Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AnalysisMLBNational LeagueNL EastWashington Nationals

The 2019 Nationals Had a Better Outfield Than You Think

In case you weren’t reminded by the Washington Nationals’s Twitter account, they did indeed win the World Series with a 93-69 record in 2019. They were fronted by an outstanding main cast, such as Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and, of course, their outfield.

The Nationals are entering the 2020 season with the same outfield trio as last year: Soto, Robles, and Eaton. They were already quite impressive last year, posting a combined 9.6 fWAR. However, not only was there evidence that this wasn’t as good as it should’ve been, but also that it was one of the best in the entire league.

Juan Soto

Photo Credit: Baseball Savant

Soto is, unquestionably, the best player in the group. To start, he posted a .282/.401/.548 slash line, .394 wOBA (.407 xwOBA), 142 wRC+, and 4.8 fWAR last season. Defensively, he still was impressive compared to other left fielders. When using the expression of OAA * 0.9 + rARM for fielding runs, Soto ranked at 0.4. Even with the positional adjustment included, a DEF of -6.4 for a left fielder is above-average. Alone, for a player who turned 21 just before he won the World Series, those stats are astounding.

What’s really special about Soto is his plate discipline and batting eye. Pitches/PA gives us a good idea of the former and, indeed, Soto ranks very well there. With a 500 PA minimum, Soto ranked 8th in the league at 4.23. This puts him in the 94th percentile on the leaderboard. The stat also has a high correlation with BB% (as evidenced by the r²), which Soto also excels in. The correlation is graphed below.

Pitches_PA vs BB%

Soto’s batting eye was also fantastic in 2019, as his BB% can help attest to. With a 500 PA minimum, his BB% ranked 6th in baseball at 16.4. That puts him in the 96th percentile on the leaderboard. That’s not all though, as his K% ranked higher than everyone above him outside of Mike Trout and Alex Bregman.

It’s also notable to pay homage to Soto’s immense power. To start, his ISO ranked 18th at .266 with a 500 PA minimum, putting it in the 87th percentile. He also had an xSLG% of .576, which ranked in Baseball Savant’s 95th percentile. Finally, his TrueHit also ranked quite well, at .477.

To put his talent together, I’m going to do the task of changing Soto’s fWAR to incorporate the aforementioned fielding runs and his xwOBA. When doing all of this, Soto’s fWAR becomes 5.3 from an original fWAR of 4.8. That’s a noticeable improvement and, like everything else, pays testament to just how talented of a player he is.

Victor Robles

Photo Credit: Baseball Savant

Robles entered the baseball world fully for the first time last season. And, to put it bluntly, he showed the hype he received as a prospect. Offensively, he wasn’t anything good. He posted a .255/.326/.419 slash line, .317 wOBA (.292 xwOBA), 91 wRC+, and 2.5 fWAR. His power was below-average, his park holds it down, and he has a poor batting eye and quality of contact.

Where Robles shines offensively in his baserunning. With a 500 PA minimum, his 4.2 BsR ranked 20th in the league and in the 85th percentile. To break that down a bit more, he has 1.4 UBR, wGDP, and wSB. Even Spd, while it is outdated, has him at 6.6, which ranks 7th in the league and in the 95th percentile with a 500 PA minimum. When looking at pure speed the most accurately, he was in the 95th percentile for sprint speed on Baseball Savant, at 29.3 ft/s.

Where Robles’s value really comes in, however, is his defense. When using the aforementioned fielding runs formula for him, he comes out to be 29.7. That, along with the positional adjustment, brings his DEF to 31.2. This ranks the highest out of any adjusted single-season DEF for outfielders since 2017 and also is the only one above 30. 2018 Lorenzo Cain ranks the closest to Robles at 26.8, but he’s still 4.4 runs behind.

When rewiring fWAR with the same conditions as prior, Robles’s becomes 4.1 from a prior 2.5. Most of this can be attributed to the huge increase in fielding runs, as Robles’s fWAR saw a 2.2 win increase in the aspect alone. This helped to make up for the drop in batting runs as well.

Adam Eaton

Photo Credit: Baseball Savant

Most baseball fans have forgotten the outstanding player that Eaton was in 2016. He had a .284/.362/.428 slash line, 117 wRC+, .344 wOBA (.342 xwOBA), and a 5.9 fWAR. This isn’t taking into account how his fWAR arguably undervalued him that season, given how it would’ve been 6.6 with the adjusted fielding runs and xwOBA incorporated.

While it’s highly unlikely that Eaton reaches that level again, he was still quite adequate last season. He posted a .279/.365/.428 slash line, 107 wRC+, .342 wOBA (.340 xwOBA), and a 2.3 fWAR. Like Robles, he was a good baserunner. He had 3.5 BsR as well as an 81st percentile sprint speed of 28.3 ft/s.

Eaton’s offensive specialty, however, is in his ability to minimize strikeouts. Alone, his K% of 16.2 was 6.4 below the non-pitcher league average. His whiff% was 17.8, which ranked in the 86th percentile. That was also the highest out of both of Robles and Soto. His PAR was also quite impressive, ranking 26th at 13.5 and in the 86th percentile on the leaderboard with a minimum of 500 two-strike counts.

Like both Soto and Robles, his fWAR last season arguably didn’t match how good he was. With the same adjusted fielding runs and xwOBA incorporated, his fWAR last season was 2.6, an improvement from the prior 2.3. It’s not a huge improvement, but it definitely is one.

So, with all of that out of the way, it’s time to compare that big three to other outfields in the league. To do this, I’m going to compare their combined, adjusted fWAR (12) with the top 3 outfielders in fWAR from every other team.

When doing this, the Nationals rank third in the entire league. The only teams above them are the Angels and Dodgers (13). Their combined, adjusted fWAR of 12 also ranked 2.4 above their combined fWAR of 9.6. It’s easy to tell how them winning the World Series was less dependent on luck than it seems.

The Nationals’s outfield was in a great place going into last year and seems to be next year as well. Soto and Robles are both very young and their talent has already been showcased well while Eaton will likely stay around the same that he was last season. They also have defensive threat Michael A. Taylor and offensive threat Eric Thames to help them if needed. Overall, it was a fantastic year for the Nationals’s outfield in 2019, even more so than it seems.

Steven Pappas

Hello! My name is Steven Pappas, and I'm a high school junior. I love to analyze and write about baseball data as a huge Chicago Cubs fan and lifelong follower of the sport. I use large databases such as Baseball Savant, basic coding knowledge in RStudio, and my inquisitive mindset to always scour the infinite data available. I really enjoy watching and following basketball and am a Chicago Bulls fan, actively going to their games at the United Center. I love the study of filmmaking, and it's a passion that I've begun to explore as a career opportunity. My favorite works come from the minds of Stanley Kubrick, Yorgos Lanthimos, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the Coen brothers, and Wes Anderson. As a deft and passionate writer, I use my proficiency to create works from baseball data, for films, and my ideas in the form of short stories and little nuggets. I'm also a libertarian socialist in training and an active Greek Orthodox Christian.