Tuesday, February 23, 2016


By Michael Wong

Viera, Fla.--After ceding the NL East to the New York Mets in 2015 and also realizing that Matt Williams was in over his head as manager, GM Mike Rizzo brought in veteran Dusty Baker to man the sinking Washington Nationals ship.  With a rotation that remains very strong and strikeout-heavy and also possessing the best hitter on the planet in Bryce Harper, the Nats are ready to make a run to reclaim the division title.  So as always let's take a look at some of the main themes circulating around the team.

1.  Can Bryce Harper possibly get any better than his ridiculous MVP 2015?  There are terrific fantasy baseball numbers and then there are the video-game digits put up by Harper in 2015 as he put together all of the vast talent that had him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high schooler.  Cutting down on his strikeouts and finally staying healthy, harper blasted 42 home runs with 99 RBI and fell a point shy of the batting title with a .330 average.  Unbelievably, Harper is still incredibly young at 23.  So now what can Harper do as an encore?  Well it is easy to predict that Harper will reproduce his 2015 numbers and there is nothing in his advanced metrics to suggest he won't.  Harper could even possibly challenge 50 home runs as well as he further grows into his body.  While Mike Trout remains the consensus number 1 pick in most drafts this season, Harper is getting very close to challenging that platform as he is the locked-in number 2 guy overall. 

2.  Anthony Rendon was arguably the biggest bust in 2015.  Can he salvage his name or is more frustration ahead?  There is no sugarcoating how gigantic a bust Rendon was last season as he got hurt early in spring training, began the season on the DL, and then hit the DL a second time weeks after his initial return.  In between the injuries, Rendon's offensive numbers sank to a .264 average with just 5 home runs in 311 at-bats.  Keep in mind though that the former sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft had a monster breakout in 2014 when he hit .287 with 21 home runs and stole 17 bases.  While we weren't buying the steals, Rendon is one of the better pure hitters in baseball and his power growth in 2014 was not a shock as he continued to grow into his body.  Better yet, Rendon retained second base eligibility for 2016 and his draft price comes down a full two rounds compared to the season prior.  There is very good bounce back ability here when it comes to Rendon and that makes a value play here a very good idea.

3.  While Clayton Kershaw is the no-doubt number 1 starting pitcher in fantasy baseball, Max Scherzer has a good case to be number 2 correct?  Already a dominant 240-plus K Cy Young winner in the tougher American League, Scherzer predictably went nuts in his first go-round in the NL since becoming a polished pitcher after leaving Arizona years earlier.  The result was not one but TWO no-hitters tossed by Scherzer to go with a 2.79 ERA and a nutty 276 strikeouts.  One of the more durable aces in fantasy baseball, Scherzer should no doubt be the number 2 starter off the board.

4.  Facing free agency, what do we make of Stephen Strasburg after a somewhat challenging 2015 campaign?  Strasburg is a guy we have advised avoiding the last few seasons for a number of reasons, with the biggest being his ill health.  With a release that is very rough and that puts stress on his arm/elbow, Strasburg is always a risk for the DL and he already has a Tommy John surgery in his past.  Strasburg also has seem his velocity decline a bit the last two seasons as maybe some big inning totals as a youngster are starting to take their toll on his slight frame.  Still despite the early setbacks, Strasburg was tremendous the second half of 2015 as he pitched to a 1.90 ERA and struck out a ridiculous 92 batters in 66.1 innings.  Clearly Strasburg retains his massive strikeout ability and that alone keeps him in ace territory.  Facing free agency, Strasburg has every incentive to give us his best and pitch through any tiny discomfort. 

5. Lucas Giolito ETA?  The excitement is already building for the consensus number 1 pitching prospect in baseball in the towering Lucas Giolito.  Having top control and a fastball that can reach the upper 90's, Giolito is set to be another major arm for the Nats.  However Giolito will likely begin the season in the minors as Tanner Roark and Joe Ross man the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation but Roark in particular is not a good bet to hold the spot given his soft-tossing repertoire.  Giolito should be drafted and stashed on the bench given his ability and someone will pull up lame at some time in the rotation to possibly open up a shot for the kid.  He will be worth the wait. 


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