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Nats hope new medical & training program is 'next Moneyball'

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Nats hope new medical & training program is 'next Moneyball'

On paper, the Nationals feature one of the most talented rosters in baseball. They can pitch, they can hit, they can defend. When healthy, they have several players who could contend for MVP awards on a yearly basis. They have All-Star potential at most positions.

But the potential of their lineup, in particular, has rarely been realized over the last few years as injuries have taken their toll. Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Wilson Ramos are all prone to injury and, before this season at least, so was Bryce Harper. Denard Span could be included in that mix, as well, though it is unclear if he is part of their future at this point.

Zimmerman has averaged only 78 games played over the last two seasons and 110 over his last five. Rendon appeared in only 80 games in 2015 and has a long history of ailments dating back to his college days. Werth has averaged only 111 games over his last four seasons, missing in action 31.4 percent of the time. Before playing in 128 games in 2015, Ramos averaged only 63.6 per season in the previous three years.

If the Nationals are to win with that core of players, they will need them to stay healthy. And with that in mind, they are getting creative. The team has undertaken a new medical and training program that is not only new to MLB but could potentially revolutionize the sport.

Analytics have changed the game of baseball both on the field and in the front office. Now the Nationals are hoping a statistics-driven approach to training and handling injuries can have a similar effect.

"We are always looking at new ideas. This is a big idea for us. Our focus is clear: injury prevention," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said. "Everyone knows you’re only as good as the players you have on the field. Healthy talent is productive talent. You don’t have to look any farther than the Bryce Harper in 2015 to see what a healthy player with talent can do."

Welcome to the new "Moneyball."

"We wanted to not only have great veterans of your traditional baseball medicine, but we also wanted to think outside the box and how could we do better." Rizzo continued. "It may be the next frontier, the next 'Moneyball' -- keeping players on the field."

Here's how it works. The Nationals will evaluate each player in spring training and give them what are called 'bio-markers.' They are baseline measurements for things like bloodwork, hydration levels and proper range of motion for joints like hips, shoulders, etc. They will then design player-specific training programs based on that data and from there be able to better evaluate and perhaps even predict injuries.

“We try to look at all variables that an athlete should have or that should be normal and we start to do our exams on the players so we can match what their normals are," Dr. Keith Pyne said at a press conference at Nationals Park on Wednesday. "One of the factors we'll be looking at is inflammation and player fatigue, and this is going to be in our analytics, so we can make objective decisions, and management can make objective decisions, and say, 'This guy needs a day off,' or 'This player can do a little more.'"

Pyne will lead an advisory board that will also include Dr. Robin West, the Nats' new lead team physician, and Bob Miller, Nationals vice president & assistant GM. Also involved in the program will be Harvey Sharman, who is the Nats' new executive director of medical services. There will be a new training staff led by Paul Lessard, who has come over from the Reds, as well.

Sharman is one of the key players in this. He is moving to Washington from West Yorkshire, England. Sharman is a pioneer of sorts in analytics. He developed a program for the Leeds United soccer club that, according to Rizzo, saw an injury reduction of over 50 percent and a significant drop particularly with soft tissue injuries.

The Nationals have expanded their medical personnel from 43 members to at least 48. It will cost them more money, but Rizzo believes the system will pay off in the long-run.

"It's a real financial undertaking that we've asked ownership for. They see this is something that can really help us in the win-loss column. Like we’ve said before, 1,300 disabled list days from your core players, how much does that cost us? The players on the disabled list who are making X-amount of dollars. This is really a money-saving operation, though we’ve invested a lot of money in it," he explained.

The effects of the Nationals' new program may not be known for some time. They have to first establish a foundation of data to move forward with before they can make comparisons and draw conclusions. But ultimately it could have widespread benefits to everything from evaluating draft prospects and free agents to nailing down more specific timelines for recovery, something the Nationals have struggled with in recent years.

It is a new venture and one that has the Nationals and Rizzo excited to implement.

"We already have several players that know a lot about this stuff, buy into it," Rizzo said. "I think some of our most key and veteran players are totally locked into it, and see this is going to keep them on the field longer, which means more production, which means more money, higher arbitration, more free-agent dollars. It's going to be something I think these guys not only accept, but dive into and get involved with."

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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?

RELATED: 2018 SPRING TRAINING REPORT DATES

Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.

RELATED: FORMER NATS PITCHER ARRESTED WITH MORE THAN 40 POUNDS OF SUSPECTED COCAINE

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

RELATED: NATS REVEAL 2018 SPRING TRAINING TV SCHEDULE

He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.

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