The Washington Nationals have followed up each division-winning/disappointing playoff loss season with an even more disappointing campaign. 2013 and 2015 were ravaged by poor performance, injuries, and a lack of overall depth. 2012 saw injuries to Jayson Werth and Michael Morse; Bryce Harper was a rookie. While we were relatively healthy, our bench was outstanding — “The Shark,” Roger Bernadina posted a career best 1.7 WAR, hitting .291/.372/.405. He was one of the best pinch-hitters in the league that year. Along with Bernadina, Tyler Moore had an .840 OPS; Chad Tracy posted a .784 OPS; post-deadline pickup and current Nat-killer Kurt Suzuki had a .725 OPS. All of them provided valuable, quality at-bats off the bench. They would all crater in 2013, as no one off the bench with more than 50 plate appearances had an OPS higher than .625. They did not have the depth to make up for injuries to Werth and Harper and the struggles of starters like Adam LaRoche. 2015 brought a mirror of 2013, with a struggling bullpen and horrible string of injuries that would see the opening day lineup together for just two games. They got a very good year from Clint Robinson annd a late season surge from Matt den Dekker, but they did not have enough to make up for injuries, under-performances, and Matt Williams.
2017 again brought questions, similar to the previous odd-numbered years. The bullpen was a huge question mark coming into the season, and it failed fantastically. This team looked like it would score a boatload of runs, and the starting pitching would be great — both have happened, as the Nationals have one of the best rotations and the best offense in the National League. However, how they’ve been the top NL offense has been stunning. Adam Eaton has been out for the year, Trea Turner is out until September, Werth has been out since early June, and Michael Taylor — who was a backup and a major surprise on his own — has been out almost two weeks. The Nats have gotten solid contributions from the likes of Stephen Drew, Adam Lind, Wilmer Difo, and Brian Goodwin. Even Ryan Raburn has provided legitimate at-bats, hitting . 271/.317/.458 in 63 plate appearances.
Goodwin provides excellent depth. He isn’t perfect and he isn’t the ideal leadoff hitter, but he has contributed more than most fifth outfielders. He provides solid contributions in all aspects of the game. While he has a below average contact rate, K-ing 25.6% of the time, countering that with an above-average 9.4% walk rate. When he makes contact, it’s typically hard contact. He sports a .231 ISO, and a minuscule 18.8% soft contact rate. He has cooled the last couple of weeks, hitting just .173 in July. He still has posted a positive WAR at 0.3 overall, and while not someone a contender would want to start 162 games, he is a very valuable piece and helping the Nationals right now.
Difo is probably the most underrated backup player on this roster. Difo has quietly put together some solid numbers as our third short-stop, behind Turner and Drew. When Difo starts, he posts a solid .340-.350 OBP and very good defense, rating as 2.9 runs above average on defense in just 264 2/3 innings (compared to Danny Espinosa’s 2.7 this year, for the Espinosa-philes reading this). He has next to no power, with a paltry .064 ISO. He’s a slap hitter, hitting 59.6% ground balls. But with his speed, that’s what he should be doing. Difo is what he is — and he is not a center fielder. But he is a contact hitter who will take a walk and has a very good glove. He’s more reliable than Danny Espinosa was, and Espinosa started every day on a division winner.
Drew was the Nats’ best bench bat in 2016, and he hasn’t disappointed this year either. As the primary utility infielder, Drew has been solid, if unspectacular. While July has not been a kind month for him, as he has hit just .171/.194/.229, he has been a valuable bat off the bench, hitting .333/.435/.500 in 23 pinch-hitting plate appearances. He’s also” clutch,” if there is such a thing, crushing his 20 “high-leverage” plate appearances to the tune of .412/.400/.647.
Finally, the Lind-sanity. Where would the Nationals be without Adam Lind? He is not exactly a gold-glove candidate, but what he does do is rake, hitting .323/.380/.564, with 8 home runs. He’s hit .379/.438/.724 as a pinch hitter. He’s also spelled Ryan Zimmerman, helping him stay healthy and stay fresh on his a near-MVP campaign. Just don’t hit him against lefties (.516 OPS).
In February, FanGraphs noted that the Nationals had a great starting lineup, but questioned the depth on this team. In fairness, the Nationals signed Lind after that article, but after 94 games, the Nats have already surpassed the normally very good predictions of FanGraphs. As they say, that’s why they play the games. It’s easy to look at the gaudy offensive numbers of Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon, and it’s just as easy to overlook the contributions of the Goon Squad. This team has some very solid depth and is overshadowed by the All Stars (and the should be All Star).Tags: Adam Lind, Brian Goodwin, Nationals, Nats, Stephen Drew, Washington Nationals, Wilmer Difo