Everyone is undefeated in Spring Training, even the Nationals! But that does not mean that everyone is projected to have a great season. Today, I'll take a look at two Nats that I think can outperform their projections in 2010: Scott Olsen and Jesus Flores.
Olsen had a rough 2009, with an awful 6.03 ERA in just 62 and 2/3 innings pitched. His season ended in July when he had labrum surgery and he claims to be back toabout 80% of his normal form. I think Olsen can more than challenge the 4.95 ERA and 119 IP projection that comes from an average of the Bill James, Marcel and CHONE projections.
He's hungry. On Friday, he told Dave Shenin of the Washington Post, "Last year was horrible. I have a lot to prove to the organization and to people in baseball in general." It's a little bit cliche, but I don't think you can ever underestimate an athlete looking to prove themselves.
The Nats' defense has improved. Hopefully, we will see Adam Kennedy and Nyjer Morgan step in with full seasons of above average defense that will replace the likes of Ronnie Belliard and Alberto Gonzalez at 2B, and Elijah Dukes and Willie Harris in CF. In addition, Adam Dunn will play 1B exclusively. For somebody that doesn't strike out a whole lot of batters (projections range between 5.54 K/9 and 6.77 K/9), the defense behind you is important.
Olsen is still young enough to rebound. Even if Olsen's arm issues were not a major reason behind his regression. I still think he can rebound in 2010. He's just 26 years old; if he puts in enough effort in the weight room and in Spring Training to get his fastball velocity back to 90-91 mph, I think he'll be alright. It's far from a guarantee, but I think Olsen has a higher chance of bouncing back to even a 4.50 ERA, 180 IP #4 starter than people give him credit for.
Flores is also coming back from a shoulder injury in 2009, but he did play very well while healthy. While the current state of his shoulder is in question, and I definitely don't think any more than 90 games can be expected out of Flores this year, I think the average projection of .264/.325/.422 is a little bit conservative. Here's why:
He hit .301/.371/.505 last year. While I believe in the statement "don't always believe in a small sample size," his numbers show that he chased less pitches outside the strike zone than in 2008 (O-Swing % down from 36.9% in 2008 to 34.0% in 2009) and made better contact across the board (contact % up from 71.8% in 2008 to 78.3% in 2009). I don't necessarily think his 10.4 BB% or .204 ISO will hold up, but I don't think it's crazy to expect a BB% in the 7's or an ISO around .175. My FanGraphs Fan Prediction of Flores ended up with a .269/.324/.444 line and I'll stick with that.
The addition of Pudge Rodriguez will be beneficial for Flores as well. Sure, he got to play a little bit along side veteran catchers like Paul Lo Duca and Brian Schneider, but neither of them are Pudge Rodriguez. Here's a good quote from an article about Pudge from this afternoon: "[Rodriguez] warmly greeted veterans and rookies alike, some youngsters awed that a future Hall of Famer was introducing himself to them. 'Years ago, I was watching that guy on TV and now I'm playing on the same team,' beamed fellow catcher Jesus Flores."
For the record, I was going to include Elijah Dukes on this list as well. I decided against it because I think the whole Natmosphere sees him rebounding from a lousy 2009. Put me down for around a .265/.360/.450 line for Dukes and we'll leave it at that.