There are a few constants in my life for the not-so-good list. I have watched and followed every single Washington Nationals game since 2012. It might sound like I’m a front-runner, but I was born in 2000, so for the first five years in my life there was no team, and from 2005-2010 there was not a compelling reason for me to start rooting for my local team. Then things started to shift in the right direction, and 2012 was a beautiful year that I will remember for the rest of my life.
It all started with the signing of Jayson Werth in 2011, and ever since that record-breaking contract, the culture in Washington has been a winning one. Since 2012, we have been blessed to see the product that general manager Mike Rizzo has created, and it all came to a tee with the magical 2019 World Series run.
The 2020 “season” and the 2021 season have been rough, but I will always appreciate the winning culture that we have established in DC. We have gotten to witness the legend of Howie Kendrick, one of the best young hitters of all time in Juan Soto, Stephen Strasburg silencing the haters with a World Series MVP, and being able to witness future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer every fifth day. With that being said, in the Nationals 17 seasons in the nation’s capital, there has been a fair share of some players that were, let’s say — not too good at baseball at the MLB level, so I decided to construct a roster of the Nationals who would rank at the bottom of all time, with a player at every position with honorable mentions.
Now, there are some rules that I created to be eligible for this list, including:
1. Every player must have played at least 100 games for the Nationals (except for a few dishonorable mention exceptions)
2. Every starting pitcher must have made at least 15 starts with the Nationals
3. Relief pitchers must have made at least 20 appearances with the Nats during their tenure
4. The position that the player is listed at was their primary position in Washington
5. Players on this list at one point was an everyday starter in Washington (except for first base)
When I created this list, I mainly constructed it based on the players’ statistics, but I also considered the hype and expectations surrounding the player and their contract. Here are the worst Nationals of all time by position.
Catcher- Matt Wieters 2017-2018 (199 games)
2017-2018 Stats: 199 games, .230 BA, 18 HRs, 82 RBIs, .658 OPS, -0.8 fWar
Man, this guy stunk at the worst times and cost a lot of money given his output. After the 2016 season where Wilson Ramos was having a career year and tragically tore his ACL right before the playoffs, the Nationals suddenly needed to find a catcher for the future in free agency heading into the 2017 season after being bounced in the NLDS. To be fair, Wieters was one of the better catchers on the market, and he probably? Maybe? Was an upgrade over Derick Norris, who we traded for, and then released after Washington signed Wieters less than three months later. Wieters arrived in DC on a 2-year $21 million dollar deal after a solid 2016 campaign with Baltimore, where he was an all-star and batted .243 with 17 home runs, a .711 OPS, and a 1.1 fWar in 124 games. He was an above-average catcher. He never came close to those numbers in DC.
In his first season with the Nats, Wieters batted a career-low .225, with only 10 home runs in 123 games. He was ranked 49th out of 49 catchers in the MLB with at least 200 plate appearances in fWar at -1.2. His defense was slightly below league average, and his offense was so bad that he was 39% below league average with a 61 wRC+. His baserunning was putrid, and he wisely accepted the $10.5 million dollar player option heading into the 2018 season. In 2018 he put up better numbers, but his two seasons in Washington led him to be crowned the worst catcher in Nationals history. Hats off to Wieters for an overall solid career, and somehow latching on to the Cardinals and backing up Yadier Molina from 2019-2020. Wieters was on team USA Baseball heading to the 2021 Olympics, so I somehow find myself rooting for him once again until he was later cut. What a beautiful world we live in.
1B- Tyler Moore 2012-2015 (277 games)
2012-2015 Stats: 277 games, .228 BA, 24 HRs, 91 RBIs, .682 OPS, -1.2 fWar
Let me say this first. I was always a Tyler Moore guy. He provided right-handed pop off the bench, could play first base and corner outfield, and I truly believed that if he got the chance to play every day, he would have been a 25-30 home run guy. He might have struck out 200 times a year and batted .235, but he would have been a 25-30 home run guy. He just never showed enough in the limited playing time he received to be an everyday guy. Moore spent four seasons in Washington, with his best year being his rookie season as a 25-year-old when he batted a career-high .263 with 10 home runs and a .840 OPS in 75 games. His 127 wRC+ ranked him 27% above league average offensively. The problem was he never came close to that rookie season.
The main reason for sweet-swinging Tyler Moore being ranked as the worst first baseman in Nationals history is due to the steady and reliable output that we have received from this position as a franchise. Nick Johnson was solid, Mike Morse had a terrific one-season manning first, and Adam Laroche had a great career in DC. Mr. National Ryan Zimmerman has been the main guy at first since Laroche’s departure, and Eric Thames only played in 41 games as the main first basemen during the shortened 2020 season. If Thames had played 100 games and produced what he was on pace for, Thames would have been in this spot, but Moore is labeled the worst first baseman in Nationals history after producing a -1.2 fWar in 277 games with the Nationals.
Dishonorable Mention: Eric Thames 2020 (41 games- I know that is not even close to 100 games but he was THAT BAD), Robert Fick 2006-2007 (178 games)
2B- Felipe Lopez 2006-2008 (325 games)
2006-2008 Stats: 325 games, .250 BA, 13 HRs, 97 RBIs, .664 OPS, -0.9 fWar
Guys like Felipe Lopez who had the nickname “FLop” summarizes the Washington Nationals in the early years, and ex-GM Jim Bowden’s obsession with ex-Reds players. Even though some say he wass a fan favorite (I am obviously not one of those people), Lopez was a below-average baseball player during his time in Washington. From 2006-2008 was the Nats, his -0.9 fWar ranked him as one of the worst players in Nationals history. Lopez was an All-Star in Cincinnati smacking 24 home runs in 2005 before being traded along with Austin Kearns and Ryan Wagner for 5 Nationals prospects. In 2006 not only was Lopez a light hitter, but his 28 errors led the league among shortstops while having the lowest fielding percentage at .954.
Entering the 2007 season Lopez was the primary second baseman with Christian Guzman returning from injury. In his time between shortstop and second base, Lopez once again has the lowest fielding percentage in the National League at .957. As a bad fielder, you would hope that Lopez would be able to hit. This was not the case by any means. In 154 games in 2007, he only hit 9 home runs, 15 less than his 2005 total with the Reds. He batted .245 with a .659 OPS and his 75 wRC+ ranked him well below league average. He did have 24 steals, but he had 9 caught stealing and was a below-average baserunner according to Fangraphs. Lopez struggled once again in 2008 before being released, and although his stint in Washington was relatively short-lived, his -0.9 fWar in 325 games is a horrendous stretch.
Dishonorable Mentions: Alberto Gonzalez 2008-2010 (236 games)
3B- Starlin Castro 2020-Present (103 games)
2020-Present stats: 103 games, .280 BA, 5 HRs, 42 RBIs, .715 OPS, 0.4 fWar
With the current domestic violence investigation and Rizzo saying he failed in his own due diligence in vetting Starlin Castro, it looks like his tenure with the Nats is over regardless of how the MLB investigation turns out. Man, oh, man. When Starlin Castro signed the 2-year deal with the Nationals after the World Series run in 2019, I remember exactly where I was. I was enjoying a nice cup of frozen yogurt, and I hate to say it but Starlin totally ruined my froyo. I could also make an argument that frozen yogurt is better than ice cream for anyone ready to have that conversation. My friends tried to console me and told me that it was a nice depth signing, but I soon realized that Starlin did not sign with us for depth. He was going to play every day. Starlin has had a weird career. Believe it or not, Castro is still only 31 years old, and he is currently in his 12th season. He is a four-time All-Star, and in a full 162 games with the Marlins in 2019 before signing with the Nats, Starlin batted .270 with a career-high 22 home runs. He signed with Washington to play second base, but he’s been the primary third baseman all this season.
Let me say this again. Starlin Castro has had an accomplished career as a major leaguer, and he was a three-time All-Star by the time he was 24 years old. There were always effort issues, but the talent was there. Now it’s the complete opposite. Starlin shows up every day and is a pro on the field. Most of the time he takes professional at-bats, and his defense at third base has been better than expected. The problem with Starlin has been his offensive output. His wRC+ is currently at 91 putting him below league average, and his power is nonexistent with a .375 slugging percentage. Starlin is currently ranked 18th out of 22 qualified third baseman with a 0.4 fWar. Starlin deserves the spot on this list due to Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon being so darn good at the hot corner, and the only other primary third baseman that manned third in DC was Vinny Castilla in 2005. The 37-year-old Castilla put up better numbers than Starlin in his tenure in DC, and although Starlin has been heating up as of late, he is still a below-average major league player.
SS- Danny Espinosa 2010-2016 (779 games)
2010-2016 stats: 779 games, .226 BA, 92 HRs, 285 RBIs, .690 OPS, 9.3 fWar
Danny Espinosa was a solid player at times. He had a cannon for an arm, had some pop in his bat every once in a while, and he was a very underrated base runner. The problem is, like first and third base, the Nationals have been lucky to have had stability at the shortstop position since 2005. Espinosa was a switch-hitting middle infielder who played mostly second base until 2016 when he became the everyday shortstop after Ian Desmond left in free agency. In 2015 Espinosa had one of his best seasons as a pro, batting .240 with 13 home runs while playing 5 different positions. He struck out 25.7% of the time which was the second-lowest mark of his career, and his 93 wRC+ ranked him just slightly below league average. Espinosa was primed for a good season as the primary shortstop, and the Nationals were confident that he would flourish in an everyday role. Then came 2016.
Espinosa had his worst season offensively in 2016 when he batted .209 with a career-high of 24 home runs and a .684 OPS. Unlike most of his career, Espinosa was better against right-handed pitching in 2016, but he had more power from the right side. Espinosa homered once every 13.2 at-bats batting right-handed and homered once every 26.5 at-bats left-handed. Over his career, Espinosa was a .246 hitter right-handed, and a .212 hitter left-handed. This led many people in the organization to want Espinosa to strictly bat right-handed, but after attempting to do so in spring training, he decided to remain a switch hitter. In the 2016 season, Espinosa registered a 1.3 fWar in 157 games, ranking him 20th out of 23 qualified shortstops, right behind current National Jordy Mercer of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Espinosa had the raw tools to be a lengthy major league, but his inability to hit led him to play his last major league game as a 30-year-old. Espinosa ranks as the worst shortstop in National’s history due to the bright career of Christian Guzman, Ian Desmond, and now Trea Turner tearing it up in the nation’s capital.
LF- Willy Mo Pena 2007-2008 (101 games)
2007-2008 stats: .241 BA, 10 HRs, 32 RBIs, .651 OPS, -1.4 fWar
Willy Mo Pena is the kind of guy that you forget played on the Nationals, but it makes complete sense that at one point he was on the team during the trash years. Pena was a right-handed hitting outfielder with good pop and a bad glove. He was not the fleetest of foot, but when he got a hold of a baseball, it could go a long, long way. As a 22-year-old in 2004 with the Cincinnati Reds, Pena hit .259 with 26 home runs and a .843 OPS while spending time at all three outfield positions. He had another good season in 2005 before being shipped to the Boston Red Sox in 2006 for Bronson Arroyo. This was a big trade at the time and Arroyo went on to pitch eight solid seasons for the Reds in their rotation. Pena started well in 2006 and had a good season, but disaster struck in 2007 when he forgot how to hit a baseball. He was shipped to Washington and became the Nats starting left fielder.
Pena rebounded after batting .218 in 73 games with Boston in 2007. In 37 games with the Nationals, Pena batted .293 with 8 home runs. This led to him scoring a $2 million dollar deal to return to Washington in 2008 and it is fair to say that this season made Wily Mo Pena go down as one of the worst players in Nationals history. Pena only played in 64 games, batting .205 with 2 home runs and a .509 OPS. His fWar was -1.5. If Pena kept on pace and played a full 162 games, his fWar would have been -3.8 which is -0.7 worse than the 2018 season for Chris Davis when he batted .168 while striking out almost 37% of the time. Willy Mo was an awful defender, an awful baserunner, and at times he looked lost in the field. Out of the 175 outfielders that received at least 100 at-bats in 2008, Pena was tied for the worst fWar in the league with Wladimir Balentien of the Seattle Mariners. Pena’s 31 wRC+ put him 69% below league average and his .243 on-base percentage would have been one of the worst in league history for an outfielder. Pena was designated for assignment by the Nationals in 2008 and the 26-year-old overweight outfielder only ended up playing in 39 more major league games, coming with the Diamondbacks and Mariners in 2011.
CF- Ben Revere 2016 (103 games)
2016 stats: 103 games, .217 BA, 2 HRs, 24 RBIs, .560 OPS, 14 steals, -1.0 fWar
There are so many words that can describe Ben Revere’s tenure in DC. Abysmal, disappointing, frustrating, and just outright really bad. He did have a nice smile and played the game the right way though. Revere had a nice MLB career. He finished with a .284 career batting average with 211 career stolen bases. He was known for his speed in the outfield, but he had a very weak throwing arm. Revere was traded to the Nationals in 2016 from the Toronto Blue Jays, for fan-favorite Drew Storen. When a guy like Drew Storen gets traded for you, when you arrive in DC you better produce. At the time, there were positives to this trade. Fan favorite and one of the better center fielders in Nationals history Denard Span had signed a nice 3-year $31 million-dollar deal with the San Francisco Giants, so the center field position was vacant, and there was a need for a leadoff guy. Revere was coming off a season with the Phillies and Blue Jays where he batted a career-high .306 with a career-high 45 stolen bases and a .716 OPS. After having a career year, picking up the 27-year-old Revere was a good move. It just never turned out that way.
In Washington, Revere began the season slow. He was having some bad luck, but he was not consistently putting the bat on the ball and he became frustrated. The frustration continued and Revere had the worst season of his career by a mile, and his -1.0 fWar ranked him 64th among 66 center fielders that had at least 100 at-bats in 2016. Revere ranked as a positive defender, but his 46 wRC+ ranked him 54% below league average on offense. He only stole 14 bases compared to 45 the year before, and Revere was so bad that he was benched later in the season for rookie Trea Turner who was called up to play center field, a position that he had just learned. With all this negativity being said about Revere, the bad season has to be taken with a grain of salt. He strained his oblique on Opening Day, and if it wasn’t for that bad strain and missing a significant chunk of time, who knows if Revere could have been a solid player. The match just turned out to not be a good one.
RF- Elijah Dukes 2008-2009 (188 games)
2008-2009 stats: 188 games, .256 BA, 21 HRs, 102 RBIs, .788 OPS, 2.4 fWar
But the potential! There is a reason that Elijah Dukes, a promising young outfielder, only played in parts of three seasons as a major leaguer even though he posted slightly above average stats: the man could not escape trouble from the law. Elijah was a hot head and at first, it was easy to overlook the baggage he had due to the power and speed combination that he possessed. He had a checkered past and was not a model teammate. The team assigned a full-time mentor to always be with him outside of the stadium, to keep him in check.
Dukes played in only 52 games with the Rays as a 23-year-old before being shipped to the Nationals for a low-level pitching prospect. This was an interesting move because people knew that Dukes had talent. But if we know anything about the Rays, it’s that they are a step ahead of everyone else, especially with trades.
Dukes had a good first year in Washington, leading the team with a .864 OPS in 81 games in 2008. This was especially impressive after he was injured on Opening Day and initially struggling upon his return. His overall performance led to high expectations heading into 2009, especially after being named a starter heading into the season. His personal issues and the Rays giving up on him early proved to be the right choice. In 2007 his wife filed a restraining order against him after a voicemail emerged where Dukes threatened the lives of his wife and children. He also got in a shoutout match with manager Manny Acta in 2008 and was later benched and fined by Acta in 2009 when he was late showing up for practice. Acta was fired in 2009 and Dukes struggled in 107 games, batting .250 with only 8 home runs and a .729 OPS with a -0.3 fWar. His awful defense played a large part in such a bad fWar. Dukes entered 2010 as the projected starting right fielder but was cut with 2 weeks left in Spring Training.
Dukes never played in the majors again in large part due to his troubled past of suspensions, arrests for assault and marijuana possession, and bad relationships with managers. The Elijah Dukes experience epitomized the tough look Nationals.
Dishonorable Mentions: Adam Eaton 2017-2020 (310 games), Austin Kearns 2006-2009 (390 games)
Utility- Wilmer Difo 2015-2020 (373 games)
2015-2020 stats: 373 games, .247 BA, 15 HRs, 79 RBIs, .657 OPS, 1.2 fWar
Man, the Wilmer Difo experience was an interesting one. The utility man could play solid defense everywhere, but he could do little to none with the bat. When a Nationals infielder got hurt from 2015-2019 my first concern was with their health, but then it quickly shifted to grief after I realized Wilmer Difo would be in the lineup to replace them. In 373 games with the Nationals, Difo was only able to muster up an fWar of 1.2. To put that into perspective, Trea Turner has a 4.1 fWar through 92 games this season. Difo was regarded as a prospect that the Nationals believed could one day nab the starting job at second base, but he was respected at least as a backup middle infielder that could hit for average from both sides of the plate. It just never worked out that way. Difo stuck around for a while because of his versatility, but after appearing in only a couple of games in 2020, the Nationals non tendered him heading into the 2021 season, and I could let off a sigh of relief.
One of the more frustrating parts of Wilmer Difo’s game is that he would occasionally show a flash where I would say to myself “where did that come from”. In 2017 when Difo just started to receive regular playing time, the Nationals played the Diamondbacks on July 23rd in Arizona. Difo stepped up to the plate right-handed and hit the third home run of his career that went over the pool in right-center for a 429-foot opposite-field home run. He showed flashes with the glove, making diving stops at shortstop and second base while showing off his strong arm. He just never learned how to hit. His .657 OPS in 373 games was putrid, with nonexistent power and only getting on base at a .309 clip. Difo had a career-high 0.9 fWar in 124 games in 2017 and his wRC+ never crossing 100 in his 6 seasons in Washington showed that he was always a below-average hitter. Difo is now having the best season of his career as a part-time player with the Pirates (even though he’s still putting up below league average numbers).
Starting Pitcher- A.J. Cole (26 games, 19 starts)
2015-2018 stats: 26 games, 19 starts, 110 innings, 5.32 ERA, 0.2 fWar
A.J. Cole absolutely stinks at baseball. This is one of the more frustrating Washington Nationals of all time. Cole was drafted by the Nationals in the 4th round of the 2010 MLB Draft and signed for $2 million dollars, a record high for a 4th round pick so he would forgo his commitment at the University of Miami. After recording 109 strikeouts in his first 90 innings in the minors, the 6’5 right-hander was shipped to the Oakland Athletics in the Gio Gonzalez trade. It seemed like this was the last the Nationals had seen of A.J. Cole, especially after struggling mightily with the Athletics in High A ball, before settling down in low A. That’s before Mike Rizzo did the unthinkable, sending the legendary Michael Morse to the Mariners, and the Nationals receiving Blake Treinen, a player to be named later (later identified as Ian Krol), and the one and only A.J. Cole.
Cole quickly rose through the minors after being sent back to Washington, and he even earned a trip to the 2013 All-Star Futures Game. After pitching in AAA in 2014 and the start of 2015, Cole made his debut with the Nationals on April 28th of 2015, filling in for an injured Max Scherzer. This start turned out to be a Nationals classic, or as I like to call it “The Dan Uggla Game”. A.J. Cole allowed 9 runs in only 2 innings, one of the worst debuts in major league history, but the Nationals rallied and defeated the Braves 13-12 after Dan Uggla hit a 3-run home run off Jason Grilli in the top of the 9th. This huge game led to a 20-5 run over the Nationals next 25 games, allowing them to go from last to first place in the NL East. Did A.J. Cole kick start the 2015 Nationals? Some may say his 9 run outing saved that squad. Cole spent most of that season in AAA, and Mike Rizzo considered him “untouchable” in trade talks. Cole had an underwhelming fastball, and he never proved himself as a starter with Washington. After being sent up and down from the majors and AAA in 2016 and 2017, Cole was named the fifth starter heading into the 2018 season. In his first outing, Cole gave up 10 runs which tied the record for most runs given up by a Nationals starter in franchise history. After 3 more bad outings, Cole was designated for assignment and traded to the Yankees for cash. The once “untouchable” top prospect ended with an ugly 5.32 ERA in Nationals uniform.
Dishonorable Mentions: Dan Haren 2013 (31 games), Mike Bacsik 2007 (29 games), Tony Armas 2005-2006 (49 games), Jason Marquis 2010-2011 (33 games), Chien-Ming Wang 2011-2012 (21 games), Jon Lester 2021 (16 games and counting — hopefully not many more)
Relief Pitcher- Jonathan Papelbon
2015-2016 stats: 59 games, 3.84 ERA, 26 saves 0.1 fWar
There have been some really bad relief pitchers to wear a Nationals uniform. GM Mike Rizzo only recently realized that a strong bullpen was important for a good team, and the 2019 World Series Champion team had the worst bullpen ERA in modern history to even make the playoffs, let alone win the World Series. The most notable relief bust was the Trevor Rosenthal signing, with Rosenthal appearing in 12 games and finishing with a 22.74 ERA after signing a 2-year contract coming off Tommy John surgery and battling with the yips. Matt Grace somehow appeared in 178 games with little success in Washington, and Jason Bergmann appeared in 155 games and was known for his epic collapses. With all this being said, the guy with a 3.84 ERA and 26 saves as a National takes the cake. The one and only Jonathan Papelbon.
Papelbon holds a career 2.44 ERA, and he is known for his heroics in Boston in the playoffs. He is one of the better closers of the 21st century, and after a solid year in Philadelphia, Mike Rizzo sent the Phillies’ future starter Nick Pivetta for him. Papelbon arrived in Washington and epitomized the miserable 2015 season that we were having, capped off with the infamous fight with Bryce Harper in the dugout. From that moment forward, Matt Williams was losing his job, and the Nationals were stuck with Papelbon and his contract heading into 2016. Not only was Papelbon now ostracized in the locker room, but he then put up bad numbers in 2016. He appeared in 37 games and compiled a 4.37 ERA with 14 walks in 35 innings. After an injury in July, the Nationals traded for Mark Melancon and removed Papelbon from the closer’s role. In August Papelbon was released, and the Nationals had to eat the rest of the $3.3 million dollars they owed him after watching him pitch to his career-high 4.37 ERA.
Dishonorable Mentions: Trevor Rosenthal 2019 (12 games WITH A 22.74 ERA), Matt Grace 2015-2019 (178 games), Trevor Gott 2016-2018 (33 games), Jason Bergmann 2005-2010 (155 games), Joe Blanton 2017 (51 games), Ray King (67 games)
Manager- Manny Acta 2007-2009 (410 games)
2007-2009 stats: 410 games, 158-252 record, .385 win percentage
In 17 years as a franchise, the Washington Nationals have had 8 different managers. Davey Martinez already just became the longest-tenured manager, and John McLaren is the shortest tenured manager after he managed 3 games in 2011. On June 23rd of 2011, Jim Riggleman resigned mid-way through the season after the Nationals had won 11 of their last 12 games and he was unhappy that Mike Rizzo had not picked up his contract for the 2012 season. Matt Williams won Manager of the Year in 2014, before being fired after losing the locker room and being the orchestrator of the disastrous 2015 season. Dusty Baker is the winningest manager in Nationals history with 192 wins and 132 losses under his belt, but he was fired after back to back first round NLDS exits. After considering all of this, the worst manager in Nationals history title is given to Manny Acta. As the manager of the Nationals from 2007-2009, it is fair to say Acta had very little success.
Acta has the lowest winning percentage among managers in Nationals history with a win percentage of just 38.5%. The Nats won 158 games and lost 252 before Acta was fired after a loss to the Houston Astros on July 12th of 2009. Acta’s first gig as a coach was when he was hired as the third base coach for the Montreal Expos in 2002 and later returned to the franchise who gave him his first job in 2006 as the manager. In his first year as the manager, he guided the Nationals to a 73-89 record for a ballclub that many projected to lose 100 games. Not only did he overperform, but he also received positive reports for his enthusiasm, and he even placed fifth in the National League Manager of the Year voting. In his second season as the manager, all the positive vibes were flushed away. The Nationals went 59-102 taking a step backward from his first year. After a miserable 26-61 start in 2009 and coming off a 1-6 road trip, Manny Acta was fired as the manager. Acta quickly picked up another job as the manager of the Cleveland Indians from 2010 but was fired once again in 2012 after 2 ½ disappointing seasons. The initial promise followed by extreme disappointment leads to Acta being the worst manager in Nationals history.
Dishonorable Mentions: Matt Williams 2014-2015 (324 games), Jim Riggleman 2009-2011 (312 games)