March 26, 2013
These Questions Three: The Legit Contenders
In the week leading up to Opening Day, we're asking and answering three questions about each team in a five-part series ordered by descending Playoff Pct from the Playoff Odds Report. Today, we continue with a look at the group of six teams with the highest odds of winning at least a Wild Card. As a reminder, you can find links to our preview podcasts for each team here.
Playoff Pct: 62.9 %
PECOTA Team Projections
Team WARP: 41.8
Team TAv: .260
Runs Scored: 707
Runs Allowed: 648
Team FRAA: 4.6
1. These guys had the most wins in baseball last year, swapped out a pretty good pitcher for another pretty good pitcher, added a dominant closer in place of the mediocre one they had last season, get a full year of Stephen Strasburg, and get Bryce Harper a year older. Should anybody be looking at them as anything less than one of the “favorites” we covered yesterday?
Adam Sobsey: Isn't some of it just historical bias? The Yankees are the Yankees with their 27 championships; the Nats are still upstarts in many eyes (even though they're kind of the old Expos in new clothes), and I think the controversial Strasburg shutdown last year, plus the fact that their best player was a youngster (Harper), also had the effect of making the franchise look a little babyish even though they have a veteran manager. We tend not to trust greatness that seems to arise ex nihilo until retrospection allows us to see how they built their foundation of success (if indeed the Nats go on to have sustained success). What do you think? Is there a 2012-13-based, rational, by-the-numbers reason not to have them in the top tier?
Sam Miller: Well, I personally have picked the Nationals to win the NL East in 2013, but even as a booster I can see an argument for plenty of regression in the rotation. Last year, the Nationals had the best starting ERA in the league. There were solid teams (the Brewers, the Pirates, almost the Diamondbacks) that didn't have one starter with an ERA lower than the Nationals' fourth-best starter, Ross Detwiler. It really is a dynamite rotation, a rotation that led the league in strikeouts and rarely gave up home runs. But it's also a pitching staff with mediocre walk and groundball rates, a staff that finished middle of the pack in K:BB ratio and close to the middle of the pack in xFIP. Even with Strasburg throwing 200 innings, I'd be happy to bet on the Nationals' staff allowing 50 more runs in 2013 than it did a year ago.
AS: But do you think the bullpen anchored by Soriano could compensate for a rise in the starters' ERA? I know holds are a dodgy stat for any number of reasons, but the Nats were second in baseball in that stat last year, and their 23 blown saves was actually not that bad, about middle-of-the-pack. The overall picture is of a very good bullpen that has just improved with the addition of Soriano. If you reload the setup corps with Clippard and Storen (Washington's last two closers, in 2012 and '11, respectively), pushing even better arms to the sixth and seventh innings in relief, maybe that can take the pressure off the starters to be as dominant.
2. Iffiest issue (pick one): Dan Haren's drop in velocity; Danny Espinosa's apparently already-blown-out rotator cuff, which he plans to play through; or Wilson Ramos returning from a season lost to an ACL tear?