2019 Record: 93-69
Second place, NL East
Team ERA: 4.27 (13th in MLB)
Team OPS: .796 (6th in MLB)
What Went Right
The Nationals won their first World Series championship in a seven-game series against the powerhouse Astros, bringing a title back to D.C. for the first time since the Senators in 1924. The Nationals got into the playoffs by winning a Wild Card spot, but they were one of the best teams in baseball after beginning the year at 19-31. Anthony Rendon was the team’s best all-around player, leading the NL with 126 RBI while batting .319/.412/.598 with 34 homers. Fresh off turning 21 in October, Juan Soto continued to establish himself as one of the game’s most exciting young talents, putting up a .949 OPS with 34 homers and 110 RBI. Injuries aside, Max Scherzer was one of MLB’s best starters yet again, posting a 2.92 ERA with a career-best strikeout percentage. Stephen Strasburg led the NL in innings pitched and wins while posting a 3.32 ERA over 33 starts. After signing a six-year, $140 million contract, Patrick Corbin delivered with a 3.25 ERA over 33 starts. Trea Turner was very good when healthy, seeing his OPS jump from .760 to .850 compared to 2018. World Series hero Howie Kendrick set career-highs with a .344 batting average and a .966 OPS. Asdrubal Cabrera proved to be a valuable midseason pickup. Anibal Sanchez posted a 3.85 ERA over 30 starts, including a 3.42 ERA after returning from the injured list on May 29. Victor Robles is a work in progress with the bat, but he was one of the game’s best defensive outfielders. Daniel Hudson was excellent after coming over from the Blue Jays in a trade. Gerardo Parra helped “Baby Shark” take over an entire fanbase, so that’s something.
What Went Wrong
You might have noticed this during the postseason, but Nationals manager Dave Martinez didn’t have much faith in his bullpen. And for good reason, as Washington’s relievers posted finished dead-last in the majors with a 5.66 ERA. The Nats’ offseason additions in that area just didn’t work out, as Trevor Rosenthal had a hard-to-believe 22.74 ERA over 12 appearances while Kyle Barraclough had a 6.66 ERA over 33 appearances. Neither Hunter Strickland nor Roenis Elias made much of an impact after being acquired from the Mariners before July’s trade deadline. Sean Doolittle was the bright spot for the bullpen for the bulk of the year, but he wore down in the second half due to the heavy workload. Brian Dozier failed to bounce back from his disappointing showing in 2018, losing playing time to Asdrubal Cabrera down the stretch. Ryan Zimmerman missed significant time with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, though he was able to make it back for the Nationals’ thrilling postseason run.
**Anthony Rendon was the top fantasy performer on the Nationals, which is saying something when you have names like Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Trea Turner on your squad. The 29-year-old took things to a different level this year, setting career-highs across the board while amassing a .319/.412/.598 batting line with 34 homers, 126 RBI, and 117 runs scored over 146 games. Rendon had never topped 25 homers, 100 RBI, or 111 runs scored in a season before, so it was a big step forward. And at this point, you can’t poke holes in his game. He displays excellent plate discipline and hits the ball hard when he does swing. According to Baseball Savant, Rendon ranked in the 88th percentile in hard-hit percentage. His barrel percentage has also climbed over the past couple of years. With someone who hits the ball in the air as often as he does, it’s easy to understand why the power has increased. Rendon is a free agent this winter, but everything about his profile screams safe in any venue. He will likely sit behind Nolan Arenado and Alex Bregman among third-base eligible players on draft boards in 2020, but that’s not a slight on him.
**Stephen Strasburg was the top-ranked fantasy pitcher on the Nationals this season. Max Scherzer had another amazing year even when you take injuries into account, so Strasburg truly earned his standing. As stated earlier, Strasburg actually led the National League with 209 innings pitched, marking the first time he surpassed the 200-inning mark since 2014. He packed plenty of production into that time, with a career-high 251 strikeouts to go along with 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and an NL-best 18 victories. He’s not throwing as hard as he did a few years back, but opposing hitters are actually having a tougher time making contact against him now. Health has always been the question, not quality, so Strasburg is comfortably a top-10 fantasy starting pitcher regardless of how free agency plays out.
**Okay, so Max Scherzer is great. We know that. He was great again this year, finishing in the final-three of the NL Cy Young Award balloting despite his lowest innings total since his first full season in the majors in 2009. He was compromised during the second half and playoffs due to back and neck injuries, but he still managed the highest strikeout percentage of his career (35.1 percent) and his lowest walk rate (4.8 percent) since 2015. His swinging strike percentage was also the highest of his career, only bested by Gerrit Cole. Speaking of Cole, he’s probably the No. 1 fantasy starter at this point. But there’s room for debate after that. Perhaps physical concerns will push Scherzer back a spot or two in drafts, but it’s hard to believe he’ll fall out of the top-four starters.
**Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize when you are in the middle of history. That’s what we’re witnessing with Juan Soto, who has few peers in terms of his age and production to begin his major league career. After a stunning debut at the age of 19, Soto delivered comparable production this year with 34 homers, 110 RBI, and 110 runs scored to go along with a .282/.401/.548 batting line. He also quietly chipped in on the basepaths, as well, going 12-for-13 in stolen base attempts. Yes, the plate discipline is very impressive, but Soto also trended up across the board this year in average launch angle, barrel percentage, average exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage. He has justified a late-first round pick in standard leagues.
**Soto should have company in the late first-round in Trea Turner, who increased his OPS by 90 points compared to 2018 while batting .298/.353/.497 with 19 homers, 57 RBI, 35 steals, and 96 runs scored over 122 games. He managed the same home run total as 2018 despite playing 40 fewer games. Those who invested an early pick in Turner were dealt a tough blow when he suffered a non-displaced fracture on his right index finger on a bunt attempt in early April, but he was a valuable across-the-board performer after returning in mid-May. If Turner had played a full season, he likely would have been right there among the league leaders in stolen bases and runs scored. It was a freak injury and he just played 162 games in 2018, so don’t let it cloud your head. He’s an elite fantasy option, with the speed and lineup position providing a safe floor.
**Patrick Corbin landed a six-year, $140 million deal from the Nationals after a breakout 2018 and he mostly backed that up this year with a 3.25 ERA and 238/70 K/BB ratio over 33 starts. He topped 200 innings for the second straight year. Yes, the walks and the homers were up, but he continued to miss plenty of bats. Armed with his nasty slider, he posted the seventh-highest swinging strike rate among qualified starters. Perhaps Corbin got lost in the shuffle a bit with Scherzer and Strasburg on the same staff, but use that to your advantage. He should be a top-15 starting pitcher in most leagues.
**Victor Robles didn’t exactly stand out as a hitter during his first full season in the majors, but he still helped in fantasy leagues by racking up 17 homers, 28 steals, and 86 runs scored over 155 games. The 22-year-old struck out less often as the year moved along, but he just didn’t hit the ball with much authority. According to Baseball Savant, he ranked near the very bottom of the league in terms of average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. There’s still time for progress here, but it would be unfair to bank on a power progression next year. Fortunately, he possesses elite speed and his defense gives him a long leash for whatever struggles he might have at the plate. With that counting stat ability, Robles has a case as a top-20 outfielder in drafts next year.
Team Needs: The team’s offseason plan largely hinges on the futures of Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg. They’ll surely try to keep at least one and possibly both, but it’s going to take a huge investment. Adding some trusted arms to the bullpen should be a must. The Nationals also have to make a decision on their plans for first base, with Howie Kendrick and Ryan Zimmerman both on the free agent market.