The Washington Nationals couldn’t have been seriously expecting Bryce Harper to sign a new contract with their team. However, it still had to be a sobering moment to realize that the 2019 season would be arriving with Harper wearing the uniform of another team. And the fact that his new team, the Philadelphia Phillies, is in the Nationals’ division must be extra salt in the wound.
But the Nationals have a good reason to be optimistic about their chances this year. Five of them actually. The Nats starting rotation, at least on paper, looks to be one of the best in the league, and there’s been nothing thus far in Spring Training to suggest otherwise.
From top to bottom the Nationals will be sending these pitchers to the hill. 2018 statistics are in parentheses.
- Max Scherzer (2.53 ERA; 0.91 WHIP; 300 strikeouts/91 bases on balls)
- Stephen Strasburg (3.74 ERA; 1.20 WHIP; 156 strikeouts/38 bases on balls)
- Patrick Corbin (3.15 ERA; 1.05 WHIP; 246 strikeouts/48 bases on balls)*
- Anibal Sanchez (2.83 ERA; 1.08 WHIP; 135 strikeouts/42 bases on balls)**
- Jeremy Hellickson (3.45 ERA); 1.07 WHIP; 230 strikeouts/65 bases on balls)
*Pitched for Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018.
**Pitched for Atlanta Braves in 2018.
A statistic that is drawing attention is ERA+ which assigns further meaning to a pitcher’s ERA by taking into account the ballpark they pitched in as well as their opponents. 100 is considered an average score. The projected starting rotation for the Nationals posted these numbers.
|Max Scherzer||168 (68% better than average)|
|Stephen Strasburg||114 (14% better than average)|
|Patrick Corbin||137 (37% better than average)|
|Anibal Sanchez||143 (43% better than average)|
|Jeremy Hellickson||123 (23% better than average)|
Of course, past performance doesn’t mean much. The Nationals scored the third most runs in the National League and had the highest on-base percentage, but still finished eight games behind the Atlanta Braves. The Nationals will have to make up for the lost production of Harper if they want to improve upon their 82 win season and hold off the Phillies who have added J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura and Andrew McCutchen in addition to Bryce Harper.
In baseball, pitching and defense win championships. As vaunted as the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup was during the regular season, they ran into a Red Sox starting rotation that held them to a pedestrian team batting slash line of .180/.249/.302. For the Nationals, the trick is to get to the postseason first. In the spring, hope springs eternal for every team. So far, the Nationals have good reason to feel good about their chances.