Today’s 18-hit barrage would have you thinking that Riley Adams and Jeimer Candelario were superstar players if you did not know their season stats. On this day though, looks can be deceiving. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray has statistically had the best season of any Nats player this season per BaseballReference.com. His 2.65 ERA is almost superstar level, but his underlying stats with his 4.35 FIP have some concerned.
In today’s start, Gray walked six batters in just 5.0 innings, and at one time had bases loaded and no outs. Gray persevered through shaky mechanics and somehow only allowed one-run. If your measuring stick is ERA-based, then Gray would be your ace. But if you use FIP, K rate, and WHIP as your guide, Gray looks more like a middle of a rotation pitcher which is fine if you add two great ones in front of him. That is the point — these Nats have a lot of good players — they need great ones.
“The six walks definitely is a bummer,” Gray said. “And I felt really good pregame, in the bullpen, before the game. Then I got out there and things just didn’t go the way I wanted to. … It wasn’t what I wanted to do today, but I made the big pitch and only gave up one [run] today.”
The team needs proven stars. The types who can do what Candelario and Adams did today with more regularity. Maybe the Nats have some of those players in their current system, and Gray could get to that level. MacKenzie Gore is another solid pitcher with star potential. On the position side, we all know the potential of CJ Abrams (0.0), Luis Garcia (+0.2), and Keibert Ruiz (-0.2) on the current roster. But truth be told, they are a combined 0.0 WAR per Fangraphs. That means combined they are as good as an average replacement player. Harsh, yes. Realistically, you hope they all reach star power. Per Fangraphs, the team’s two best players are Candelario and Gore.
Maybe the Nats will sign some stars via free agency. Maybe and if. Those star players generally lead by example and can mentor players, but there is a lot of competition to sign stars in free agency. Organically building a team that can win is preferred. Stars can also carry your team. One star isn’t enough. The Nats had Juan Soto as their superstar and that 2022 team did not win their 20th game last year until June 4. These 2023 Nats, devoid of a superstar, won their 20th game today.
If you look to the Nats’ farm system, you have Top-100 players like James Wood, Robert Hassell III, Cade Cavalli, Brady House, Elijah Green, and Jarlin Susana on the different evaluator’s picks. Hopefully there are some stars in that group.
“If you have 10 players in your organization with superstar talent, you expect that one will actually be a real superstar, but plenty of those others are going to be good or very good players.”
“This is the most lush and successful prospect list that we’ve ever had. It’s the most talented players we’ve ever had in the farm system at one time.”— President of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo said before
Give me six stars over one superstar. You win as a team. You go to the playoffs when you win consistently. This Nats’ team does not win consistently. It’s short feasts and long famines. That won’t work if you want to play in the postseason. The Nats know this. They are trying to produce stars, and the process takes time.
“I’m optimistic. I’m excited about this time in our developmental curve with the organization. When you guys do get out there on the [Minor League side of camp], those prospects — it’s an exciting time. It’s the best group of upside players we’ve ever had here. I’ve been here since ‘day one’, and I’ve never seen it like this before.”
“You filter in — there’s 22, 23 and 24 year-olds [on the MLB roster], I think you see what we’re trying to accomplish here. That’s the first rung on the ladder to get back to a championship.”— Rizzo said in February
These Nats are on a 69-93 pace today. Find/create those six star players averaging 4.0 WAR and there’s another 24-wins. Add a few more solid players, and you have a playoff team. If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Good news, the Nats have done this before, and they have a great looking farm system, and a No. 2 pick in this year’s draft
Let’s see where this goes.