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Washington Nationals' Mid-Term Grades: Fan's Take

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The Washington Nationals approach the mid-point of the 2012 season with 47 wins in their first 79 games. At their current pace, the Nationals will end the season with 96 wins and likely earn a postseason berth. Washington has allowed the fewest runs in all of baseball and their run differential is second best in the National League. For a team and their fans that began the season with hopes of staying in contention throughout the year, there is a lot to feel proud of their performance thus far.

As the season reaches the half-way mark, here is my report card of the Washington Nationals' players and a performance assessment of each.

Starters

Stephen Strasburg: A+

Not much can be said that hasn't already about the great season Strasburg has had in 2012. Despite a couple of rough outings, Strasburg has been dominant; leading the National League in strikeouts while walking just 27 batters. His strikeouts, opponent batting average, WHIP and earned run average all rank among the best in the National League.

Gio Gonzalez: A+

Keeping relative pace with Strasburg has been lefty Gio Gonzalez; who would likely be an ace on most other teams in the league. In Washington, he is relegated to a supporting role, but has been equally dominant; posting an 11-3 record and a 3.01 earned run average. Gio has been in a virtual dead heat with Strasburg all season for the most strikeouts in the National League; joining Strasburg and Ian Desmond as all-star representatives for Washington.

Jordan Zimmermann: A

The team leader with a 2.70 earned run average, Zimmerman would have a much better record had the Nationals scored more during his starts. The former Tommy John surgery recipient in 2009 has a solid WHIP and has been as dependable as any starter in the big leagues; currently possessing an active streak of 16 games where he has pitched six or more innings.

Edwin Jackson: B-

Obtained this past off-season to add veteran experience to the young starting rotation, Jackson has struggled with consistency; dominating on one night and barely getting through five innings on another. Jackson lost three of his first four decisions; despite posting a solid 3.16 earned run average. Conversely, Edwin has won four of his last six starts while registering a 4.84 ERA. When he is on, Jackson is as good a pitcher that there is in the National League; but has trouble getting in a groove in the first inning.

Ross Detwiler: C+

Versatile lefty has pitched booth as an end of the rotation starter and in long relief. Detwiler started out strong, winning two of this first three decisions with an 0.56 earned run average. From there the lefty would struggle over his next five starts, Detwiler would record a 5.76 ERA and would be delegated to the bullpen. His effectiveness as a reliever coupled with the ineffectiveness of Chien-Ming Wan would prompt a return to the rotation for Ross; where he would post a 3.21 earned run average since.

Bullpen

Tyler Clippard: A-

Last year's dominant role as set-up man earned Clippard his first all-star appearance. This season Clippard has been called upon to assume the closer responsibilities with the injury sustained to Drew Storen. Since a rough April start (5.40 ERA), Tyler has come on strong, saving 13 games while allowing just one earned run in his last 25 appearances.

Sean Burnett: A-

After a mediocre 2011 season, there weren't many that thought Burnett would have a season like he has in 2012. Burnett has been very effective as both a lefty specialist as well as set-up man; recording a microscopic 0.98 WHIP and 1.47 earned run average. Burnett has allowed a .188 batting average against lefties and a respectable .226 against righties.

Craig Stammen: B+

Once considered a candidate for a starting rotation spot, Stammen has become very effective in his short relief role. To date, Stammen has seven holds and three wins to go along with his 1.41 earned run average; having been equally effective against both lefties and righties. With runners in scoring position, Stammen has allowed a miniscule .093 batting average.

Ryan Mattheus: B

Solid but not spectacular, Mattheus has been extremely effective since returning from the disabled list; allowing only one earned run in his last nine appearances. Early in the season, Mattheus was used more as a set-up man and delivered with two wins and six holds in his first 16 appearances.

Henry Rodriguez: C-

For a bullpen that has been outstanding for most of the season, it is difficult to find much at fault. One pitcher that has struggled for Washington is Rodriguez, who still struggles with control. Inserted as the closer to start the season, Rodriguez would be solid; converting his first five save opportunities. The months of May and June were rough for Henry; allowing 10 earned runs in 11 innings pitched. With overpowering velovity, if Rodriguez can establish some control he could become another valuable weapon in the Washington relief corps.

Tom Gorzelanny: C+

Assuming full-time relief duties for the first time in his career, Gorzelanny shook off a rough April to settle into the middle relief role for Washington. The higher than average opponent's batting average with runners in scoring position (.297) make the left-handed veteran risky to place in tight game situations. The team could do far worse for a long reliever with his versatility.

Michael Gonzalez: B

Inserted into the bullpen on June 3, the former Pirates closer has been solid; allowing two earned runs in 11 innings pitched. Another left-hander that the Nationals can throw into a game, Gonzalez has performed well in the lefty-specialist role; allowing a mere .118 opponent's batting average.

Brad Lidge: F

Signed to add depth to the end of the bullpen, Lidge was inconsistent early and outright atrocious after a one month inactive stint. Upon his return from the disabled list, the veteran closer was simply ineffective to put it mildly; allowing six earned runs in four appearances prior to his release.

Infielders

Adam LaRoche: B

LaRoche got out of the gate strong for Washington, batting .329 in April. Despite a declining batting average, the left-handed first baseman has continued to provide power for Washington; hitting seven home runs in June and 15 for the season. If LaRoche had a better batting average (.252 for the season) he may have been selected to the all-star game.

Danny Espinosa: C+

Early season struggles from the left side of the plate (.201) have resulted in a low batting average, but Espinosa has been torrid throughout the year from the right side (.329) and solid with the glove. After flirting with the Mendoza line on June 1, Espinosa has hit .260 overall since. Not a frequent base-stealing threat, Danny has stolen 13 bases and caught only once this season. A better second-half from the switch-hitting second baseman will be a welcomed addition to the National's offense.

Ian Desmond: B+

Could be considered the team's most valuable player; Desmond has had a career season and was selected to his first all-star game. Desmond ranks first among National League shortstops in home runs, doubles and runs batted in. Desmond has performed best in clutch situations; batting .326 with runners in scoring position and two outs. Desmond takes full advantage of early count pitching, hitting .366 on the first pitch of an at bat and .351 when the count is 0-1.

Ryan Zimmerman: B-

Early season struggles with a nagging sore shoulder have zapped a bit of Zimmerman's production, but the third baseman has been on fire as of late; hitting .340 with four home runs in his last 11 games. Rest over the all-star break will hopefully be more of a benefit to his health than a hindrance to his production.

Catchers

Jesus Flores: C+

Expected to be a dependable back-up catcher, Flores was tagged as the everyday starter as a result of Wilson Ramos' season ending knee injury. Flores has been solid bedind and at the plate; hitting around .250 for most of the season with an occasional display of power.

Utility players/pinch hitters

Steve Lombardozzi: B-

After a torrid May (.348 average), Lombardozzi has cooled at the plate in June (.156 ). Unlike Espinosa, the switch-hitting utility player thrives against righties (.286) and struggles against lefties (.107). The switch-hitter has paid dividends for Washington, applying his versatility through assuming infield and outfield positions.

Tyler Moore: A-

Injuries early in the season opened the door for Moore; and the rookie has proven that he belongs in the majors for the long term. Splitting duty between first base and outfield, Moore has provided pop as a pinch-hitter and spot starter. Moore was on fire in June; batting .425 with four home runs in 13 games.

Outfielders

Michael Morse: B

After an MVP caliber season in 2011, expectations were high for Morse this season; but injuries delayed "The Beast" from making his 2012 debut. After struggling early from his stint on the disabled list, Morse has begun to show the form that made him a power threat last season; hitting three home runs in his last six games from the clean-up spot in the lineup.

Bryce Harper: A-

One of the more anticipated rookie debuts in several years, the 19-year old has lived up to the hype and then some. After a semi-slump in early May, Harper has been one of Washington's most consistent hitters. Bryce's all-out effort on a nightly basis has just added to his fan allure. Up for all-star game consideration, Harper has played all outfield positions and maintained solid production throughout.

Roger Bernadina: C

Bernadina shook off a rough start to the season (.167 in April) and has been more productive since. Like Desmond, Bernadina has produced when the stakes are higher; hitting .357 with runners in scoring position. With better production ahead of him in the depth chart, the left-handed outfielder will likely continue his role as occasional starter and late game substitution.

Rick Ankiel: C+

The converted pitcher has a cannon arm and occasional pop at the plate. His low batting average and high strikeout ratio makes him likely to continue his role as late game defensive substitution.

Xavier Nady: D

Nady is essentially an emergency player with so many early season injuries. When healthy, Nady will get an occasional start against left-handed pitching; but basically struggles and will find difficulty staying on the active roster with more productive players ahead of him.

Incomplete grades

Players who received incomplete grades due to injury and/or limited playing time include Wilson Ramos, Chad Tracy, Mark DeRosa, Jayson Werth, Chien-Ming Wang, Ryan Perry, and Jhonatan Solano.

Summary

After reviewing the performances of the Washington Nationals' players it is easy to see why the Nationals have the best record in the National League. If the team can maintain their dominant pitching and produce more at the plate, a postseason berth that has long eluded this franchise will become a reality in 2012.

Scott Duhaime is a fan of the Washington Nationals (formerly Montreal Expos) for over 30 years. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.

Follow Scott on Twitter: @Scott_Duhaime

Sources:

Yahoo! Sports: Washington Nationals - roster and player statistics

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