2011 Roster – Best Nats Players Yet?

Yesterday, Thom Loverro wrote an article claiming that Danny Espinosa was the best second baseman in the history of the Nats. And you know what? My first thought was that I agreed with him. But I figured I’d check it out, using very basic statistical analysis. Then I thought, why not do that for the rest of the team as well? Is there anyone else on this current team that we can consider the best Nationals player at his position? I pulled the list for WAR (Wins Above Replacement) from Baseball Reference on all Nats players going back to 2005 when the team came to DC. Remember that WAR is cumulative, and while it can decrease with bad play, the thought is that anyone who has a high WAR now won’t see a massive decrease. Keep in mind also that Loverro was talking a bit more generically, and what I’m looking at is more about any of the current players having the best statistical season at the position.

Second Base

Starting with the premise of Loverro’s article, Danny Espinosa certainly seems like the best 2B in Nats history. And at 24 years old, he’s got a brighter future than anyone in the position before. And with a WAR of 2.0 right now, not only does he lead the 2011 Nats position players, he is the best second baseman at this point in the season already. The next closest WAR is Ronnie Belliard in 2008, and he only had 337 PAs. Vidro’s best season in DC (not counting some strong Montreal seasons) was his first, in 2005, where he had a WAR of 0.7. Espinosa’s doing great, and nothing should diminish that, but his competition was nonexistent.
Conclusion: Best 2B in Nats History

Third Base

Really, Ryan Zimmerman is obviously the best 3B in the team’s history, and so far he’s been the best player period for the franchise.

Although Soriano’s ridiculous 40-40 campaign in 2006 ranks first in WAR all time with DC, Zimmerman has the second and fourth best seasons in 2010 and 2009. Obviously 2011 doesn’t rank up there yet with his limited playing time, but nobody else comes close to his Nats career, with a total WAR of 17.4.
Conclusion: Duh

First Base

Michael Morse is having a wonderful offensive season, and since he has now spent 65% of his time at first rather than LF, with more time to come, he’ll count at that position. So at 1B, we’re now comparing him to Dunn and Johnson. Well, Mike Morse is currently sitting at a WAR of 1.4. That ranks 24th all time, pretty good considering there’s still half a season to go. Above him are three 1B seasons: Adam Dunn (WAR of 3.6 in 2010) and Nick Johnson (4 in 2005 and 5.2 in 2006). With so many games to be played, it is possible for Morse to more than double his WAR. His April was a total drag on the number, and if he does get pitched around more, his OBP could go up from a respectable .350 to something closer to that Dunn territory. So something above a 2.8 (which is about where he projects) is possible, then again, so is a summer slow down. I have my doubts that he’ll reach those numbers this season.
Conclusion: Possible, but not probable

Shortstop

Ian Desmond is having a terrible season, right? Well, according to WAR, while his bat is sinking him, he’s been fielding so well that he actually is sitting at 0.8, which happens to be his same number as in 2010. So far, he’s added, according to this stat, as much to the team winning this year as he did last year. If you think his bat is merely hibernating and not completely gone, there’s a chance that WAR will go up more. His biggest competition – Cristian Guzman in 2008, with a WAR of 4.4. That’s unreachable, but surprisingly, Guzman’s second best year was 1.7 in 2007. Meaning if Desmond has a good second half, he’ll probably surpass that. As for the total Nats career, Guzman has a 5.5 career WAR with the team. Desmond might not catch that single season 4.4, but if he gets a few more seasons, he might catch the career number.
Conclusion: Nope (but might actually have the second best SS season in this town)

Catcher

This one is interesting, as Wilson Ramos started out super hot but has slowed down considerably. He’s batting .193/.274/.329 since May 2 (although he did have a good stretch in mid-June) which has probably dragged down his WAR to its current level of 1.4. The only season better than that is Brian Schneider’s 2005 at 2.3. If Ramos continues to not hit, his WAR might not reach those levels, but if he does hit again, he could fly by it.
Conclusion: Quite possible

Center Field

Patrolling the middle of that outfield, Roger Bernadina has at times looked bad and at times looked inspired. Unfortunately, he’s currently an outfielder with a .686 OPS. And while he is walking a bit, his average is too low for his OBP to look good. His WAR is only 0.3 right now, hindered by lack of early playing time, but regardless not very good. He ranks pretty low on the all time list, but not so far behind the highest at the position. In 2005, Wilkerson played 92 games in CF and amassed a 1.8 WAR, and in 2006 Ryan Church had an incredible season but only played 71 games, 51 of them in CF, to get a 1.7 WAR. Those numbers aren’t unattainable, but Roger hasn’t shown the consistency to lead us to believe he can actually get there.
Conclusion:Not happening now, but it isn’t inconceivable

Starting Pitcher

Jordan Zimmermann is having a very good season, and it shows in WAR. He leads the team, pitchers and batters, with a 2.2 mark. The thing is, if he’s only got half a season to go, and may have an innings limit, he will have a difficult time reaching John Patterson’s 2005 WAR of 4.9. The next best season is Esteban Loiza’s 2005 WAR of 3.8, which seems attainable, but not a guarantee. As you scan down the list, the #3 and #4 seasons for pitcher WAR were turned in by Livan Hernandez. And then, the #5 and #6 spots were John Lannan‘s. I decided to take a look at total WAR over a career for pitchers (only in those seasons they pitched for the Nats) just to see where it came out:

Alright so Zimm’s career doesn’t stack up, and this season might not, but look at who does. Both Livo and Lannan can make the arguments that they’ve been this franchise’s best pitcher. And Zimmermann might turn in the best season next year or the year after, but by then Strasburg will be back, and if he hasn’t claimed the title, people would be pretty disappointed.
Conclusion: It’s either Lannan or Livo, for now

Reliever

Tyler Clippard can probably make the claim as best non-closer, but Cordero has a WAR of 2.5 in 2005, and his career total is quite good. Clippard’s 1.6 right now already tops his best season, and he has a chance to beat Cordero’s 2005 this year. I guess that’s part of the reason for the All Star clamour. Drew Storen is currently sitting at 0.8 WAR for 2011, and probably won’t reach those Cordero heights right now. Cordero is an exception to most past players on this list, because he was also good enough, for long enough with this team, that one great year by Storen or Clippard wouldn’t end the argument. Cordero was the best reliever, for multiple years. Clippard does have longevity, and it’s possible with a great second half he actually passes Cordero’s total in that table above.
Conclusion: Clippard the closest, but right now the Chief still gets the nod

There you have it, the Nats have some of their best players in history, certainly at second and third, probably at catcher as well. Throw in the best starting pitcher, whichever one you choose, and it’s not even the guys we think about as great. Soon enough in the pitcher spots as well, and maybe even at SS. The lack of retreads (like the 2005 team that went .500) makes this team even more exciting to follow. They’re not just the best now, they’ll be the best down the road.

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