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Revisiting Opening Day media predictions on the Nats

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Revisiting Opening Day media predictions on the Nats

I've often said it's important that we as sportswriters be held accountable for what we write. We ask players and managers to be accountable for their performance. It's only right that we hold ourselves to the same standard.

Which makes this day-after-the-season tradition one of the more enjoyable -- albeit embarrassing -- posts of the year.

You may recall back on Opening Day when I and eight of my counterparts who cover the Nationals made our season predictions. Well, it's time to revisit those predictions and see how we did. (Hint: We didn't do nearly as well in 2012 as the Nationals did.)

As an added bonus, I'm also including my Opening Day predicted standings, postseason results and major award winners. Yeah, I'd like to have a few of those back, too.

Enjoy, and try not to mock us too much...

2012 OPENING DAY MEDIA PREDICTIONS

Who will represent the Nats at the All-Star Game?
Mark Zuckerman (CSNwashington.com) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann
Adam Kilgore (Washington Post) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth
Dave Sheinin (Washington Post) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann
Amanda Comak (Washington Times) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann
Bill Ladson (MLB.com) -- Ryan Zimmermann, Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond
Dan Kolko (MASNsports.com) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg
Pete Kerzel (MASNsports.com) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez
Brian McNally (Washington Examiner) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg
Craig Heist (WTOP) -- Ryan Zimmerman, Jordan Zimmermann
WINNER: Ladson was the only one to get Desmond right (though I suppose we could raise the technicality that Desmond never actually represented the Nats AT the game). Zuckerman, Kilgore, Kolko and McNally got Strasburg right. Nobody had Gio.

What will total home attendance be?
Bill Ladson -- 3,000,000
Amanda Comak -- 2,745,670
Brian McNally -- 2,700,000
Craig Heist -- 2,550,000
Mark Zuckerman -- 2,368,914
Dan Kolko -- 2,280,000
Dave Sheinin -- 2,313,753
Adam Kilgore -- 2,226,652
Pete Kerzel -- 2,099,631
WINNER: Actual attendance was 2,379,794, so the winner is me, missing by only 10,880. If only I could put my attendance savant skills to something of actual significance.

When will Bryce Harper make his MLB debut?
Pete Kerzel -- May 6 vs. Phillies
Adam Kilgore -- May 17 vs. Pirates
Brian McNally -- May 25 at Braves
Craig Heist -- May 27 at Braves
Bill Ladson -- June 1 vs. Braves
Mark Zuckerman -- June 19 vs. Rays
Amanda Comak -- June 19 vs. Rays
Dan Kolko -- June 20 vs. Rays
Dave Sheinin -- July 6 vs. Rockies
WINNER: Harper debuted on April 28, so Kerzel came closest, missing by 8 days.

How many home runs will Harper hit in the majors this season?
Craig Heist -- 13
Adam Kilgore -- 12
Pete Kerzel -- 12
Mark Zuckerman -- 11
Amanda Comak -- 11
Bill Ladson -- 10
Dan Kolko -- 9
Brian McNally -- 7
Dave Sheinin -- 7
WINNER: Harper hit 22 homers, so nobody actually came close, but Heist came closest.

How many strikeouts will Stephen Strasburg record?
Brian McNally -- 180
Mark Zuckerman -- 177
Bill Ladson -- 177
Dave Sheinin -- 165
Adam Kilgore -- 155
Craig Heist -- 150
Amanda Comak -- 147
Pete Kerzel -- 142
Dan Kolko -- 140
WINNER: Strasburg struck out 197 batters, so McNally was closest, missing by 17.

What will Jayson Werth's batting average be?
Bill Ladson -- .290
Pete Kerzel -- .287
Amanda Comak -- .273
Brian McNally -- .272
Craig Heist -- .270
Mark Zuckerman -- .268
Dan Kolko -- .268
Adam Kilgore -- .265
Dave Sheinin -- .264
WINNER: Werth finished right at .300, a surprise to everyone but Ladson.

How many home runs will Michael Morse hit?
Mark Zuckerman -- 28
Amanda Comak -- 28
Brian McNally -- 26
Adam Kilgore -- 23
Craig Heist -- 23
Dan Kolko -- 21
Pete Kerzel -- 21
Bill Ladson -- 20
Dave Sheinin -- 18
WINNER: Sheinin hit this one right on the money. He gets to spin the big wheel again for a chance at 10,000.

What will Ian Desmond's on-base percentage be?
Bill Ladson -- .360
Amanda Comak -- .326
Brian McNally -- .325
Pete Kerzel -- .325
Craig Heist -- .320
Mark Zuckerman -- .318
Dave Sheinin -- .315
Adam Kilgore -- .314
Dan Kolko -- .310
WINNER: Desmond set a career-high with a .335 OBP. Comak came closest at .326.

How many games will Adam LaRoche play for the Nationals?
Pete Kerzel -- 132
Adam Kilgore -- 130
Bill Ladson -- 130
Mark Zuckerman -- 127
Dan Kolko -- 125
Craig Heist -- 110
Brian McNally -- 98
Amanda Comak -- 91
Dave Sheinin -- 31
WINNER: Nobody predicted LaRoche would play in as many as 154 games, but Kerzel was the closest at 132.

Who will lead the pitching staff in wins? How many?
Bill Ladson -- Jordan Zimmermann, 20
Dan Kolko -- Gio Gonzalez, 17
Amanda Comak -- Gio Gonzalez, 17
Mark Zuckerman -- Jordan Zimmermann, 16
Brian McNally -- Jordan Zimmermann, 16
Dave Sheinin -- Jordan Zimmermann, 16
Craig Heist -- Jordan Zimmermann, 16
Adam Kilgore -- Jordan Zimmermann, 15
Pete Kerzel -- Jordan Zimmermann, 14
WINNER: Gonzalez beat everyone's expectations with 21 wins. Kolko and Comak had him leading the staff, but with only 17 wins.

How many games will Drew Storen save?
Dave Sheinin -- 40
Amanda Comak -- 39
Mark Zuckerman -- 37
Dan Kolko -- 34
Brian McNally -- 32
Pete Kerzel -- 31
Bill Ladson -- 30
Adam Kilgore -- 28
Craig Heist -- 28
WINNER: Nobody. Storen saved 4 games. Even if we counted the postseason, he can't finish with any more than 15, which is still nowhere close to the lowest prediction.

How many games will the Nats win?
Pete Kerzel -- 88
Adam Kilgore -- 87
Dan Kolko -- 87
Brian McNally -- 87
Amanda Comak -- 86
Bill Ladson -- 85
Craig Heist -- 85
Mark Zuckerman -- 84
Dave Sheinin -- 83
WINNER: The Nats proved us all wrong, winning an MLB-best 98 games. Kerzel came closest at 88.

MARK ZUCKERMAN'S OPENING DAY MLB PREDICTIONS
NL EAST
1. Phillies
2. Marlins
3. Nationals
4. Braves
5. Mets

NL CENTRAL
1. Brewers
2. Reds
3. Cardinals
4. Pirates
5. Cubs
6. Astros

NL WEST
1. Giants
2. Diamondbacks
3. Dodgers
4. Rockies
5. Padres
-Wild-card winners

NL WILD-CARD GAME: Reds over Diamondbacks
NLDS: Giants over Reds, Brewers over Phillies
NLCS: Giants over Brewers
NL MVP: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
NL Cy Young: Josh Johnson, Marlins
NL Rookie of the Year: Drew Pomeranz, Rockies

AL EAST
1. Rays
2. Yankees
3. Red Sox
4. Blue Jays
5. Orioles

AL CENTRAL
1. Tigers
2. Indians
3. Royals
4. White Sox
5. Twins

AL WEST
1. Rangers
2. Angels
3. Mariners
4. Athletics
-Wild-card winners

AL WILD-CARD GAME: Angels over Yankees
ALDS: Tigers over Angels, Rays over Rangers
ALCS: Tigers over Rays
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Angels
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Moore, Rays

WORLD SERIES: Tigers over Giants

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Here's how the Nationals outfield could sustain the loss of Bryce Harper

Here's how the Nationals outfield could sustain the loss of Bryce Harper

If the Nationals can’t re-sign Bryce Harper, don't expect them to go searching for a high-priced free agent like Michael Brantley to replace him. 

(A note: This is still an if! We haven't closed the door on Harper staying in DC.) 

The Nationals already have a promising in-house solution if Harper walks: Victor Robles.

Robles is currently rated as the fourth-best prospect in baseball, according to MLBpipeline.com. Robles has played 34 games for the Nationals over the last two season including 21 in 2018.  His slash line this September was .288/.348/.525 with three doubles, three home runs, a triple, and 10 RBI.

Of course there's upsides to known quantities like Brantley - even if he comes with injury concerns: He hit .309 last year with 17 home runs and 76 RBI last season. In 2014, he finished third in American League MVP voting. He had a slash line of .307/.385/.506 with 45 doubles, 20 home runs, and 97 RBI. The following season, Brantley led the Majors with 45 doubles. 

If you can’t stand batters that strike out, Brantley is the guy for you.

In 613 plate appearances in 2018, Brantley struck out just 60 times. His 9.5 strikeouts per 100 at bats was tied for second-best in the MLB. By comparison, Harper’s strikeout ratio in 2018 was 24.3%. As a team, the Nationals finished tied for sixth in fewest strikeouts per game (7.96). Additionally, Brantley led qualified hitters in contact rate (90.9 percent) and swinging-strike rate (4.0 percent) in 2018. 

But even with all that, there's some question marks here if the Nats opt to swap Harper for a slightly lower-priced free agent: Brantley is a left fielder.

Over his career, Brantley has spent some time in center field but has not played there since 2015. What would the Nationals outfield alignment look like if they signed Brantley? 

Of the 112 games Juan Soto started with the Nationals this past season, all 112 were in left field. Adam Eaton’s strongest defensive position is right field. The likely answer would be move Soto to right field (where he played in the minors), Eaton to center, and keep Brantley in left field. Eaton was the Nationals’ Opening Day centerfielder in 2017.

So while a team like the Phillies may be looking to spend the money on an outfielder like Brantley, if Harper doesn't return, don't expect the Nationals to enter the market. 

At least not while their prospects look so promising.

MORE ON MICHAEL BRANTLEY

 

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Explaining my National League ROY ballot

Explaining my National League ROY ballot

This was tight. Really tight. A category for the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. A category for the Nationals’ Juan Soto.

Sorting through 16 categories showed Acuna and Soto should have split the National League Rookie of the Year award. It also showed me a narrow advantage for Soto, which is why I voted him first, Acuna second and Dodgers starter Walker Buehler third. Once the votes from other members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America were added, Acuna won, Soto was second and Buehler was third. It wasn’t close. It should have been.

First, a thought about the general process here: Writers take this seriously. Once assignments for the awards are distributed, we start to talk about them in the Nationals Park press box. Even non-voters hop in on the conversation. Sympathies are relayed to those who have an extremely tight choice, as I did this season and last when I voted for MVP (I’m big in Cincinnati thanks to my Joey Votto selection).

I outline specific categories, talk to opposing players and managers and watch as much as possible in order to come to a conclusion. The only thing easy about voting for ROY this season was the chance to see the leading candidates often since one played here and the other is in the division.

I used 16 categories to largely determine my vote. They were as follows: OPS, OPS+, Baseball Reference WAR, Fangraphs WAR, Baseball Prospectus WARP, OBP, WRC+, SB, HR, late-and-close OPS, 2 outs RISP OPS, BB:K ratio, WPA, “Clutch”, WOBA, and an overall defensive mark.

There’s no perfect formula here. But, when looking through those, Soto took nine, Acuna six and one, Fangraphs WAR, was even. That, coupled with Soto doing this in his age-19 season as the league’s youngest player (Acuna was just 20, so, like everything else the leader’s advantage here is slight), and talking to others in the league, prompted me to vote for Soto.

Again, the gaps were minute. Baseball Reference’s WAR formula favored Acuna. Fangraphs had them even. Baseball Prospectus put Soto clearly ahead. Soto was significantly better in late-and-close situations. Acuna was better with two outs and runners in scoring position.

If Soto had a distinct lead anywhere, it was via command of the strike zone, which is currently his premier talent. His walk and strikeout rates were both superior to Acuna. When asked about Soto, opponents and teammates alike brought it up.

However, Acuna is the better defender and baserunner. Points back to his favor.

Soto was intentionally walked 10 times signifying what opponents thought of dealing with him. Acuna was intentionally walked just twice (though his spot in the order has some influence there).

This ping-ponging of qualifications could go on.

What the National League East has is two of the best players in baseball. Not just young players at this stunningly low age, but two of the best. Soto was fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in OPS in the National League when adjusted to be among the qualified leaders (an explanation from Baseball Reference: In order to rank the player, the necessary number of hitless at bats were added to the player's season total.). Acuna was eighth in slugging under the same adjustment.

The 2019 All-Star Game is in Cleveland. Expect both to be there and this to be just the beginning of them being measured against each other.

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