The 2021 Washington Nationals will look much different than the 2019 team that won the World Series championship, but also much different than the 2020 team. This offseason, the Nationals have added Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber from the Cubs, and Josh Bell from the Pirates, as well as some other minor moves.
2021 Washington Nationals’ Starting Rotation
Ace – Max Scherzer
Scherzer has been a mainstay atop the Nationals’ rotation since they signed him to a seven-year, $210 million contract ahead of the 2015 season. By all accounts, Scherzer had his worst season as a National in 2020, but he was still a great pitcher and it was a shortened season. The three-time Cy Young Award winner is entering his age-36 season but has shown no signs of slowing down. Since joining Washington in 2015, Scherzer has a 2.80 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 27.3% K-BB%, 2.89 SIERA, and 34.4 fWAR. Expect nothing less from Scherzer, one of the most consistent (and best) starting pitchers in the league.
SP2 – Stephen Strasburg
One of the three aces in the Nationals’ staff, Strasburg was one of the most highly-touted prospects in baseball when he came up in 2010. Strasburg threw just 5 innings in 2020 due to injury but he’s been one of the best pitchers in the league when healthy since he’s made his debut. In 11 MLB seasons, Strasburg has a 3.19 ERA, 2.97 FIP, 22.6% K-BB%, 3.05 SIERA, and 36.6 fWAR. Strasburg is also a top-10, arguably top-5 pitcher entering 2021, and he’s the 2nd best in the 2021 Washington Nationals rotation. If he stays healthy, the 1-2 punch of Scherzer and Strasburg is the best in baseball.
SP3 – Patrick Corbin
Corbin is the last of three elite/borderline-elite starters in this pitching staff. He had a great year in 2019 after signing a six-year, $140 million contract with Washington, but struggled in 2020. Since his breakout 2018 season, Corbin has a 3.41 ERA, 3.15 FIP, 21.1% K-BB%, 3.54 SIERA, and 11.8 fWAR. As the 3rd guy in the 2021 Washington Nationals rotation, Corbin will look to replicate his 2018-19 success behind Scherzer and Strasburg
SP4 – Jon Lester
Although these last two spots aren’t set in stone, the Nationals rotation will likely include the veteran Lester, who was signed to a one-year contract this offseason. Following a great tenure with the Cubs that included a World Series championship, a 2nd place Cy Young finish in 2016, and two all-star appearances. Lester isn’t the same pitcher as he was in his prime, but he’s probably going to give the Nationals innings, although his 5.16 ERA, 5.14 FIP and 5.02 SIERA in 2020 aren’t promising.
SP5 – Austin Voth/Joe Ross
The 2021 Washington Nationals have a few options for the 5th spot, but Joe Ross, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth will probably both get chances to start some games. Ross has gotten a 57 starts for the Nationals since debuting in 2015, but he didn’t play at all in 2020 after opting out of the season. Reports surfaced that he’d be a starter in 2021, but he hasn’t been a good pitcher since 2016. From 2017-19, Ross has a 5.21 ERA, 4.91 FIP, 4.77 SIERA, and 10.9% K-BB%. Voth is another option, but the young starter had a horrible season in 2020 with a 6.34 ERA and 6.41 FIP. Finally, Erick Fedde might be an option, but he also has a 5.10 career ERA.
2021 Washington Nationals: Bullpen
Closer – Brad Hand
The Nationals signed Hand to a one-year, $10.5 million contract this offseason after the Indians declined his option. Hand has been one of the elite closers in the league since his breakout 2016 season with San Diego. Since 2016, Hand has a 2.56 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 2.79 SIERA, and 3.2 fWAR. The Nationals were able to replace their closer Sean Doolittle.
Set-Up Man – Will Harris
Harris joined the Nationals last offseason after losing to them in the World Series as a member of the Astros in 2019. He had an okay season in 2020 to follow his best season in 2019. Since joining the Astros in 2015, he has put up a 2.40 ERA, 3.08 FIP and 5.2 fWAR.
Middle Relievers – Wander Suero, Ryne Harper, Daniel Hudson
The 2021 Washington Nationals have some options to use as middle relievers, but these will likely be the guys for Davey Martinez to choose from. Wander Suero has a 4.10 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 17.6% K-BB%, and 3.73 SIERA in his career, and the 29-year-old will be a solid piece out of the 2021 Washington Nationals bullpen. Ryne Harper is a 31-year-old reliever who came up in 2019 with the Minnesota Twins. As a National, in 2020, Harper made 23 appearances and had a 7.61 ERA, 5.09 FIP, 14.5% K-BB%, but he had a 4.21 SIERA. Daniel Hudson ended the 2019 World Series but also had a bad year in 2020. The Nationals haven’t had a great bullpen in a while, and it isn’t one of their strengths once again in 2021.
2021 Washington Nationals: Lineup
1. Trea Turner, SS
Turner went under-the-radar in 2020, but had one of the best seasons out of any player in the National League. As the Nationals’ leadoff hitter, Turner had a 158 wRC+ and a .394 OBP while playing 59 games and accumulating 2.7 fWAR. Defensively, Turner isn’t great, as he had -7 DRS, -2.9 UZR, but he did contribute 2 OAA. Turner is one of the premier shortstops in the league, and he will continue to damage atop the 2021 Washington Nationals lineup.
2. Starlin Castro, 2B
Castro missed most of 2020 due to injury, but has been a pretty solid second baseman throughout his career. Since 2017, Castro has been an average bat (100 wRC+), below average baserunner (-3.9 BsR), and mediocre defender (11 OAA, but -9 DRS). Castro is solid, not great, and will likely give the Nationals average production once again in 2021.
3. Juan Soto, RF
Although the young phenom outfielder is moving from left to right, he is still one of the best up-and-coming players in the entire league. The 22-year-old had a huge year in 2020, putting up the best offensive season since Barry Bonds in 2004, with a 201 wRC+ and .490 OBP. In his three year career, Soto has already established himself as one of the best players in baseball, as he has posted a 152 wRC+, .415 OBP, and 11.0 WAR in just 1349 PAs. Soto will continue mashing in 2021, even if his defense isn’t great.
4. Josh Bell, 1B
Josh Bell had a great start to the 2019 season, as he had a 154 wRC+, but then fell right back to being average in the 2nd half. Bell had a 135 wRC+ in 2019, and couldn’t even manage a 2.5 win season (FanGraphs WAR). In 2020, Bell slashed .226/.305/.364 and had a 77 wRC+, good enough for below replacement level production. As a first baseman, even his 116 wRC+ (since 2018) bat is fairly average, and he is one of the worst defenders in the sport. He will give the 2021 Washington Nationals a much needed burst of offense, but he’s not a great baseball player, and his defense significantly lowers his ceiling.
5. Kyle Schwarber, LF
Picking up Schwarber on a one-year, $10 million deal was one of the best moves of the 2021 Washington Nationals’ offseason. Like Bell, Schwarber is a big bat and bad defender, but he plays left field, and he’s much more consistent offensively. He had his worst offensive season in 2020, but so did everyone on the Cubs, and even then he had a 91 wRC+ and hit 11 home runs, with a 13.4% walk rate. Defensively, Schwarber is great in UZR (12.3 since 2017), but DRS (-10) and OAA (-30) aren’t as favorable. Either way, Schwarber is a solid left fielder, arguably top-10, and is a great addition to this roster.
6. Carter Kieboom, 3B
Kieboom was a highly-touted prospect but has had a pretty bad start to his career. He got time as a starter at 3B last year, following the departure of long-time 3B Anthony Rendon. Carter Kieboom had a .212 SLG% in 2020, which stands out, due to his .010 ISO (BA-SLG), and hit 0 homers. In his career, he has been below average, but the potential is still definitely there, and Kieboom should probably take a massive step forward in 2021.
7. Yan Gomes, C
Yan Gomes and Alex Avila will be the catchers for the 2021 Washington Nationals, but Gomes will likely get most of the playing time as he is a solid hitter and plays average defense behind the plate. Since 2018, Gomes has a 94 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR, and -0.3 FRM. Gomes is by no means a good catcher, but he’s a solid backstop and is fairly consistent.
8. Victor Robles, CF
Robles isn’t a great hitter at all, but plays elite defense in center field, and even lead the league in OAA in 2019. Robles is likely a 90-95 wRC+ hitter once again next year, but the 2021 Washington Nationals will benefit a lot from his defense, as they have two bad defenders in the corners. Robles was bad in 2020, but he’s still only 23 and has elite speed and defense, and still has potential as a hitter.
9. Pitchers’ Spot
For now, the NL has not implemented a designated hitter, so the final spot (or 8th, if Martinez chooses to bat Robles 9th) will be the pitcher. If the DH is implemented, some options open up, like Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, Ryan Zimmerman or Andrew Stevenson.
2021 Washington Nationals: Bench
It’s hard to predict the bench of a team, but there are some players who will almost certainly be pinch hitting options next season. The 2021 Washington Nationals’ bench will most likely consist of Alex Avila, Ryan Zimmerman, and Andrew Stevenson. Other players like Josh Harrison, Luis Garcia, and Yadiel Hernandez could also see some major league opportunities next year, depending on the circumstances.
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