I don’t think I will shock anyone when I say the Washington Nationals didn’t have a great season. The team struggled to an 82-80 record and didn’t make the playoffs despite high expectations. But a team is only as good as the men who wear its uniform, and some Nats exceeded expectations, some met them, and some did neither.
Here is the report card for the 2018 Nats. Please note that these grades are being made on a curve, so a B for an ace pitcher or a superstar slugger means something very different than it does for a journeyman who signed on a minor league deal or a rookie who was called up for an emergency. These grades are relative to expectations and whether these players were adequate, exemplary, or abysmal at the role they were assigned to perform.
Austin L. Adams — D-. Adams only pitched a single inning in the major leagues, not showing enough in the minor leagues as a depth option to merit either a September cup of coffee or more action even as the Nats’ bullpen was ravaged by injury and ineffectiveness. His 40-man roster spot has to be considered the most tenuous among Nats with options remaining heading into spring training next year. This grade could be given as “incomplete,” but frankly, Adams was expected to at least serve as up-and-down relief depth this season, and he wasn’t really even that.
A.J. Cole — F. Penciled in as the Nats’ fifth starter to begin the season, Cole bombed badly and had his rights sold to the New York Yankees after being designated for assignment midway through April. He managed to settle into a role as a decent low-leverage long man for the Bronx later in the season, but it was way too late to help the team that drafted and developed him. He made just two starts before being moved to the bullpen, then gave up home runs in back-to-back relief appearances before being dumped. Not good.
Tim Collins — C+. This year’s recipient of the Jacob Turner Award, Collins survived one midseason DFA to find his way back onto the roster as the injury bug continued to bite the Nats’ pitching staff. Used mostly as a matchup lefty by manager Davey Martinez, he was…OK, pitching to a mid-4s ERA in 38 appearances while giving up more than his rightful share of walks. A few very bad appearances skew his overall numbers. He was basically Oliver Perez. For a minor league signing, he was fine.
Jimmy Cordero — C+. Cordero gets bumped up a full letter grade for actually making his way to the majors after being outrighted off the 40-man roster in 2017, as he showed decently in the minors and flashed the stuff that originally put him on the prospect charts for the Blue Jays, Phillies, and eventually Nats. Unfortunately, his results at the major league level weren’t very good, as he pitched to a mid-5s ERA while walking as many batters as he struck out. He got plenty of chances down the stretch, but he’ll need to show better next year.
Sean Doolittle — B+. Doolittle actually gets bumped down from what would be a pretty easy A, because for the first time as a Nat, he struggled with injury and spent a critical month and a half of the season on the disabled list with a stress reaction in his foot that was originally misdiagnosed as a minor toe issue. When he was on the bump, Doolittle’s results were stellar, earning him an All-Star nod. The difference in the bullpen when he wasn’t in it was dramatic.
Erick Fedde — C-. Let’s be honest here: Fedde is starting to run out of time, and 2019 could be a make-or-break year for the soon-to-be-26-year-old. The Nats’ top pitching prospect entering the season, Fedde is a prospect no more, yet he failed to cement himself as a major league starter this season with a mid-5s ERA in The Show. The Nats have to hope they can find a role for Fedde that plays to his strengths, and that Fedde will get more comfortable in the majors soon. They don’t have much more time to wait.
Koda Glover — B. While his results were a mixed bag, Glover deserves credit for battling his way back from a series of injuries that truncated his 2017 season and cost him the bulk of 2018. And when you look at his overall results, he was actually one of the Nats’ more effective young arms, with a low- to mid-3s ERA, although his walks exceeded his strikeouts in a fairly small sample size of 21 appearances and the lethal slider that put him on the map was scarcely in evidence.
Gio Gonzalez — D+. Coming off a surprising 2017 campaign, Gio was ineffectual for the Nats this season, as the team lost a wide majority of his 27 starts and he turned in a mid-4s ERA before being shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers in August for two minor prospects. Basically, Gio perpetually struggled to get ahead of batters and put them away, and he just walked too many batters. It was a season with all of Gio’s problems and few of his pluses.
Trevor Gott — F. Not only was Gott bad in his 20 appearances, with a mid-5s ERA and a high walk rate, but he was so unimpressive that the Nats didn’t even give him a September call-up…despite the fact that he’ll be out of options next year, meaning if he doesn’t break camp with his team, he’ll have to be placed on the disabled list or DFA’d. The writing is on the wall for the undersized righty, who has never come close to showing the results to match his intriguing stuff in the Washington organization.
Matt Grace — B+. If it’s unfair to call this season a breakout year for Grace, it’s only because his 2017 was sometimes described the same way. After emerging as a viable major league reliever last year, Grace ascended to the ranks of the league’s more dominant lefty ‘pen pieces this year, with a high-2s ERA and an excellent groundball rate that made him one of Martinez’s most reliable relievers all season long. He even made a couple of outstanding long relief appearances. His place in the 2019 bullpen is assured.
Jeremy Hellickson — B. Like Doolittle, Hellickson loses points for losing time, basically. When he was healthy, he pitched far better than the Nats had any right to expect from a minor league signing late in spring training who had a deplorable 2017 season. But Hellickson was sidelined with three injuries over the course of the year. When he was in the rotation, his results were good, but his innings were managed carefully, so he rarely went deep into games and left a lot of work for the bullpen in his starts. He was a strong addition to the team…with an asterisk.
Kelvin Herrera — D-. Harsh? Unfair? Maybe. But Herrera cost the Nats a trio of fringe prospects, and he gave the Nats lackluster results, with a low- to mid-4s ERA in 21 appearances, before a pair of injuries ultimately ended his season. Basically, he wasn’t as advertised, and while general manager Mike Rizzo didn’t have to pay out the nose to get him from the Kansas City Royals midway through the season, he probably wasn’t worth even the paltry price that was paid.
Greg Holland — A. Holland was the anti-Herrera this season, bettering his former Kansas City teammate in every way imaginable. An August pickup after the St. Louis Cardinals, who dramatically overpaid for him last winter, unceremoniously DFA’d him, Holland pitched brilliantly for the Nats with a sub-1 ERA in 24 appearances, serving as an effective setup man and occasional closer. The only mark against him was a fairly high walk rate, but the fact of the matter is that when the Nats needed him to perform, he performed. He’s a fine re-sign candidate.
Shawn Kelley — B-. When you look at Kelley’s season, you have to separate it into two things: his low- to mid-3s ERA in 35 appearances for the Nats that marked an appreciable rebound from a catastrophically bad 2017 campaign, and the infamous glove-throwing incident in a blowout game that abruptly ended his two and a half years in Washington. The way things ended with Kelley drags down his grade by a mark or two. But as a middle reliever, he was actually pretty solid.
Brandon Kintzler — C-. Things ended badly with Kintzler, too, and that was less his fault than it was with Kelley. And Kintzler’s mid-3s ERA in 45 appearances for the Nats isn’t actually that bad. But it’s a lot worse when you consider Kintzler pitched in higher-leverage spots than Kelley did, and it’s worse considering Kintzler was re-signed last winter to be one of the Nats’ primary setup men. In essence, the Nats needed Kintzler to be great, and instead, he was just OK. And then things ended badly with him.
Ryan Madson — F. The Nats trusted Madson more than anyone else in the ‘pen not named Doolittle, and for the Nats in 2018, Madson was awful. A low-5s ERA in 40 appearances is horrifying for a contending team, and it’s shocking from a setup man, especially one with as sterling a track record as Madson had. The Nats gave up a lot to get Madson and Doolittle from the Oakland Athletics last season, and Madson gave them very little before he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in August.
Kyle McGowin — Incomplete. McGowin falls into the category of the guys who have to get a lot of credit for forcing their way into the picture this season. Not among the Nats’ top 30 prospects, he turned in an outstanding season as a minor league starter to earn a September call-up. In the majors, he was inconsistent, wowing with four strong innings in his only start but getting tagged for multiple home runs out of the ‘pen. It doesn’t seem fair to grade him on five appearances. He’ll get another chance.
Justin Miller — B. Maybe the biggest surprise for the Nats all season, Miller wasn’t among the league’s best relief pitchers this season, but a mid-3s ERA and the ability to pitch in high-leverage spots was far more than the Nats expected to find from an unheralded minor league free agent signing. He never quite lived up to an initial string of scoreless appearances that perhaps led to Martinez leaning too heavily on him, and his results weren’t as great as those of Matt Belisle in 2016 or Matt Albers in 2017, but he was one of the few guys who was generally trustworthy coming out of the ‘pen.
Tommy Milone — D. Another minor league signing who has to be judged as such, Milone was not effective when brought up to the majors, making four starts and one relief appearance and getting hammered for a high-5s ERA. It’s not right to give Milone the lowest grade despite his dismal results, as he gave the faltering Nats innings and wasn’t really expected to do much more than that, but he didn’t distinguish himself with this campaign, and getting hurt himself doesn’t help his case.
Tanner Roark — C-. A second straight year of mediocrity for Roark puts him on the bubble as the Nats consider their approach to player arbitration this winter. The big righty was as durable as ever, making 31 appearances and never hitting the disabled list, but his ability to pitch deep into games was limited as he appeared to be carrying a few extra pounds this season and often struggled to locate his secondary pitches. A Roark start usually meant a Nats loss, and that wasn’t what the team wanted from him this season.
Jefry Rodriguez — C+. In terms of results, Rodriguez’s mid- to high-5s ERA in 14 appearances isn’t great. But Rodriguez was versatile, and he gave the Nats a couple of crucial long relief appearances and a couple of strong starts. For a rookie, his season hardly wowed, but he showed some promise and enough to suggest he could be effective if the Nats find the right role for him. It’s all about expectations, and they weren’t high for Rodriguez anyway.
Enny Romero — F. After being mostly forgotten in the second half of 2017, Romero pitched just two innings for the Nats before being shown the door in 2018. After being DFA’d, he was claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, then he bounced around a bit more without making his mark in the major leagues this season. Ahh…we’ll always have that one month in 2017 when you were actually pretty good, Enny.
Joe Ross — Incomplete. Ross came back far too late from “Tommy John” rehab to make an impact in 2018, and wet weather and meaningless games played merry hob with the results he did turn in. He made three starts, plus one more abbreviated start that didn’t count because of rain, with a low-5s ERA and a very low strikeout rate that doesn’t really reflect the Ross we know and love. Next season should basically be tabula rasa for Ross. It’s not worth reading much into his 2018 season.
Max Scherzer — A. Scherzer was Scherzer, and we all know what that means. Once again, he was one of the best pitchers in the National League, even it looks like he’s an underdog this time for a third consecutive Cy Young Award. Scherzer hit the triple-century mark for strikeouts, a remarkable feat, and threw another immaculate inning, with a mid-2s ERA in a league-topping 33 starts, yadda yadda. When Scherzer pitched this season, the Nats usually won. He was a pretty good hitter, at least in the first half, too.
Sammy Solis — F-. Again, this might be a too-harsh grade, but the fact of the matter is that Solis is no longer a young kid, and in fact, he’s exhausted his unusual four options after this season, even despite some creative roster maneuvering to keep him one day shy of burning an option in 2017. A mid-6s ERA in 56 appearances is not acceptable at any level. Solis is all but certain to be on the outside looking in when the Nats build their Opening Day roster in 2019, and that probably means his time in Washington is over.
Stephen Strasburg — C+. A high-3s ERA isn’t what the Nats wanted to see from their nominal co-ace, and yet again, Strasburg’s proneness to injury kept him on the shelf for about one-third of the season, as he made just 22 starts. Despite diminished velocity, Strasburg salvaged his season somewhat down the stretch, albeit in largely meaningless games, but the damage was done by his ineffectuality and injuries in the first half and middle of the year. He wasn’t bad this year, but he wasn’t great, and the Nats expected greatness.
Wander Suero — B+. Suero was an unexpectedly major part of the Nats’ bullpen this year, as the rookie appeared in 40 games, sometimes for more than one inning, and delivered a mid-3s ERA. His overall numbers would be better, but a smattering of bad outings, mostly as he was still finding his sea legs in The Show, drag them down. But overall, Suero didn’t walk many batters and struck out nearly one per inning. He was frequently a guy who was dropped into hot water and managed to cool things down. That counts for something.
Carlos Torres — D-. As with Milone, it’s tough to blame Torres for not being more than he was, which was a scrap-heap minor league signing who pitched like a scrap-heap minor league reliever. His mid-6s ERA in 10 appearances didn’t really do much to justify the Nats’ quick trigger in DFAing Cole, though, and he wound up being maybe the most forgettable member of this year’s none-too-memorable squad. He earned his own DFA and will likely struggle to get even a spring training invitation this winter.
Austin Voth — Incomplete. See “McGowin, Kyle.” Voth is a somewhat more highly regarded prospect, but at 26, he had basically washed his way out of the Nats’ plans, and he didn’t get much of a look aside from one spot start until September. Voth had one terrible start and one outstanding start, and one OK relief appearance and one awful relief appearance, and that accounted for his four outings in the bigs. It’s not nearly enough to decide whether he can be a factor in 2019.
Austen Williams — C-. Even giving him extra credit for busting his way onto the 40-man roster with a sublime minor league season, Williams has to be regarded as rather disappointing with the results he showed in 10 major league appearances. Home runs were a huge problem for Williams after he gave up precisely zero in the lower leagues, as were walks despite a very low career rate in the minors. It doesn’t really add up, and some of Williams’ stuff looked downright nasty, but he had a chance to cap a great year by looking like a real major league pitcher, and he just didn’t…not yet, anyway.
Spencer Kieboom — B+. Kieboom didn’t seize control of the everyday job as catcher after he was promoted due to injury. But he did seize control of the backup job, never returning to the minors and ultimately finding his way with the bat down the stretch. Never nearly as touted a prospect as his younger brother, Kieboom nonetheless seems to have found a niche. His defense was impressive and the pitching staff seemed to appreciate his game-calling. He’ll probably never be a star, but as a role player, he looks like a keeper.
Miguel Montero — F-. Basically everything that was said about Kieboom, chuck it out the window for Montero. Signed to a minor league deal but with the expectation he would end up on the major league roster if he was healthy, Montero ultimately ended up contributing absolutely zero to the Nats before being jettisoned in April, not recording a single hit and proving a wretched, sluggish defender. The Nats were trying to replace Jose Lobaton. Instead, they got nothing, and it put them in a difficult spot.
Pedro Severino — F. The other key part of the Nats’ catching depth failure this season, Severino finally lost his heir-apparent status as the Nats’ catcher of the future this season. Compounding his offensive futility from a fairly small sample size in 2017, Severino was utterly inept at the plate filling in as the more-or-less-everyday catcher in the first half, and he was sent down and not seen again until September, when he was used almost exclusively as a defensive substitute. Kieboom appears to have overtaken him on the organizational depth chart, and Severino’s future with the Nats is in question.
Matt Wieters — D+. Getting hot down the stretch saves Wieters from a worse grade, but he still rates as subpar because he was a non-entity when it counted. The injury-prone Wieters missed time with an injury in the first half, which gave the Nats a chance to see how ineffective Severino was as a fill-in and also give the surprising Kieboom a chance backing him up. That was probably his biggest contribution to the season. His pitch-framing was poor and his blocking was suspect. He might have difficulty finding a major league guarantee this winter.
Matt Adams — B-. Not quite an equal replacement for Adam Lind at the plate, Adams acquitted himself well as a reserve first baseman and did contribute more than his share of longballs to the Nats’ efforts before being sold to the equally doomed St. Louis Cardinals in August. He was a good teammate who gamely pretended out in left field when needed, and he ended up playing a good bit due to injuries, but when used purely off the bench, he went cold and didn’t contribute much. But basically, he did his job, and the Nats will likely consider a reunion this winter.
Wilmer Difo — C+. Difo was another young player who had an opportunity to establish himself in an everyday role this season, but given two cracks at the starting job, Difo just didn’t show a lot with the bat. By late September, he was losing playing time. Defensively, Difo did what was asked of him and was certainly the Nats’ flashiest second baseman all season. But he’s not such an elite defender that the Nats will likely stomach his lack of offensive presence as an everyday player in 2019.
Daniel Murphy — D+. Yeah, this might not be a fair grade, either, but when you think about it, it kind of is. Murphy underwent off-season surgery last October and didn’t make it back onto the field until mid-June, and he was basically a shell of himself until mid-August. Then he was promptly traded to the Chicago Cubs for a fringe prospect, and he got back to looking like his old self too late to help the Nats. With a surgically repaired knee, Murphy’s defense was worse than ever, and he lacked power at the plate. He was of negative value to the Nats this year…sad, but it is what it is.
Anthony Rendon — A. Rendon was one of the Nats’ real bright spots this season, leading the team in a number of offensive categories while turning in the kind of defensive highlight-reel season at third base that might, just might, finally net him a long-overdue Gold Glove Award. While Rendon isn’t the kind of player who is looked to in the clubhouse for leadership, he remained a steady and amiable presence who did his utmost to buoy the Nats amid a difficult season.
Mark Reynolds — B. Another scrap-heap minor league signing, Reynolds made good, turning in competent defense at first base and occasionally elsewhere on the infield while supplying some power from his all-or-nothing right-handed bat. Reynolds tied a team record for most RBIs in a game with 10 at one point, and he even pitched and got an out in another game. His numbers don’t blow you away for the season, but on balance, he was pretty good, and better than advertised.
Matt Reynolds — D+. Basically, the lesser Reynolds was on the weak side of passable when the Nats called on him, which wasn’t often and wasn’t in September. Neither “wow” defense nor a real offensive presence elevated him, but as a utility fill-in off the bench in 12 games scattered across the year, he was fine. He was versatile. Maybe he’ll get a chance to finally play center field in a major league game next year, somehow and for some reason. You know he wants to.
Adrian Sanchez — C+. Sanchez basically took over Matt Reynolds’ role down the stretch, as a minor league call-up who occasionally filled in around the infield, but he bettered Matt Reynolds by genuinely menacing left-handed pitching and actually stealing some playing time at second base from Difo late in the season. A longtime organizational player who isn’t really any more than he is, Sanchez had a decent season by those standards.
Trea Turner — B-. Sure, Turner led the major leagues in steals, but with a surprisingly low 43. As a hitter, he was decent, but he was also inconsistent, sometimes tearing the cover off the ball and sometimes going a full week without a significant hit. I’m grading on a curve here, but Turner didn’t quite match up to expectations, and while he was still an above-average player on this team in 2018, he didn’t make the impact we all hoped he would. He could find himself batting further down in the lineup next year.
Ryan Zimmerman — C+. At this point, it’s hard to blame Zimmerman too much for being hurt, but it’s easier to blame him for a botched approach to spring training that saw him basically skip Grapefruit League action. He and team officials insisted it was his choice. Some media reports suggested he was hurt. Whatever it was, he entered 2018 not ready to play, and he was shockingly bad through April before finally landing on the disabled list. He was better in the second half, but he’d already missed his chance to help carry this team. The Nats should have gotten more from their veteran leader.
Rafael Bautista — F. Bautista didn’t get a hit across just six at-bats before a major injury took him off the roster. Like Austin L. Adams, he was expected to be an up-and-down guy, although unlike Adams, it was injury rather than just ineffectiveness that kept him from serving in that role. Again, if you don’t care for that rationale, you can mentally adjust this to “incomplete” (which is actually where I had it originally), but grading against preseason expectations for Bautista, this seems about right to me. He didn’t do anything for the Nats this year, and he might never again.
Adam Eaton — B-. It was a frustrating year for Eaton, who was slow in his return from a season-ending leg injury last April and experienced a few false starts, including a lengthy disabled-list stint after the ill-advised decision to rush him back to action to start the season. But when he was healthy, Eaton did nothing but hit, producing a strong all-around offensive season even though he didn’t hit for a lot of power. What drags Eaton’s grade down at least one notch is his defense. Acquired as a center fielder, Eaton spent most of the year in right, and he didn’t really acquit himself well there.
Brian Goodwin — D-. Last year might have been a breakout year for Goodwin, but his results this season showed it really wasn’t. Goodwin was traded to the Royals in what amounted to a roster-clearing move in June, but that was necessitated because he was almost entirely ineffective with the bat in 48 games, not particularly impressive in the field, and out of minor league options that would have allowed the Nats to use him as an up-and-down piece. And to think, he was vocally upset during spring training at the thought of not being an everyday player.
Bryce Harper — C+. This is a crazy grade to give a guy who was the Nats’ most prolific slugger this season and one of the best and most productive hitters in the National League. But what bolsters Harper’s numbers most are all the walks he took, and that kid-gloves treatment in April might have contributed to one of the most puzzling and alarming two-month slumps in Nats history. In May and June, Harper was a nobody at the plate, his average dropping at one point into the low .200s. His defense all season was well below average. He finally locked back in after the All-Star Game, but the damage was done. Harper was a far less valuable player in 2018 than the Nats expected him to be.
Howie Kendrick — C. Kendrick had put himself in line for a much better grade, but he loses at least a full grade point because of a freak injury in May that meant his season didn’t amount to much. A glue piece for the Nats, Kendrick hit them with a sudden loss that the team arguably never really recovered from, as they were short not just a .300 hitter with defensive versatility, but also one of the best clubhouse personalities in the game. Kendrick’s season is defined by his absence rather than his presence. That’s a shame.
Victor Robles — C+. Robles’ offensive outburst in late September lifts him out of a likely “incomplete”, and it showed the Nats why they would be foolish not to keep him at the forefront of their future plans in the outfield. A fantastic defender and plus hitter whose power seemed to emerge late in the year, Robles’ grade is knocked down principally because he missed all but the final weeks of the major league season after an elbow injury early in the minor league season; injuries continue to plague him.
Moises Sierra — F+. You can quibble with the mark on this, but it’s probably not fair to think Sierra should have turned out to be a credible major league reserve outfielder just because he had a decent spring training as a minor league signing. At the same time, going oh-fer for almost a full month isn’t something that can be tolerated, and the Nats rightly DFA’d Sierra in May after getting very little in the way of production from the journeyman.
Juan Soto — A+. Has anyone ever had a season like Soto? He started the year in Single-A, then exploded up the minor league rankings and finally arrived in Washington after Kendrick’s season-ending injury. Then he hit a home run on the first pitch he saw as a starter, and he never really stopped. His left field defense was an adventure at times, although it improved as the season went on. The same wasn’t quite true of his bat, as his strikeout rate skyrocketed in the season’s final weeks and his prodigious production stalled out somewhat. Even still, he probably had the best or second-best offensive season ever for a teenage major league hitter, setting numerous records and giving Nats fans something they could really cheer about. Superstar? You bet he is.
Andrew Stevenson — B. See “Kieboom, Spencer.” A lesser-regarded outfield prospect, Stevenson finally broke out this year when given an extended opportunity, providing serviceable hitting from the left side and strong defense across the grass. He basically did what he was asked to do. He doesn’t have a “star” ceiling, but he could potentially fit in for years as a controllable, cheap fourth outfielder, and he took a big step this year toward showing he can be that guy.
Michael A. Taylor — D. This was a big year for Taylor, a chance to build off a successful 2017 and show that despite his underwhelming peripherals last season, his effectiveness at the plate was no fluke. Unfortunately, this was a bad year for Taylor, and 2017 now looks like a statistical outlier instead of the start of a positive trend. By the end of the season, Taylor was receiving no regular playing time to speak of, and he struggled mightily off the bench. With arbitration looming, he may have played his last game as a Nat.
NOTE: Joaquin Benoit, Jhonatan Solano, and now Kyle Barraclough are on the Nats’ major league roster, but they never appeared in a game for Washington this season, so they’re not counted on this report card.