This is your last week without baseball until November. In order to get you ready, let’s take a look back at some of this team’s highs and lows. After 6 years in town, the Nats have started to build the semblances of a team. 2011 will probably give us an indication of where they are going. Will the youngsters start stepping up? If so, then once Strasburg returns and Harper arrives, they might have a real chance to win. And they will have built a team, rather than cobbling together a group of free agents.
In the past, they’ve of course had some good players. They never really looked like they were building a real team, but they’ve managed to have a collection of players that occasionally turned in great performances. So who were the best at each position?
C – Brian Schneider, 2005 – Schneider’s 2005 was his career year offensively, hitting .268/.330/.409. That kind of production from a catcher helped make the team relatively successful, but it also probably helped convince the Nats to keep him as a starter for too long – his OPS in 2006 and 2007 was .655. He played a strong defense in that time though, and in 2005 he lead the majors in throwing out baserunners, with an impressive 38%.
Honorable Mentions: Not much here.
1B – Nick Johnson, 2006 – Nick had a few very good seasons with the Nats, and this was undeniably his best. He hit .290/.428/.520 with 23 HRs while playing good defense. It wasn’t his best defensive year, he was credited with alot of errors, but his UZR/150 was still 3.8, something Adam Dunn could only dream of. His .978 OPS remains the highest for any Nationals player with at least 125 PAs in a single season. Unfortunately, it was also the season in which he shattered his leg at the end of September, running in to Austin Kearns trying to catch a fly ball.
Honorable Mentions: Adam Dunn, 2010. Nick Johnson, 2005.
2B – Ronnie Belliard, 2007 – There wasn’t a ton to choose from here, but Belliard has the advantage playing a full season here, and playing decently. He hit .290/.332/.427 in his first year with the Nats, which isn’t too bad for a 2B, and he was an above average fielder that season. He was also a surprise starter, after Guzman got hurt and Felipe Lopez was moved to SS.
Honorable Mentions: Jose Vidro, 2005.
3B – Ryan Zimmerman, 2010 – It can be argued which year Zimmerman was this franchise’s best third baseman, but the name is obvious. 2009 is a great candidate, thanks to 30+ HRs and a few more ABs. And counting stats do matter in this kind of analysis. But this year his OBP was much higher, and he wound up with the fourth highest WAR in the league, behind Hamilton, Votto and Pujols. His OPS ranked top 10 for the first time in his career. Zimmerman, by the way, has 4 of the top 8 single season WARs for the Nats since 2005.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Zimmerman, 2009. Ryan Zimmerman, 2007. Ryan Zimmerman, 2006.
SS – Cristian Guzman, 2008 – This was the year of Guzmania. He had come back in 2007 from injury and impressed, but it was a small sample size. In 2008, he managed to hit .316./345/.440, career highs in AVG and OBP for any season other than 2007, where he had under 200 PAs, and his third best SLG including that 2007. His fielding wasn’t spectacular but it was adequate, and people started dreaming that maybe LASIK surgery turned him into an above average SS.
Honorable Mentions: Cristian Guzman, 2007. Ian Desmond, 2010 (he has the franchise’s 3rd highest SS WAR).
LF – Alfonso Soriano, 2006 – What I remember most about his season was how fun he was to watch. He didn’t start out fun, at first refusing to play LF, until Frank Robinson made it clear it was LF or a voided contract. He performed, though, and hit .277/.351/.560 for his best offensive performance of his career. In September he became only the fourth player to join the 40-40 club, and he actually ended up being the only player with 40 HRs, 40 SBs and 40 2Bs. The Nats had a chance to trade him midseason, and never did, but they ended up turning his compensatory pick into Jordan Zimmermann.
Honorable Mentions: Willie Harris, 2008. Ryan Church, 2007. Josh Willingham, 2010.
CF – Brad Wilkerson, 2005 – Another one without too much greatness to choose from, Morgan had 1/3 of a season that may have been better, and Ryan Church had a good 2006 but it was not as a full time CF. While this may have been the best season for a CF on the Nats, it wasn’t great for Brad. He had just finished a breakout 2004 where he hit .255/.374/.498 with 32 HRs for the Expos, and was turning 28. Instead of building on that season, he only managed to hit .248/.351/.405 with 11 HRs for the Nats, fueling the fire that RFK was a pitcher’s park. Certainly Wilkerson felt that way, and he must have been relieved when he was traded to the Texas hitter’s park. Unfortunately for him, the move didn’t do much to resurrect his career, 2 years later he was no longer considered a starter, and by 2009 he was out of baseball.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Church, 2006. Josh Willingham, 2010.
RF – Jose Guillen, 2005 – Two of the top 10 WARs according to fangraphs were this performance and Kearns in 2007. Guillen gets the edge despite a lower OBP (.338 to .355) because he hit with significantly more power and fielded almost as well. Guillen finished with 25 HRs and an .817 OPS, but the stories from the season were particularly memorable. He pointed out to Frank Robinson that his former Angels teammate, Brendan Donnelly, had an illegal substance in his glove, instigating an ejection and a bench clearing incident. He also hit a game winning homer in that game and ripped apart Scioscia in his post game press conference, calling him “a piece of garbage.” But the story I’ll never forget was that Guillen was convinced the measurements on the RFK fences were wrong. He measured it himself, and convinced the team that their signs were wrong.
Honorable Mentions: Austin Kearns, 2007. Elijah Dukes, 2008.
SP – John Patterson, 2005 – His WAR wasn’t the best ever, that actually goes to Esteban Loaiza, also in 2005. But Patterson had an ERA more than half a run better, struck out more, and maybe got luckier, to take the title. He started 31 games and finished with a 9-7 record, but had an ERA of 3.13 with 185 Ks and 60 BBs. He pitched a CG shutout that season, which Dave Sheinen called the greatest pitching performance in Nats’ history. Also, he was only 27, giving many of us hope of a very bright future. Unfortunately for him and the Nats, it didn’t work out that way. What is most scary about this category is that Strasburg’s 12 starts in 2010 ranks him 4th on the WAR list.
Honorable Mentions: Esteban Loaiza, 2005. Livan Hernandez, 2010. Stephen Strasburg, 2010.
RP- Chad Cordero, 2005 - On the WAR list, he isn’t as high as some others. There were guys who did things like pitch more innings, strike out more guys or do more things “right” from a numbers perspective. And I don’t want to dwell on saves, although 47 of em aint bad, it was enough to lead the league. It is also the franchise record. But his ERA of 1.82 is just plain impressive. It’s also the best of any pitcher with at least 20 IP in the history of the team. He was unstoppable that year, and the Chief was named the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year and the Nationals Player of the Year.
Honorable Mentions: Jon Rauch, 2008. Tyler Clippard, 2010.
One thing that surprised me about this was how many good individual seasons this team saw in 2005. I guess it shouldn’t be a shock, they won 81 games that year, their next best win total has been 73. But still, 5 out of 10 of these were from 2005. Goes to show you that even if that year was filled with flukes, the results probably weren’t. Guys played great that year. Since then, well, at least we’ve got Ryan Zimmerman.
Next time, we can look at the absolute WORST seasons from a Nationals player.