as he played well after being called up due to the Soto trade, and perhaps a team is willing to take a flyer on him. Luke Voit could maybe be dealt as well since we’ve seen what he can do in previous years with the Yankees and Padres. Other than that it’s challenging to see other teams trading for any Nationals, as acquiring any of them and considering it an upgrade would require serious mental gymnastics.
Ideally the Nats can maybe sign some cheap free agents that could perhaps have trade value at the deadline. Realistically however, it is hard to see them improving dramatically and the moves they end up making will likely be for the sake of simply filling out roster spots.
Something to Watch: Under New Ownership
Earlier in June, the Lerner family, long time owners of the team, announced they would sell the Nationals this offseason. The rumor mill since then has swirled with potential buyers, but as of now it seems that the front runner to purchase the Nats is Ted Leonsis, who also owns both the Wizards and Capitals. Wizards and Capitals fans have mixed opinions on Leonsis as he has made questionable front office moves in the past, but Leonsis has shown in the past to be willing to spend big bucks to keep star players in town, such as Bradley Beal, Alex Ovechkin, and John Wall.
With new ownership looming it is likely that whoever chooses to purchase the team will like to clean house and start over with a new slate. That could mean that President and General Manager Mike Rizzo, who has been with the team since 2007, may be out the door. That would mean that Manager Davey Martinez and the rest of the coaching staff might also be gone in the near future as well. Although both Rizzo and Martinez helped build and guide the Nationals to their only World Series victory in franchise history, it can be argued that the team’s complete downward spiral in recent years is enough to justify letting them go.
Lastly, there have been rumors that 2019 World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg may also not return for next season as he is considering retirement. Strasburg has had a stellar career with Washington but he has only played in 8 games since 2019 and his 7 year $245 million contract he signed back in 2019 may go down as one of the worst signings in recent memory.
The Nationals won the World Series just 3 years ago, however since then the team’s downturn has been forgetful to say the least. A brand new era of Nationals baseball will be underway next season and the team has a substantial amount of work in front of them, from top to bottom, if they want to return to the heights they saw not too long ago.
Categories: 2022 Season Review, Articles, Post-COVID
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