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Washington Nationals roster review: Ian Desmond


Washington Nationals roster review: Ian Desmond

Age on Opening Day 2016: 30

How acquired: 3rd round pick, 2004 draft (Expos)

MLB service time: 5 years, 27 days

2015 salary+bonuses: $11 million

Contract status: Free agent

2015 stats: 156 G, 641 PA, 69 R, 136 H, 27 2B, 2 3B, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 13 SB, 45 BB, 187 SO, .233 AVG, .290 OBP, .384 SLG, .674 OPS, 27 E, -3.7 UZR, 1.7 WAR

Quotable: "When I got drafted by the Expos, they didn’t know where the team would be. But they couldn’t have found a better home. I’m extremely proud to say that I was a Washington National.”

2015 analysis: Ian Desmond took a calculated risk in passing up a contract extension and betting on himself in the 2015 season. His hope was a fourth straight year of Silver Slugger numbers before entering free agency as one of the biggest names on the market, a rare breed of shortstop these days who would command upwards of $150 million from the richest teams in baseball.

That didn't exactly go as planned, as Desmond played some of his worst ball in years for much of the 2015 season, both on offense and defense. Desmond had a .599 OPS as late as July 22 and was hitting just .214 on Aug. 4. He also committed eight errors in his first 12 games. If Matt Williams had benched him at any point through the first four months, few would have been shocked. He was that bad and at one point appeared to have lost himself a ton of money in free agency.

But Desmond did rebound, perhaps not completely, but he did. After batting .211/.255/.334 with seven homers in the first half, he hit .262/.331/.446 with 12 home runs after the All-Star break. In August he hit .314 with a .914 OPS and six homers. It was enough to get him up to 19 home runs, which ranked third among shortstops. Desmond will not command the money he would have if he was a free agent last winter, but the seven-year veteran should still be a highly sought after player this offseason given all the other attributes he brings to the table.

2016 outlook: The chances of Desmond returning to Washington, the only MLB home he has ever known, are very slim. Judging by his comments both leading into the 2015 season and throughout it, Desmond has clearly prepared himself for the possibility of not returning as a National. There are several reasons why that is probably for the best not only for the Nats, but perhaps Desmond as well.

For one, the Nationals have depth in their infield, most notably with the emergence of top prospect Trea Turner. Signing Desmond to a long-term deal would be a risk for the franchise and one they probably can't take given the contracts of Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman. If Desmond's deal didn't work out, the Nats would have serious payroll issues.

And for Desmond, it is still good timing to find a new home, even with his drop in numbers. He will enter free agency as the most accomplished player at his position. If a team is on the market for a shortstop, especially if it's a young team who could use some veteran leadership, Desmond could be a very attractive option.

The one question long-term that could perhaps come into play in negotiations this winter is where Desmond fits defensively. With his penchant for errors - he's finished in the top three for most at his position in three straight years - will teams want to sign him to play third base? At shortstop several of his numbers look unique, but at third his low OBP and high strikeout-rate might become more obvious.

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It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

It's time to start paying attention to Trea Turner's sneaky-great season

Remember when the Nationals put Trea Turner in centerfield so they could keep Danny Espinosa at shortstop?

Two years later it's Turner who leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR, as you surely know if you follow the Nationals on literally any social media platform. 

So while Juan Soto and Bryce Harper continue to dominate all of The Takes, it's Turner who's been the Nats' best position player this season. 

We'll start with some basics: 

Did you know that Trea Turner leads all N.L. shortstops in fWAR? He's currently sitting at 2.4 WAR, above the likes of Brandon Crawford, Addison Russell, and Trevor Story, to name a few. (We'll ignore the fact that the top six shortstops in the A.L. all have a better fWAR.) He's a top-10 shortstop in baseball during one of the strongest eras in the position's history.

Even after a dreadfully slow start, Turner's still on pace to have the best season of his career. He posted a WAR of 2.9 last year and -- barring injury -- will realistically eclipse that by the All-Star game. 

At the plate, two stats jump off the page in regards to explaining Turner's stellar season. 

First, Turner is drawing a *bunch* of walks. His current BB% clip (10.6 percent) would be far and away the best of his career and up four percentage points from last year. It's a factor that helps explain - partially, at least - why his on-base percentage has risen and his BABIP has dropped. More walks mean fewer swings, fewer swings mean less contact, less contact means lower BABIP, etc. It's not the whole picture, but it's a big part of it. 

Secondly, Turner is making impressive contact on pitches out of the strike zone. FanGraphs calculates out-of-zone contact using a statistic titled O-Contact, which is a blessing considering some of the titles they choose to give their other stats. 

The average O-Contact across MLB in 2018 is 64.7 percent. Trea Turner's career O-Contact is 62.4 percent (although realistically it's closer to the high-50's - a small-sample-size from his abbreviated first season mucks up the number a bit). 

This season, Turner's posted an O-Contact of 69.3 percent. Not only is that 10 percentage points higher than his O-Contact from last season, but a top-50 clip in all of baseball. He's one spot ahead of Mike Trout!  Put both of these together with some encouraging Statcast numbers (rise in HardHit%, already matched his total 'barrels' from last season) and you can see why Turner's been thriving at the plate. 

Defensively, he's improved across the board as well. His UZR and DRS - considered the two most reliable fielding statistics, if such a thing exists - are both up from last year. He has the 10th-best UZR of all major league shortstops and ranks 1st in DRS. 

Last season, he finished 17th in both UZR and DRS (of all shortstops with at least 800 innings; Turner didn't log enough innings to be considered a qualified fielder). He ended the season with both numbers in the negative. 

You may be skeptical of defensive stats, which is fine. But if nothing else, the fact that Turner is turning literal negative stats into positive ones is encouraging. 

Lastly, Turner continues to be an elite baserunner. At this point in his career, his speed is arguably his best tool:

You'll note that purple dot allllllllllll the way on the right. That's Turner! Now, let's take a look at how his speed compares across all positions:

Essentially, Turner is faster than like, 98 percent of baseball. In fact, by Sprint Speed, he's the 6th-fastest player in the game. He also ranks 2nd across all of baseball in FanGraphs "Baserunning" measurements, only behind fellow teammate and mindbogglingly good baserunner Michael A. Taylor. 

So, Trea Turner an elite baserunner (maybe the best if you combine his raw speed with his baserunning stats), a top-5 shortstop in the field, and an All-Star at the plate. 

Juan Soto's been great and Bryce Harper is still extremely talented, but this year, Trea Turner has been the Nationals' best player. 


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Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles


Juan Soto's 2-run double carries Nationals past Orioles

WASHINGTON -- A teenager among men, Juan Soto has impressed his teammates on the Washington Nationals with his maturity and, even more so, his potent bat.

Soto hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the eighth inning, and Washington beat the Baltimore Orioles 4-2 Thursday night in the deciding matchup of a three-game interleague series between neighboring rivals.

Soto, a 19-year-old rookie, is batting .326 with 16 RBIs in 28 games. Starting in the cleanup spot for the first time, he drew a walk and delivered the game's pivotal hit.

"I think we're all amazed every single day," Washington ace Max Scherzer said. "He puts together great ABs. He has antics and has some flair. He's a great young player. He's just enjoying himself."

Bryce Harper led off the eighth with a double off Mychal Givens (0-4) and Trea Turner followed with a single. After Anthony Rendon struck out, Soto hit a liner into the gap in left-center.

"He's got unbelievable poise," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of Soto. "No matter what the situation is, he goes out there with a game plan."

Whatever that plan is, it's effective.

"I just try to be focused and keep working," Soto said.

Rendon homered for the Nationals, who received seven strong innings from Scherzer and flawless work from their bullpen.

Newcomer Kelvin Herrera (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and Sean Doolittle got three straight outs for his 20th save in 21 tries.

Seeking to end a rare run of two straight losses, Scherzer left a tied game after allowing two runs -- both on solo homers -- and striking out nine.

Afterward, the right-hander heaped praise upon Soto for the manner in which he's adapted to playing in the big leagues.

"He has a great feel for the strike zone," Scherzer said. "To have that type of eye, it's remarkable for him to be able to do that at this time and this age and this level."

Activated from the 60-day disabled list before the game, Colby Rasmus homered for the Orioles in his first at-bat since April 6.

"Me and Max, we go way back, so I felt real good," said Rasmus, who had been sidelined with a hip injury.

In addition, Rasmus made an outstanding throw from right field to the plate, nailing Wilmer Difo on a tag-up play in the seventh inning with the score tied.

Mark Trumbo also homered for Baltimore, his sixth of the season and third in four games.

Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman gave up two runs and four hits over six innings. The right-hander was lifted with the score tied, leaving him winless in his last seven starts.