Health will really be the determining factor in the NL East as far as I’m concerned. The Nationals did add some pieces that will allow them to withstand injuries a little bit better this time around, but they did also lose Bryce Harper to free agency. The signings of Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez provide a big boost for the rotation. The signing of Trevor Rosenthal and the trade for Kyle Barraclough will help in the bullpen.
The Nationals also picked up Brian Dozier and Yan Gomes. They also reacquired Matt Adams and signed Kurt Suzuki. This is a better roster and, in some ways, could be considered a little bit of an afterthought in the NL East because of what the Phillies did and because of the Mets rotation. I don’t think that will be the case with the betting side.
It will be important to see how the Nationals are evaluated in the betting markets. This is an extremely talented team with a lot of big names. This is also a good rotation and, as I’ve mentioned with a lot of these write-ups, starting pitchers still dictate lines and line moves. It’s entirely possible that we won’t have much equity on the Nationals.
The Nationals were a huge disappointment last season. They were 33-44 against teams .500 or better and 49-36 against teams with losing records. They were 64-52 against right-handed starters and 18-28 against left-handed starters, which is part of the reason why Dozier and Gomes were acquired. Washington was exactly 41-40 both at home and on the road, so we don’t have anything pronounced to discuss there.
Money Line Spots
It’s tough to find a lot of value spots for the Nationals at first glance. Max Scherzer is usually priced out of a reasonable range. Stephen Strasburg is great when healthy. I am a little leery of Patrick Corbin and his extremely heavy slider usage, but it may simply be an arsenal change that continues to work out and he defies the odds and stays healthy.
Anibal Sanchez is a guy that I will look to back. Sanchez was second to Joakim Soria in average exit velocity against last season among pitchers with at least 150 batted balls and first among pitchers with at least 200. The markets will be skeptical because he had a 2.83/3.62/3.81 pitcher slash. They’ll be seeking out regression. I actually like the changes he made and he’s going to a top-notch defensive ballclub.
I don’t think we should be afraid of chalk with this team. I really like this roster. Washington got unlucky last season by going 4-10 in extras and 18-24 in one-run games. There should be some correction with the results for this team and the talent is there.
This is a team I love against bad starting pitching, even if we have to pay for it. The lineup underachieved a bit last season with just 771 runs. I’m expecting over 800 for the Nationals and they’ll get there by beating up on bad pitching when they get it.
Nationals Park plays pretty neutral overall, but that’s because April and May are a lot different than August and September in D.C. We’ll likely see some low-scoring affairs early and see more offense as the heat of summer grows. That will be something that you want to keep in mind. A lot of totals are depressed by the cold weather early in the year, so it may be tough to find spots, but when they do pop up with totals of 8.5 or 9 at Nationals Park, you’ll want to take advantage.
This is another one of those Catch-22 situations in the totals market. The Nationals offense is improved, but the pitching staff is also improved. Washington slanted slightly to the under at 82-76-4 last season. It is worth pointing out that things got a little bit loose late in the year, as the Nationals scored 149 runs in September and allowed 131. Both were season highs for a month. Maybe that yields some value on the under early.
Individual Players to Watch
Jeremy Hellickson – We all know about Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin. I mentioned Sanchez. What you probably don’t know is that Jeremy Hellickson ranked 22nd in average exit velocity against among pitchers with at least 200 batted balls last season. Hellickson was decidedly worse, however, on fly balls and line drives than everybody else around him. He ranked 145th in that department.
What that means is that Hellickson will be a fade or an over candidate against teams that hit a lot of fly balls and line drives. Against teams that do not, Hellickson will be an undervalued commodity and I will love backing him against ground ball offenses.
Adam Eaton – I’ve mostly been focusing on pitchers here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight Adam Eaton. Eaton tore his ACL in 2017 and missed half of last season with additional leg problems. He was a 5.9-win player in 2016 when he played a full season. Eaton posted a .358 wOBA and a 123 wRC+ in his 370 plate appearances last season. This is a guy that can be a real catalyst at the top of the order. As long as he’s healthy, the ceiling for this offense is much higher. Keep an eye on him because he’ll be a key component for the Nationals in terms of totals and probably money lines as well.