Change-UpDecember 12, 2007
Capitol Improvement
By Patrick Sullivan

Heading into last season, many suspected the Washington Nationals would be amongst the worst teams in baseball history. With no pitching and a flimsy lineup whose most promising players were injury prone (Nick Johnson, Austin Kearns, etc), forecasters spoke of impending, potentially historic disaster.

The Nats were not a good team in 2007 but they also were not even close to playing poorly enough to be considered among the worst teams of all time. They weren't even the worst team in their division, and in 2007 eight other MLB teams finished the year with fewer wins than Washington. While a 73-win season is hardly cause for celebration, Washington exceeded expectations and move into a new stadium for 2008. Given this, General Manager Jim Bowden believes the time is now and through a series of bold moves, has made marked improvements for his club on the offensive side.

Last year's Nationals won despite some truly atrocious performances from players who will not factor into the 2008 version of the club.

               PA   AVG   OBP   SLG
B. Schneider   477 .235  .326  .336
N. Logan       350 .265  .304  .345
R. Fick        221 .234  .309  .305
R. Langerhans  187 .198  .296  .370

That's 1,235 plate appearances of straight awfulness right there. Moreover, Felipe Lopez had an exceptionally down season; a 75 OPS+ campaign for a guy who, coming into the season, was considered a solid offensive middle infielder. In Lopez, Cristian Guzman and Ronnie Belliard, the Nats figure to assemble at least an average hitting middle infield.

In the outfield, the loss of Ryan Church hurts but the Nats should suffer no downgrade at all thanks to the addition of Lastings Milledge. Between Kearns, Milledge, Wily Mo Pena (124 OPS+ with Washington last year) and troubled newcomer Elijah Dukes, Washington figures to comfortably outproduce last year's outfield combo.

Corner infielders Dmitri Young and Ryan Zimmerman were the two best hitters on last year's club. Although Young is a clear regression candidate, that could easily be alleviated by contributions from the oft-injured Nick Johnson and/or continued improvement from the youngster Zimmerman. All in all, I see similar production in the aggregate coming from Washington's corner infielders in 2008.

At catcher, Brian Schneider was just awful but Paul Lo Duca is nothing spectacular either. Coming off of his worst season as a pro in 2007, it is hard to figure the 36 year-old will be all that great. Still, 2007 was such an outlier down season for him that one has to figure Lo Duca bounces back a little bit. Say, up to an 85 or 90 OPS+ type of campaign. This would represent considerable improvement over Schneider's output in 2007.

Where Bowden still has his work to do is on the pitching side. The bullpen boasted a 3.81 ERA in 2007 but the starting pitching once again figures to be atrocious. A serviceable innings eater or two would do wonders for this club. Whether Bowden can pull this off will go a long way in determining whether the Nats make any noise or not in the competitive National League East next season.

There is no denying that Bowden has taken the initial steps, however. This figures to be a lineup without any glaring holes featuring a candidate or two capable of posting a superstar campaign sprinkled in (Zimmerman, Pena, Milledge, Kearns, Young). That's all it takes to have a top-of-the-league type of offense. We will see what Bowden does from here.


I'd like to add that Zimmerman broke his hamate bone in Oct/Nov. While he'll be healthy, breaking the hamate bone is notorious for hampering power.

Thanks a lot. I just cringed in pain like five times.

It's always a pleasure to read a well-written piece on teams that get little attention from the media.

Good report. I was dead wrong on Washington. Was one of those who thought the Nats would lose 100 games last season. Bowden and Acta deserve credit for getting the most out of the talent, especially considering the injuries to Johnson and Patterson.

At the risk of being wrong two years in a row, I'm still not that impressed with this club. They outperformed their Pythagorean record by three wins, and I don't see too many players on that roster who are taking the elevator ride "up."

Zimmerman is the best player on the team. He is young and still has some upside. I like Milledge but am unsure he can replace Church's production this coming season. Young, Pena, and Guzman are unlikely to post an OPS+ of 120 or better like last year. If WMP pulls it off, I bet it's because he gets platooned and plays mostly against LHP.

The starting rotation looks like it got the job done with electrical tape plus some smoke and mirrors. Only one pitcher (Chico) hurled more than 120 innings, and I'm highly skeptical of him based on his strikeout and groundball rates, much less his stuff and command (or lack thereof).

I see WAS winning somewhere between 65 and 75 games and finishing in fourth place, closer to dead last than third. But, hey, what do I know? The Nats proved me wrong last season and may do so again next.

Good article. I have been very impressed by Acta, not just for the success of the team relative to expectations but to his public statements about his approach to winning. I was among those convinced that Washington was doomed not just to 100 losses but to making a run at the worst record in modern history. Instead they were respectable. Acta got my vote-irrelevant since I have no standing anywhere-for manager of the year.

Bowden's doing a decent job with this offense, building a bit of a core around some decent young players. I think resigning Young for 2 (two!!!) years was worth a laugh last season, as if he'll earn what he's making.

Especially if Johnson comes back ready. Or whoever else is in the running for the 1B job. What I could see happening is a decent 1st half from Young, then Johnson returns/they come up with something else, and then make a trade with the Pirates or Giants or something to unload Dmitri.

Their pitching staff is still just a huge AUGH though, with no effort to improve it thus far. Seriously, I remember when they went into ST with competition for like 4 spots last season. Is it looking any different for 2008?

Their bullpen looks like Rauch/Cordero again, which isn't bad except that they really do need more innings from their SP.

Who needs a starting rotation? I say Rauch and cordero throw a combined 250 innings next year. That is the only way this team will be well below average. If they do not pitch much, they will be atrocious.

I agree that Bowden is doing a much better job than I anticipated and maybe this club has a little more hope than i thought (at least it looks a lot better now than the last few years in Montreal eeek) he needs to pry some interesting pitching projects away from other teams though that would be a nice start. they don't really have any decent pitchers comming up anytime soon.

This team looks to have an excellent young core and a surplus of outfielders whom could be some real trade chips in a year or two if the Nationals decide to be a small market spender.

That said, I think Bowden would be wise to trade Young while his value is high. Bowden can remind GMs that Young had a decent track record prior to the 2006 season. I think a team like the Angels, Diamondbacks or Twins could utilize his services more so then the Nationals, and all have young bottom of the rotation major league ready prospects whom they may be willing to give up for Meat Hook.