The Washington Nationals finished 2019 as World Series Champions, and they’re certainly determined to repeat come 2020. They’ve already rung in the new year with a couple of new signings, so let’s take a look at them.
— Bleacher Report MLB (@BR_MLB) January 3, 2020
This past Thursday, the Nationals came to terms with reliever Will Harris on a 3-year, $24M contract. Harris spent the last five seasons with the Astros, and emerged as one of the more underrated relievers in the game during his time there. Over the past five seasons, Harris was routinely one of the best relievers when it came to wOBA, and while he doesn’t blow anyone away his stuff, Harris certainly gets a ton of movement on his pitches.
Last season, Harris’ fastball spin rates were in the 96th percentile (according to Baseball Savant), while his curve spin rates were in the 86th percentile. Harris’ go-to fastball was a cutter that has become quite an effective weapon for the righty. If you saw our Twitter thread yesterday, we went over his cutter, and the numbers were indeed good. During the 2019 season, batters hit just .235 off the pitch, and he did a strong job of striking out hitters, as well as inducing soft contact with the pitch.
Batters hit just .235 off of his cutter, with a wOBA of .293. Harris' cutter was pretty darn effective, but he did get burned a few times when he left it over the plate. That'll happen from time to time, but look at the K's up and out of the zone. pic.twitter.com/Z1BgsRpBwI
— FH Freeway (@FHFreewayBB) January 3, 2020
Harris also has another weapon in his arsenal, a hard curveball. Last season, the righty had a Whiff rate of 37.1% on his curve, and almost 29% of all events involving the pitch (K, BB, H, HBP, etc.) ended with a strikeout. In short, Harris can beat hitters a bunch of different ways.
As for the curve, it was nothing short of outstanding. Batters hit just .149 off the pitch, and he was sensational in keeping it down the plate. Just look at the # of K's down and out of the zone. Almost 29% of all events (K, BB, H, etc.) involving that pitch resulted in a K. pic.twitter.com/rwf9Kchoir
— FH Freeway (@FHFreewayBB) January 3, 2020
Even though the Nationals’ bullpen held up for the most part in October, there were still some question marks there as the Nats entered the new year. But with Harris now joining a bullpen that currently had Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson (should they re-sign him), Hunter Strickland and Tanner Rainey, they now have another strong option to throw out during the late innings.
In addition to Harris, the Nationals also signed veteran infielder Starlin Castro to a two-year deal. Last season, the Nats featured the likes of Brian Dozier, Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera at second base. Now, Castro seems to be the primary starter at second for the defending champs as they look to repeat in 2020.
With the Marlins in 2019, Castro had a slash line of .270/.300/.436, while hitting 22 home runs. While it wasn’t an above-average season (OPS+ of 94) in terms of OPS, Castro is a pretty consistent ballplayer. Since entering the Majors in 2010, Castro has had at least 130 hits in every season, including a league-leading 207 hits in 2011. Castro won’t walk much, and he’ll strike out a good amount of times, but he does make consistent contact. The journeyman infielder is also pretty versatile, as he has experience playing second base, short and most recently, third base (Castro logged 45 games at 3B in 2019).
With the Castro signing, there’s still two questions that need to be answered. One, are the Nationals still in on Josh Donaldson? The answer to that seems to be yes, as Ken Rosenthal noted that the Castro signing does not mean Donaldson is no longer in play for the Nats. Second, what does this mean for Carter Kieboom. The former first round pick for the Nats spent most of the season in AAA, and did get a bit of playing time in the Majors last season. As we mentioned in our fantasy article on NL East prospects, Kieboom didn’t exactly tear it up with Fresno last season, and could possibly use a little more time in the Minors. But if the Nationals do sign Donaldson as well, it’ll be interesting how they work Kieboom into the fold.
These two signings, in my opinion, don’t change my opinion too much on the Nationals. Are they more dangerous? Sure, but they still were going to be in 2020. But are they better with these signings? Absolutely. The Nationals made their team not just better, but deeper. They may be weaker without Anthony Rendon, but the Nats will no doubt be competitive once again in the NL East.
What do you think about the Nationals’ signings of Will Harris and Starlin Castro? Let us know on our social media channels. And be sure to keep checking out the FH Freeway site for more news, reports and fantasy tips.