Washington Nationals: 2012 Position Player Grades
Bryce Harper and the 2012 Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals had their most successful season since arriving in the Nationals Capital in 2005. Washington won a club record 98 games and their first NL East pennant. The Nationals finished with the best record in all of baseball and made their first ever post season appearance.
Washington lost their NL Divisional Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games. The final defeat was a crushing 9-7 affair in which the Nationals led by two going into the top of the ninth.
The playoff loss to St. Louis does nothing to diminish what was the best baseball season in Washington since 1933. From opening day to October the Nationals played as well as anyone. Manager Davey Johnson got the most out of a young ball club that had never enjoyed success. He and team general manager Mike Rizzo seemed to make the key moves from spring training to October.
Johnson and Rizzo could not have done it without the players. Washington fielded one of the youngest teams in baseball and they played like seasoned veterans. The infield was led by first baseman Adam LaRoche who seemed to make every play around the bag. Ryan Zimmerman made plays at third that killed rallies.
In the outfield, rookie Bryce Harper moved to center and did a good job.
On offense, the Nationals improved markedly from 2011. LaRoche and Zimmerman led a lineup which also included the power of Michael Morse and Harper. Everyone from Ian Desmond to Kurt Suzuki seemed to come up with a big hit when needed.
Now that the season is over it is time to grade the Nationals performance. The focus of this article will be on the every day starting lineup, Johnson and Rizzo.
Here is how they fared in 2012.
First Baseman Adam LaRoche
What can you say about LaRoche? He came back from an injury plagued 2011 season to become the Nationals most valuable player.
LaRoche did it on offense and defense. He led the team in home runs with 30 and drove in 100 runs while batting .271. On defense he committed only seven errors and finished with a .995 fielding percentage. This and the fact he carried Washington early while front line starters battled injury earns him a high mark.
Second Baseman Danny Espinosa
Espinosa came into his own on defense in 2012. Along with shortstop Ian Desmond, he helped to form one of the strongest middles of any infield in baseball. Espinosa also played short when Desmond was placed on the disabled list with a sore back.
At the plate, Espinosa still has a ways to go. He swings at too many first pitch fast balls. His strikeout total of 189 led the team. His offense is what stops him from getting a higher mark.
Shortstop Ian Desmond
Desmond did well enough to earn All-Star honors for the first time. A back injury kept him from playing in the game. Desmond ended the season batting .292 with 25 home runs and 79 RBI. These are good numbers for a shortstop. The only thing that he has to do to improve at the plate is lay off of the first pitch more often.
On defense Desmond committed 15 errors in 492 total chances for a percentage of .970. This is an improvement on the 23 he made in 2011.
There is still room for improvement in Desmond's game, but he made the All-Star team for a reason.
Third Baseman Ryan Zimmerman
The All-Star third baseman finally had reason to smile in 2012. After waiting seven years Zimmerman finally got to participate in the post season. It was well deserved after a season in which he was never totally healthy.
Playing with a sore right shoulder, Zimmerman batted .282 with 25 home runs and 95 RBI. He finished second to LaRoche in homers and RBI.
On defense, Zimmerman played the hot corner aggressively. Despite having to adjust his throwing motion to compensate for the shoulder, he finished with a .950 fielding percentage. While playing with pain Zimmerman got the job done.
Catchers Jesus Flores and Kurt Suzuki
The combination of Flores and Suzuki played in 126 of Washington's 162 games. Flores did the bulk of the work until Suzuki came over in a trade with the Oakland Athletics in August.
Flores finished with a .213 batting average, six home runs and 26 RBI. His real worth was in holding the pitching staff together after Wilson Ramos was lost for the year to a knee injury and before Suzuki arrived.
Suzuki took over the catcher position in August and remained there through the post season. He batted .267 in 43 games for Washington hitting five home runs and driving in 25. Many of the home runs and RBI came in clutch situations.
On defense both Flores and Suzuki were solid during the season as they guided a young pitching staff through their most successful season. For this more than their bats they get a high grade.
Right Fielder Jayson Werth
Werth only played 81 games in 2012 due to a broken left wrist suffered in May. It was believed that he would miss the rest of the season, but Werth returned in August. He moved into right field and became the team's lead off man. Werth finished the season batting .300 with five home runs and 31 RBI.
On defense he played a solid right field. If he could get to the ball Werth made the play.
After a disappointing 2011 and the wrist injury in 2012 Werth came back to hit a game winning home run to tie the NLDS. He may not have played, much, but Werth was an important part of the Nationals success.
Center Fielder Bryce Harper
Where do you being with the 19 year old Harper? He came up in April and was immediately put into the starting lineup. By the end of July, Harper was such a fan favorite that he was selected to the All-Star team. By season's end there were those who thought he deserved rookie of the year.
Harper batted .270 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI. When he moved into the second spot behind Werth, the Nationals offense began to click. Harper was all Washington could ask for at the plate.
In the field and on the bases, he made the mistakes of youth. On defense Harper threw to the wrong base too often. On the bases he ran too many stop signs. This is the aggressive player that Harper is and it helped Washington win.
This may be too hard on the kid. He had a good year, but I can not give him an A.
Left Fielder Michael Morse
Coming off of his best season in 2011, Morse began 2012 on injured reserve. He only played in 102 games. This did not stop him from batting .291 with 18 home runs and 62 RBI. Good numbers for a man who started late and ended the season with a sore wrist.
Morse will never be a great defensive player, but gives a good effort every day. The one thing that he does not do is hurt the Nationals in the field. If Morse can stay healthy in 2013 we may see better numbers at the plate and more tape measure home runs.
Manager Davey Johnson
The man who said Washington should fire him if he did not make the playoffs talked the talk then walked the walk. Johnson seemed to make the right move nine times out of ten in 2012. In leading the Nationals to 98 wins he got almost every member of the team to play up to their potential.
Johnson kept harmony in the locker room among 25 guys. This is not easy to do. The only time that he may have lost the team was when it was decided to sit pitcher Stephen Strasburg after 160 innings.
The easiest way to validate what Johnson did with Washington in 2012 is by selecting him as NL manager of the year.
General Manager Mike Rizzo
Of Course Rizzo is going to get criticized for benching Strasburg. So what? It still does not diminish what he has done with this ball club.
Since taking over in 2009, Rizzo has turned what was essentially an expansion team into a first rate organization from top to bottom. Washington is solid in the majors and at the minor league level. They have been built to win today and for the long haul.
There is no question that Rizzo is the brains behind it all. He is the man who built the roster and brought Johnson aboard in 2009. Without Rizzo none of the Nationals success occurs.