A Look at the Top 10 All-Time Washington Nationals
With the Washington Nationals’ tenth season around the corner, 2014 seems an appropriate time to reflect on how far the franchise has come. Nationals.com recently published its All-Time 9 ballot to include Montreal-era household names like Vlad Guerrero, Moises Alou, Larry Parrish and Jose Vidro. But, if one were to isolate the Nationals years, who might make the all-time top 10 list?
Here to answer that question based on my own take on statistics – as well as my personal biases – is my top 10 Washington Nationals list.
10. Alfonso Soriano, Outfield (2006): Hear me out, here. The then 30-year-old outfielder spent just one meager season with the Washington Nationals, but that season alone landed him on the Nationals’ all-time list for runs scored, total bases and runs created over a single season. Oh, and he remains No. 1 in both single-season extra base hits (89) and home runs (46)… even with Vladimir Guerrero’s stats included. He also posted 119 runs, 95 RBI and 41 stolen bases. His .299/.337/.560 slash line and 6.6 WAR warranted no complaints, either. All of this, of course, was aided by the fact he earned 728 plate appearances that year.
9. Ian Desmond, Shortstop (2009-Present): Ian Desmond is still widely considered an underrated player. The 2012 MLB All-Star – who narrowly missed a sneak-in spot on the 2013 roster – has posted a career .273/.318/.432 slash line with the Nationals. Thus far, his 2012 season stands as his strongest – he hit 25 homers, batted in 73 runs and stole 21 bags, while lowering his strikeout tally to 113 in 130 games. His 2010 and 2011 seasons were a far cry from all-star status, but in the past two seasons, Desmond has undergone a transformation of sorts. His .511 and .453 slugging percentages in 2012 and 2013, respectively, were nearly enough to place him on this list – but, his consistency at short also helped his case.
8. Nick Johnson, First Base (2005-06, 2008, 2009): Nick Johnson may have very well earned a higher slot on the all-time list had he been able to stay healthy throughout his time in Washington. His .280/.408/.460 career numbers with the Nationals were not quite stellar but he pulled out a .385 wOBA in 2005, and followed it up with a .404 wOBA in 2006. 2006 just happened to be his best year with the Nats – he recorded a career-high 627 plate appearances in 147 games, and helped himself to 110 walks. More importantly, perhaps, were his contributions on the field as he stands today as one of the Nats’ best defensive players. And, if that’s not enough, he just so happened to be the Nats’ first baseman the night baseball returned to the District.
7. Chad Cordero, Pitching (2005-2008): Removing his years in Montreal, Chad Cordero proved a stellar force for the Nats. In 2005, he led the majors with 47 saves, and recorded a 1.82 ERA and 3.59 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. He went on to record 29 saves in 2006, striking out 69 batters in 68 games. In fact, he remained consistent even through the greater portion of 2007, during which he recorded 37 saves and K’d another 62 batters. All told, Cordero earned second place on the franchise all-time saves list with 128 in just 320.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately for the Nats, Cordero’s arm deteriorated in 2008 – his torn side muscle, torn labrum and torn biceps all but confirmed he was never to return a National. In fact, the Nats released him due to injury.
6. Jordan Zimmermann, Pitching (2009-Present): Dare I say it, Jordan Zimmermann earns his name on this list almost solely for his performance last season. That’s not to say he hasn’t been a driving force for the Nats over the past several seasons. But, few would have predicted he would have been a 19-game-winner had they merely examined his 4.63- and 4.94-ERA seasons. Zimmermann finished 8-11 in 2011 but maintained a 3.18 ERA and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 4.00. In 2012, he climbed to a 12-8 finish and maintained a sub-3.00 ERA. And, in 2013, he earned a spot on the All-Star roster and rounded out the year with 19 wins and a 3.25 ERA over 32 starts. He also maintained a 4.03 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and recorded his first career shutout by way of a one-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds on April 26, 2013.
5. Gio Gonzalez, Pitching (2012-Present): In just two seasons thus far with the Nationals, Gio Gonzalez has earned 32 wins – and tallied just 16 losses, to reach a .667 win percentage with Washington. In 2012, he posted 21 wins and a sub-3.00 ERA, and earned a spot on the MLB All-Star roster. He gave up just 0.4 home runs per nine innings that season and struck out 9.3 batters per nine innings. By default, his 2013 numbers were less impressive – 11 wins, 3.36 ERA, 0.8 home runs per nine innings and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings. But, if that represents a slump for Gonzalez, no Nats fan can argue he lacks value.
4. Bryce Harper, Outfield (2012-Present): There’s little one can say about Bryce Harper that isn’t already known. At 19 years-old, the phenom hammered out 22 homers via a .270/.340/.477 slash line. His 120 and 94 strikeouts were a determining factor in lowering him from third to fourth on this list, but one would suspect he’ll creep closer to the No. 1 or No. 2 spot on this list in the coming years. His throwing arm alone makes him an asset unlike any the Nationals have seen, and D.C. has long awaited a player with his grit and uncanny ability to produce T-shirt-worthy quotes during routine locker room scrums. Plus, along with Stephen Strasburg, Harper helped (re)ignite a Nationals fandom that had never quite exploded before his arrival in Washington.
3. Stephen Strasburg, Pitching (2010-Present): Oh, the wonders of Tommy John surgery. Setting aside the Shutdown vs. No Shutdown debate that forever taunted Nationals fans, Stephen Strasburg hit a few bumps on the road – and yet emerged with impressive numbers and still-enormous potential. In his debut season, Strasburg went 5-3 with a 2.91 ERA and averaged 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings. 12.2 strikeouts. Then, came the Tommy John fiasco but, from the rubble emerged a 2012 MLB All-Star. In his Opening Day start last season, Strasburg retired 19 batters in a row and gave up no runs and three hits through seven innings. And, despite a mild lateral strain in June, Strasburg showed potential for longevity, pitching into late innings on several different occasions. The upcoming season will be a telling year for Strasburg, but given his track record, he earns a three-spot on this list largely for his potential.
2. Jayson Werth, Outfield (2011-Present): If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute. Several other players have posted stronger numbers than Jayson Werth,” you’re correct. And still yes, Werth’s 2013 season was pretty remarkable. In 129 games, he socked 25 homers, 82 RBI and garnered 60 walks – and wound up with a .318/.398/.532 slash line as the result of a never-ending hot streak. In fact, the 34-year-old found himself routinely referenced in the MVP conversation. But, one can’t forget his career numbers with the Nationals – .277/.367/.450 would potentially earn him a spot on this list, if at the tail end; however, he works his way up the ranks for reasons beyond his numbers. Regardless of how you felt – or currently feel – about the Werth deal, the amount of money to be paid or Werth’s contributions to the team, the Nats’ acquisition turned heads. More importantly, it garnered the attention of big-name players for arguably the first time ever since the franchise moved to D.C. Perhaps a standardized, statistics-only Top-10 list would place him well below Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the like. But, his arrival in Washington marked an incredible turning point for the franchise. And, who’s to say he shouldn’t earn bonus points for adding fuel to the still-young Phillies-Nationals rivalry?
1. Ryan Zimmerman, Third Base (2005-Present): The Ryan Zimmerman we’re seeing now is hardly of the same caliber as 2006-2008 Ryan Zimmerman. But, even with that in mind, Zimmerman has earned his place at the top of this list through tenure as well as defense. Add to that, his .286/.352/.477 career slash line is not too shabby. Zimmerman nearly won the Rookie of the Year Award and, in 2009, he earned a spot on the All-Star roster and mentions in MVP conversations. He posted .292/.364/.525 numbers that year and helped put the Nationals on a map before much of the baseball world had adjusted their glance from Montreal to Washington. “The Face of the Franchise” is no easy title to earn – and it’s a much harder title to keep when the Bryce Harper’s and Jayson Werth’s at long last arrive. But, Zimmerman has rightfully earned it. His presence in the clubhouse through thick and thin has proven just as valuable as his presence on the field and in the batter’s box. While new fans and new names are always welcome in Washington, those fans who will look back and consider themselves “the originals” will likely name Ryan Zimmerman No. 1 all-time, at least for the foreseeable future.
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