2020 Fantasy Baseball: Washington Nationals Team Preview

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Washington Nationals

The Nationals have been knocking on the World Series door since 2012, leading to five postseason appearances over eight years. In 2019, they brought chemistry to the table with a great run over the final four months of the regular seasons (69-36) to win their first World Series title in the team’s 51-year history. Their only other trip to the playoffs came in 1981 as the Montreal Expos, but they were one of the best teams in baseball in 1994 when a strike ended the year early with no postseason play for any major league team.

Even with their recent success, Washington finished only 13th in ERA (4.27) with 40 saves and 13 shutouts. Coming into 2019, the Nationals appeared to have three front end aces – Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Steven Strasburg with questions in their bullpen. Scherzer wasn’t healthy for much of the year, but they did solve the eighth and ninth inning late in the year.

They ended up with the second-best offense in the National League, thanks to an improvement of 102 runs from 2018 (771). Overall, the Nationals ranked sixth in runs (873), 13th in home runs (231) and seventh in RBI (824).

In the offseason, they signed 1B Eric Thames and 2B Starlin Castro to replace the loss of 3B Anthony Rendon, who landed a big contract with the Angels. The only addition to the pitching staff was RP Will Harris.

In 2020, the success of Washington will come from the front of their pitching staff while their bullpen doesn’t look set up to be impactful over the long haul of the regular season. Their offense has two top players (Trea Turner and Juan Soto) while backfilled with mediocrity. I see a step back in runs, which may lead to a missed playoff appearance after their World Series hangover.

Starting Lineup

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1. SS Trea Turner

For the second time in three seasons, Turner missed a chunk of the year with an injury. Even with a career-high strikeout rate (19.9) for a full season, his batting average pushed higher after a jump in his CTBA (.380). His walk rate (7.6) drifted back to his career average (7.5). He fell short of expectation in steals, which may have been tied to his finger injury. Turner landed on the IL after four games (5-for-14 with four runs, two home runs, four RBI, and four SBs) for six and a half weeks. 

His best play came after the All-Star break (.304 with 45 runs, 12 HRs, 36 RBI, and 18 SBs over 309 at-bats). He had success against lefties (.316) while coming up empty in home runs (2) and RBI (6) over 117 at-bats. Turner finished 126th in hard-hit rate (41.5) with a ground ball favoring swing (47.2 percent – 48.2 in his career). He did have growth in his HR/FB rate (14.2 – 11.0 in 2018). Last year Turner placed 13th in SIscore (6.10) with his edge coming from steals (5.65). His skill set is a unique piece to a fantasy team, creating a high ADP (10) in the early draft season. 

This year Turner has the tools to be a .300-plus hitter with a 110/20/65/50 skill-set if he stays healthy all year. The lineup behind him does take a hit with Anthony Rendon no longer on the roster. I view him as a piece worth fighting for, especially in auction formats.  

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2. OF Adam Eaton

Eaton played well in 2019 while showing a rebound in power despite no real growth in his average hit rate (1.532). He set a career-high in runs (103) and home runs (15). His walk rate (9.9) had a top of the order value while lowering his strikeout rate (16.2). Eaton struggled with runners on base (RBI rate – 12) with fade in his CTBA (.343). Over the first four months of the year, he only had seven home runs and 28 RBI, creating little excitement for fantasy owners. 

His bat showed an uptick in power in August (.329 with 26 runs, five HRs, 14 RBI, and three SBs over 82 at-bats). Just like Trea Turner, his production dropped off against left-handed pitching (.290 with two HRs and ten RBI over 138 at-bats). Late in the year, he battled a left knee injury. Eaton has a low hard-hit rate (34.2 – 294th), but he did have growth in his swing path in 2019. His fly-ball rate (40.4 – 28.0 in his career) was the highest level of his career. His late run in home runs (seven over his final 166 at-bats) may trick fantasy owners in believing in more success in 2020. Unfortunately, his HR/FB rate (8.2) fell in line with his career average (8.4). 

His final stats ranked 171st in SIscore (-4.34), yet he's the 130th hitter drafted this year with an ADP of 211. Overpriced for me. Capable of hitting .300, but his runs should fall closer to 90 with a ceiling of 15 home runs, 60 RBI, and 15 steals.  

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3. OF Juan Soto

Heading into 2020, I love the upside and direction of Soto while predicting .320 with a 100/30/100 type season. He beat every stat except batting average (.282) while adding more steals (12) than expected. His rate (16.4) and strikeout rate (20.0) just about matched his rookie season. Soto had a slight regression in his CTBA (.373) with growth in his AVH (1.941) and RBI rate (17). His success in RBI (110) was helped by elite chances (473). He had a productive April (16 runs, six HRs, 22 RBI, and three SBs over 105 at-bats) other than batting average (.248). 

After missing sometime in May with a back issue, Soto had a spike in batting average (.329) over his next 161 at-bats while being somewhat quiet in power (eight HRs and 30 RBI). After the All-Star break, he hit .263 with 19 home runs, 64 RBI, and six stolen bases over 255 at-bats while taking almost the same number of walks (57) as strikeouts (59). His hard-hit rate (47.8) came 27th in baseball with growth in his fly-ball rate (37.2 – 28.8 in 2018). Soto has had a high HR/FB rate (22.2) over the past two seasons. Complete beast with triple crown upside in his career. His SIscore (5.92) ranked 15th among batters. 

This season Soto has an ADP of 12. I expect a pullback in runs and RBI chances due to the strength of the lineup behind him in the batting order and the loss of Anthony Rendon. With that said, his approach should lead to a top ranking in batting average with a chance for over 40 home runs.  

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4. 1B Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman is far from a lock to see the most at-bat at first base in 2020, but he is the one player that has the talent and resume to be a productive cleanup hitter when healthy. Over the past six seasons, Zimmerman is one for six in success (2017 – .303 with 36 HRs and 108 RBI over 524 at-bats). Over his other five seasons, he missed 402 games. In 2019, his season started with a right foot injury (plantar fasciitis), and it lingered all season. In his limited at-bats, Zimmerman hit .367 against left-handed pitching with two home runs and eight RBI over 49 at-bats. His best month came in September (.283 with eight runs, three HRs, and 12 RBI over 53 at-bats). 

The first base position looks cloudy in 2020, making Zimmerman only a waiver wire name to follow. His injury path makes him disposable with any sign of an issue.  

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5. 2B Starlin Castro

Castro starts 2020 at age 30 while having 1,617 hits. He looks well on his way to 3,000 hits if he keeps a starting job and stays healthy for the next decade. His best overall play came in 2011 and 2012 (.295 with 169 runs, 24 HRs, 144 RBI, and 47 SBs over 1,320 at-bats). In 2019, Castro set a career-high in home runs (22) and RBI (86) while playing for one of the lowest-scoring teams in baseball. His AVH (1.587) was his best since 2016 (1.603), but it doesn't support a big push in power. 

Castro has a favorable strikeout rate (16.4) while barely taking any walks (4.1). His lack of home runs comes from a ground ball swing (47.9 percent – 49.6 in 2018). He had his best HR/FB rate in 2017 (16.2) with a slight rebound last year (12.5). Castro adds value against left-handed pitching (.323 with nine HRs and 21 RBI over 164 at-bats) while shining in 2019 after the All-Star break (.302 with 44 runs, 16 HRs, 52 RBI over 285 at-bats). 

Pretty much a back-end second base option with a chance a .280/70/20/80 season with an ADP of 279 in the draft season. Castro needs a change in swing path to see higher levels in home runs.  

To view the full starting lineup, which also includes player analysis for Asdrubal Cabrera, Kurt Suzuki, Victor Robles, Yan Gomes, Howie Kendrick, Eric Thames, Carter Kieboom, Wilmer Difo and Michael Taylor, subscribe now to FullTime Fantasy.

Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription. Shawn Childs is a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ. Gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

READ MORE: 2020 Washington Nationals Team Outlook

Fantasy Baseball Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

Pitching Staff

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SP1 Max Scherzer

Scherzer had two tough games (10 runs and 19 baserunners over 11.2 innings) over his first six starts in April, which led to a 4.12 ERA and 54 strikeouts over 39.1 innings. After four good starts (3.12 ERA), his arm dominated over his next nine contests (7-0 with a 0.84 ERA, 0.765 WHIP, .172 BAA, and 94 Ks over 64 innings). A back strain around the All-Star break led to a trip to the injured list. Scherzer made one start (three runs over five innings with eight Ks) before going back on the IL with the same issues with his back. His arm didn’t look right over his final six starts (4.74 ERA, eight HRs, and 54 Ks over 38 innings) while rebounding in the playoffs (2.40 ERA and 37 Ks over 30 innings). 

He lost value against lefties (.255 with 11 HRs over 298 at-bats). Scherzer set a career-high in his strikeout rate (12.7) with an elite walk rate (1.7). His AFB (95.3) was the best of his career while offering three elite pitchers (four-seam – .215 BAA, changeup – .229, and slider – .172 BAA). He lost the feel for his cutter (.300 BAA) and curveball (.308 BAA) vs. left-handed batters. After pitching more up in the strike zone over the previous four seasons (fly-ball rate – 45.4, 47.9, 46.6, and 47.6), Scherzer induced more ground balls (40.8 percent) in 2019 (fly-ball rate – 38.1). 

Over his combined 32 starts, he finished with 14 wins and 280 strikeouts over 202.1 innings. In October, his neck had a minor issue. Hall of Fame arm, who has been electric for eight straight seasons. A fantasy owner can expect 15-plus wins, a sub 2.50 ERA, and a run at 300 strikeouts with a full season of starts. Scherzer has an ADP of 18 in the early 2020 draft season.

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SP2 Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg enters his 11th season in major league baseball with a record of 112-58, 3.17 ERA, 1.086 WHIP, and 1,696 strikeouts over 1,438.2 innings. Last year he led the National League in wins (18) and innings pitched (209.0). It was the second time in his career with over 200 innings. He also set career-high in strikeouts (251). His strikeout rate (10.8) matched 2018 with a slight improvement in his walk rate (2.4). Strasburg allowed two runs or fewer in 20 of his 33 starts, but his ERA (3.32) finished below expected value due to three disaster games (20 runs and 29 baserunners over 13.2 innings) with his biggest failure coming on August 3rd (nine runs and 11 baserunners over 4.2 innings). 

He finished the year with a 1.89 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 38 innings while also shining in the big moments in the playoffs (5-0 with 1.98 ERA and 47 Ks over 36.1 innings). Strasburg was slightly better against left-handed batters (.192) than righties (.224). His AFB (94.3) was the lowest of his career (2017 – 96.1 and 2018 – 95.2). He continues to have two elite pitches (changeup – .144 BAA and curveball – .160 BAA), but his two fastballs didn't create a winning edge (four-seam – .259 BAA and sinker – .294 BAA). His ground ball rate (51.1) came at his highest level since 2013 (51.5). 

Even with a career-low in his fly-ball rate (28.6 – 32.9 in his career), Strasburg had underlying disaster simmering in his HR/FB rate (16.2 – 15.7 in 2017 and 12.0 in his career). He'll come off the board as the 9th pitcher in 2020 with an ADP of 29. 

With a history of missing time in many seasons due to various injuries, I would not chase him down in drafts after pitching 245.1 innings in 2019. I do respect his arm, but he can't match the elite aces in the game without a more dominating fastball in either location or velocity. When on the field, Strasburg is a winning pitcher with the foundation skill set to post a 3.00 ERA and 250 strikeouts. 


SP3 Patrick Corbin

Corbin rewarded his believers last season with a comparable season as his breakout year in 2018. He matched his career-high in wins (14) with a minor step back in his ERA (3.25 – 3.15 in 2018) and strikeouts (238 – 246 in 2018). His batting average against (.227) remained strong with a high strikeout rate (10.6), but there was some erosion in his walk rate (3.1 – 2.2 in 2018) and HR/9 rate (1.1 – 0.7 in 2018). Corbin had a 2.85 ERA and 81 strikeouts over his first 11 starts, which included one disaster game (six runs and ten base runners over five innings). Over his next three starts, he gave fantasy owners some buyer remorse (16 runs, 29 baserunners, and four home runs over 12.2 innings). 

Corbin settled down over his next 18 starts (2.24 ERA, .214 BAA, and 136 Ks over 112.1 innings) to help Washington make a push for the playoffs. A chance at a sub 3.00 ERA ended with a poor showing in his final game of the year (six runs and nine baserunners over 4.1 innings). His arm ran out of gas in the postseason (5.79 ERA and 36 Ks over 23.1 innings), partly due to regression in his walk rate (4.6). 

Corbin allowed 22 of 24 home runs to right-handed batters while owning a more significant edge vs. lefties (.190) and at home (8-2 with a 2.40 ERA and 125 Ks over 105 innings). His AFB (92.5) had more life than in 2018 (91.3). He relies heavily on his elite slider (.160 BAA while accounting for 182 of his strikeouts), which Corbin threw 37.7 percent of the time. His show-me curveball (.200 BAA) had success. He tried a few more changeups (.367 BAA) while his sinker (.275 BAA) graded as a slight negative. 

In 2020, Corbin will be drafted as a borderline SP1 with an ADP of 47 (13th pitcher drafted). With two elite runs on the year covering 29 starts, he does look stable again this year. The high volume of sliders may turn into an elbow issue at some point soon. If his arm regresses, it could get ugly. For now, more of the same, but I won't fight for him on draft day.

Fantasy Baseball Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals
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CL/RP Sean Doolittle

Doolittle has been a tease as a scoring option over the previous six seasons. He flashed an elite walk rate (1.8) and strikeout rate (10.6) with some great seasons in WHIP (0.734, 0.857, and 0.600), but injuries tend to catch up with him while failing to deliver any impact years in saves. Last year Doolittle set a career-high in saves (29), but he pitched his way out the 9th inning over the final three weeks in August (ten runs, 14 baserunners, and five home runs over four innings). 

His season started with a 2.81 ERA and 57 Ks over 48 innings and ended with success in September (2.25 ERA and seven Ks over eight innings) and the playoffs (1.74 ERA and eight Ks over 10.1 innings). Doolittle struggled against right-handed batters (.279 with nine home runs over 165 at-bats). His AFB (93.8) is trending in a weaker direction. He relies heavily on his four-seam fastball (.238 BAA with 11 HRs allowed over 248 at-bats), which he threw almost 88 percent of the time in 2019. Doolittle threw two low-volume off-speed pitches (changeup – .375 BAA and slider – .188 BAA). 

The bottom line here is the value of his fastball going forward. His drop in velocity leads to his mistakes in location, leaving the ballpark. He doesn’t have enough trust in his secondary offerings to push back once his skill set starts to decline. Doolittle lives at the top of the strike zone (fly-ball rate – 55.7 and 52.0 in his career). His HR/FB rate (11.3) wouldn’t be as much of an issue if he had a much lower fly ball rate. 

Risk/reward closer with a reasonable ADP (185). Only in play for me if his fastball comes in higher this spring. 

To view the full pitching staff, which also includes player analysis for Anibal Sanchez, Austin Voth, Joe Ross, Erick Feddle, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris, subscribe now to FullTime Fantasy.

Use coupon code EDGE25 to receive 25% off your monthly season-long subscription. Shawn Childs is a 5-time high-stakes fantasy baseball national champ. Gain a cash-winning edge with FullTime Fantasy.

READ MORE: 2020 Washington Nationals Team Outlook