We are just 50-days from Opening Day for the Washington Nationals, and the latest rounds of Win/Loss projections had a new entry from PECOTA that has the Nats finishing with a 58-104 record. Vegas has improved the Nats to 66.5 wins for their Over/Under betting lines, and FanGraphs has the Nats at a .405 winning percentage which translates to 66 wins. Remember, last year the Nats blew past every W/L projection and finished with 71 wins. Their pythagorean W/L for 2023 at the end of the season was 67-95. Pythagorean tries to neutralize the luck factor based on just runs scored versus runs given up.
Also keep in mind that the Nats found ways to lose some very winnable games in the first half of the season, and in the second half, manager Dave Martinez‘s team found ways to win. Odd as it was, the pitching in the first half was so much better, but the Nats failed to score runs at that point. First half ERA was 4.76 versus 5.35 in the second half. The Nats were one game from a .500 record in the second half meaning if one loss became a win they would have finished at 36-36. However their actual record of 35-37 is very telling if you want to be a glass half-full type of person like Drew Scott. With some interpolation and extrapolation, that second half record would give you a 79-83 record based on that winning percentage for an entire season.
So let’s look at the second half of the season, and the Nats only had Jeimer Candelario for 14 of those games. Fine, take those out, and the Nats went 27-31 the rest of the way — and a 75-87 record for a full season. But look at some of these ERAs in the second half, and you wonder how the Nats won anything with Trevor Williams at 7.43, Jackson Rutledge 6.75, and Patrick Corbin at 5.68. The Nats bullpen had Mason Thompson at 11.57 and Cory Abbott at 8.46. To confuse matters more, the team also saw Williams and Josiah Gray with good first halves, and Gray struggled in the second half to a 4.76.
Again, the Nats found ways to win in the second half. CJ Abrams caught fire in his final 88 games of the 2023 season, and as we wrote earlier this week — he batted .265 with a .325 OBP, .442 SLG, and a .766 OPS. He also was 41-of-43 in stolen bases. Let’s do the Adjusted OPS exercise again, we would reduce his OBP for the two caught stealings, and his OPS would increase from .766 to .881 for 41 stolen bases that we add for total bases. That is spectacular if Abrams can replicate his final half season of 2023, or better, for 2024.
So let’s look at another standout in Stone Garrett who batted to a .929 OPS from June 30 until he broke his leg, and injured his ankle on August 23. When you think about some of the lineups at the end of the season with players like Dom Smith, Corey Dickerson, Michael Chavis, Jake Alu, and Carter Kieboom, you have addition by subtraction with Dickerson’s second half .640 OPS and Alu’s .576. Those players kind of get replaced by Joey Gallo, Nick Senzel, Nasim Nunez, Jacob Young, and maybe at some point Dylan Crews, James Wood, and Brady House. Seeing what Lane Thomas will be in 2024 is going to be crucial for the Nats success if he can replicate his first half of the 2023 season.
Is all of that enough for some cautious optimism?