I'm going to run a mini-series over the next few days on the 2008 season (and I'll throw in the past offseason as well, so basically it's the last year): What went right, what went wrong and what is still undecided. I'd also like to do something fun-at the end of the series I'll post my prediction for the opening day 25 man roster, including offseason acquisitions, callups, etc. I'd like for all other bloggers of the Natmosphere (and anyone else, for that matter) to do that. I'll tabulate everything and post it up and we'll give bragging rights to the winner. So look for that on Friday. (edit: I just spammed all of your comments with this notice...and then realized that I spelled "offseason" wrong. Ridicule is accepted and expected, for I missed the little red line under it).
Tonight I'll go over what went right. I'll try to stick to major things and group them together.
1) Individual Performances
The Nats had a few breakout seasons and pleasant surprises this year.
Cristian Guzman stayed (mostly) healthy and set career highs in hits, doubles, total bases, batting average and on base percentage. He also set a career low in strikeouts and is within 1 HR of his career high and 5 RBI away from his career high there.
Willie Harris was one of our best sluggers this year, tying for third on the team in HR. He almost doubled his career total of HR this year, with 13 (had 7 in 7 seasons before this year). He (obviously) set a career high in total bases and slugging percentage, played stellar defense and lessened the gap between BB and K as well.
Ronnie Belliard was probably picked by a ton of people to have a down year in 2008, as none of Bowden's retreads who were resigned ever really duplicated their success (see Hook, Da Meat). Belliard hit well above his career averages across the board, with a .287/.372/.473 slash line. Injuries and less effective defense were minor problems, but Belliard's 96 games have been just about as good as 96 from any other National this year.
Lastings Milledge wasn't perfect in his first whole year, but .271/.335/.408 is a good slash line for a 23-year-old. And his defense started improving as the year went on...he still better be in left field next year, though.
Elijah Dukes stayed out of real trouble this year and deserves the team MVP by all leaps and bounds. The Duke of Dinger hit .271/.393/.491, leading the team in OBP and SLG. He showed impressive plate discipline, immense power potential and gave us the best defense on the team, regardless of position. If he can stay healthy (and out of trouble), we have a true franchise player in Dukes. The Elijah Dukes bandwagon starts here!
Ryan Langerhans dug himself out of the great hole that was 2007. His batting average was still suspect at .234, but a .379 OBP and .402 SLG combined with a better BB/K ratio, some timely pinch-hits and awesome defense leads me to believe Ryan will be a National on Opening Day 2009.
Dmitri Young and Nick Johnson hit very well when they were healthy, combining for a .255/.397/.452 slash line. Strangely, Johnson's batting average was awful and Da Meat Hook suffered a bit of a power outage, but both can hit on the ML level still. Both are worth their weight in gold if they can stay healthy....but we all know they can't.
John Lannan followed up a good 2007 with another good 2008. He threw 177 innings with a 3.86 ERA and provided the Nats with quality starts (6+ IP, 3 or less earned runs allowed) in 21 of his 30 starts. I'll take that any day from a rookie! What I was most impressed with was his drastic change in his BB:K ratio (from 17:10 last year to 69:112 this year).
Odalis Perez was one of two FA signings (the other being Wee Willie) that didn't go horribly wrong (note: not including minor league FA's, so Shell doesn't count). Odalis threw 156 innings with a respectable 4.27 ERA. He escaped major injury (although he missed a few starts in June) and had 14 quality starts out of 29 (but keep in mind he had an unusually large amount of games, 9, in which he threw less than 6 innings but gave up 3 or fewer earned runs).
Joel Hanrahan blossomed into a passable reliever this year. He doesn't have a wow-level ERA
(3.95), but sports a 9.93 K/9 on the year. Interestingly enough, Hanrahan's BB numbers have improved drastically since becoming closer (4.85 BB/9 before July 22-Rauch trade date, 3.6 BB/9 after), but his H/9 (7.13 before July 22 and 9.36 after, HR/9 (0.76 before July 22 and 1.44 after) and WHIP (1.33 before July 22 and 1.44 now) have gotten worse. His ERA and K/9 numbers have been almost identical. Still, a lot better than a 6+ ERA last year.
Steven Shell was awesome this year. Kid had a 2.20 ERA in 49 IP. He's the man. Guaranteed a spot on my 25 man.
Garrett Mock as a reliever was a good thing this year. He had a 2.31 ERA in 23 and 2/3 innings in relief. He only allowed 5.4 H/9 and had 10.4 K/9 out of the pen. His walk numbers (strangely, 5.4 BB/9) were the only part I wasn't impressed with. Guaranteed a spot on my 25 man.
Mike Hinckley found his niche as a reliever this year and has straight dominated ML hitting. 11 and 2/3 shutout innings to start his career. 5.4 H/9 (oddly the same as Mock), 1.54 BB/9, 6.17 K/9, 4:1 K:BB ratio. Nice work, Hincks. Another guaranteed spot in my book, barring an awful spring training.
2) The team's willingness to cut dead weight
The signings of Johnny Estrada, Paul Lo Duca, Ray King and Rob Mackowiak were all awful. I'm proud of the Nats for swallowing their pride and cutting these losers loose. It also gives me hope that this will set a precedent in the future-and that we might not see Wily Mo in a Nats uniform next year.
3) The farm system looked a lot better this year
We had breakout seasons by Jordan Zimmermann, Leonard Davis, Michael Burgess (29 OF ASSISTS?!?), Adrian Alaniz and Luke Montz. We had 17 all-stars and a better than .500 record across the board in the minors for the first time since the team has relocated.
4) We had another good draft (minus the Crow debacle)
I'm happy with Hood, Espinosa, Hicks, Nieto, Demny, Killian, Ramirez and Curran. The Crow dealio sucked, but I would say the Nats were far above average through rounds 2-15.
5) Mike Rizzo looks better and better as a future GM
This post by Steven over at FireJimBowden gives me immense confidence in Mike Rizzo's abilities as a talent evaluator as well as a public figure. Make this Kasten and Rizzo's team NOW!
6) We made good trades last offseason
Pulling Dukes for Glenn Gibson and Milledge for Ryan Church and Brian Schneider were both good deals in retrospect. Church can't stay healthy, Schneider is not as good as his 2008 numbers indicate and Gibson was beyond terrible this year. Milledge wasn't amazing, but I think we'll look back on that deal in 2 years and it will be a wash at the absolute worst. And Dukes is a beast.
My top 5 of 2008:
1) Elijah Dukes' breakout year
2) Mike Rizzo's emergence as a great future GM
3) Vast improvement in the minor leagues
4) Willie Harris' breakout year
5) Bright futures in the bullpen (Hanrahan, Shell, Mock, Hinckley)