Baseball America’s MLB Preview issue was waiting on my desk when I returned from spring training this week, and flipping through it tonight I found a few items that I thought might be of interest to Nationals fans.
First, in their predictions section (which they farmed out to Fangraphs.com for the second year), the Nationals were ranked last — by a hefty margin — in both batting and pitching in the NL East.
In the batting category, the Mets take top honors, with Fangraphs projecting them to score 70 runs above the average, leading the Braves (61), Marlins (59) and Phillies (47) by at least 23. The Nationals? They’re projected to score one run less than the average, so 71 less than whatever the Mets score — even with the team’s revamped lineup and the additions of Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa.
Things don’t get any better turning to the pitching category. While the Phillies are obviously the runaway winner here, projected to prevent 74 runs above the average, the Marlins take second (32) and the Braves third (3). The Mets join the Nationals in the negative category, but where New York is found at -6, the Nationals are still miles away, projected to allow 56 runs above the average.
Take heart, though, Mike Rizzo disciples. Washington takes the prize in the fielding category with a significant lead, projected to prevent 27 more runs above the average. The graph is even accompanied with an affirmation for the Nationals improved defense that reads: “Zimmerman leads the way for a Nationals team that has become very good defensively.”
The Phillies slot in second (18), followed by the Mets (2), Marlins (-12) and Braves (-12).
Then, of course, there’s wins. The Nationals are predicted to finish last in the NL East once again with 74 wins. The Phillies are predicted to win the division with 90 wins, the Marlins second with 85 wins, the Mets third with 84 and the Braves fourth with 82.
There’s more positive news when it comes to the Top 20 Rookies section with second baseman Danny Espinosa ranked the No. 7 rookie in the game this season. Only the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson, Braves’ Freddie Freeman, Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, Phillies’ Domonic Brown, Braves’ Mike Minor and Blue Jays’ Kyle Drabek slot in ahead of him.
Here’s what BA says about Espinosa:
Best case: Espinosa got plenty of playing time late in 2010 and has the power that makes him a good fit offensively for second base, slugging .447 and hitting more homers (six) in his 103 at-bats than the rest of the Nats starters at second combined (five). Healthy, he provides both pop and better defense at second than predecessors Cristian Guzman and Adam Kennedy.
Worst case: Espinosa was strikeout-prone in 2010 (30 in the majors, 116 in 481 minor league at-bats), and needs to make better contact for his bat to play in Washington. But his opportunity is as clear cut as anyone on this list.
The Braves and the Rays lead the way with three rookies each in the Top 20 list. For the Braves, it’s No. 2 Freeman, No. 5 Minor and No. 9 Craig Kimbrel. For the Rays, it’s No. 1 Hellickson, No. 13 Desmond Jennings and No. 16 Jake McGee.
The Mets and the Marlins, the Nationals’ other division mates, do not have any rookies on the list.
— In a self-promotion note, be sure to check out The Washington Times’ baseball preview section, on newsstands and online on Wednesday.