Pressing Fantasy Baseball Questions: The 2018 Washington Nationals

Scott Pianowski

It’s a good time to be the Washington Nationals, the bully of the NL East. Washington is pegged to win 92 games this year, comfortably ahead of the second-choice Mets (81.5 over/under). Every other divisional club is projected well under .500, with the gutted Marlins at the bottom of the pool. An NL East schedule, good work if you can get it.

But is it the last waltz for the Nats as we know it? Bryce Harper is entering his walk year, Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton are unlikely to start the season on time, and Ryan Zimmerman and Matt Wieters are into their 30s. It’s also an older starting rotation, with the quartet averaging 31.725 years of age. It doesn’t mean this team is ready for retirement activities — but if something’s going to happen, it better happen now.

Load up the Qs and As and let’s try to set some prices.

Q: Has the hate gone too far on Gio Gonzalez?

A: Could be. Gonzalez was the No. 9 starting pitcher in Yahoo leagues last year, with 15 wins, a 2.96 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He was one of just 12 pitchers to crack the 200-inning barrier, and he struck out a respectable 188 batters.

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Obviously it’s hard to accept the ERA at face value. Gonzalez’s strand rate was a career-best (and unsustainable) 81.6 percent, and his average fastball dipped into the 80s for the first time. FIP suggested an ERA of 3.93, while xFIP landed at 4.24.

In smart leagues, there’s such a rush to not be the Gonzalez sucker that the price often collapses. It’s a common Regression Police stance — although regression is a clear call for Gonzalez, we have to start the conversation there, not accept it as an endpoint. If Gonzalez can pitch close to his Washington averages — 3.49 ERA, 1.25 WHIP – he’s a likely value in many leagues. He’s currently SP38 in Yahoo leagues, and around Pick 157 in NFBC formats.

If you play in a neophyte league, sure, someone will likely get bamboozled by Gio’s career season. But most fantasy leagues — at least the ones I play in and observe — are more sophisticated than that. Here’s a case where fantasy owners might be too smart for their own good. Be ready for a cushy Gonzalez discount, if and when it comes.

Q: What is the right price for Daniel Murphy?

A: Murphy has grown into an undeniable star since joining the Nats, averaging .334-91-24-98-4 in his two seasons. But he had microfracture surgery on his knee in October, and he’s been babied this spring. He’s unlikely to be ready for opening day, and he turns 33 in April.

I don’t like to draft into injured players — at least with premium picks — because I figure a bunch of the roster is going to be hurt anyway. Why seek those guys out, why start from a physical deficit? Murphy was a regular Round 3-5 selection for the early draft season, but he’s finally starting to slip to a more-reasonable pocket. His NFBC ADP over the last week is 75.28. He was an affordable Pick 90 in the Yahoo Friends & Family Draft.

[2018 Fantasy Baseball rankings: Overall | H | P | C | 1B | 2B | 3B |SS | OF | SP | RP]

Second base is a deep fantasy position this year, which can be spun two different ways with respect to Murphy. On one hand, you probably can find a quality stand-in for Murphy if he needs extensive rest in the early chunk of the season. But if the position is so deep, why bother with Murphy at all? My bottom line on this stock — if you’re not enamored with the price, I’d wave him through. I’m not trying to be a hero when it comes to uncertain injury timetables.

Q: Does Stephen Strasburg deserve ace treatment?

A: Perhaps it’s a curious time to critique Strasburg, because he’s coming off one of his best seasons. The 2.52 ERA was the lowest qualifying number of his career, and he passed the 200-strikeout mark for the second time. His HR/FB rate was the lowest in the majors.

And while Strasburg only made 28 starts, that’s what you’re generally hoping for here. He’s averaged 28 turns over the last six years, along with a 3.12 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. Steamer isn’t quite as optimistic with this year’s projection, calling for a 3.43 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. It does assign him 31 starts, however.

Maybe assuming durability from any starter is a fool’s errand, given how unnatural the act of pitching is. Some will tell you there are two kinds of pitchers — those who are hurt now, and those that will be hurt soon. But when I see Strasburg drafted just a round or so after the true horses — the Sales, the Klubers, the Scherzers, the guys who are a good bet to make 30-plus starts every year — I conclude that Strasburg is a little too much name and a hair light on the expected return.

As great as his stuff is, his career ERA is still 3.07 (contrast that to Scherzer’s 2.76 since he joined the Nats). He’s averaged 168 innings for the last six years, and I can’t spin that into a second or third-round pick. If you want to snag Strasburg and pin your hopes on this being the year it all comes together for him — health and talent — be my guest. That’s not a bet I’m willing to make, given his slightly disappointing track record. I’ll spend in the tier above, or look for values in the tiers below. Strasburg is my version of no-man’s land.

Projected Nationals Lineup

LF *Adam Eaton

SS Trea Turner

RF Bryce Harper

3B Anthony Rendon

2B *Daniel Murphy

1B Ryan Zimmerman

C Matt Wieters

CF Michael Taylor

* Check Status

Projected Nationals Pitching Staff

SP Max Scherzer

SP Stephen Strasburg

SP Gio Gonzalez

SP Tanner Roark

SP A.J. Cole

CL Sean Doolittle

RP Ryan Madson

RP Brandon Kintzler