# Projecting the 2012 Nationals, Part 1: Ground Rules & Starting Line-Ups

In keeping with the prophetic nature of the blog, I promised you all some projections about the 2012 Nationals. As you might imagine, trying to see the future is a fair bit of work, and I wanted to be able to walk you all through my reasoning step by step, so I’m going to break my analysis up into a 4-post series.

And because this is about baseball, after all, I’ll break it down in a baseball-like fashion. Imagine yourselves in Davey Johnson’s shoes, stepping out towards home plate at Nats park, line-up card in hand, ready to meet the umpire and the opposing manager. You’d have to discuss the ground rules first, and then exchange line-up cards. That’s what we’ll be doing in this post: sketching out the outlines of my method and telling you just who’s in the starting line-up.

# Ground Rules: What Are We Doing and How Are We Doing It?

A baseball team’s winning percentage can be estimated fairly accurately using Bill James’s Pythagorean win expectation formula:

This is of course pretty intuitive, particularly in its simplified form on the right. The team that scores more runs than it gives up will win a baseball game. A 162-game season is thus just a day in the [ball]park, but in macrocosm. Our calculations feel pretty much like watching a ballgame, too:

1. Figure out who makes the team.
2. Watch the top of the inning: how many runs do the pitchers give up? To do this, we’ll need a stat called FIP, or Fielding-Independent Pitching.
3. Still in the top of the inning: how well is the team defending? To answer that, we’ll need an esoteric stat: UZR, or Ultimate Zone Rating [Yes, I know it’s a dumb name. The sad thing is that if Sabermetricians were more articulate, they’d be baseball writers–and thereby deprive us of their statistical insights].
4. Finally, at the bottom of the inning, we figure out if the home team can score more runs than the visiting team did in the top of its inning. To find that out, we’ll need wRC, weighted Runs Created.

Projections should be pretty straightforward, right? There are a couple of pitfalls. UZR is notoriously unstable, and needs at least 3 years of data to be any good at all in calculations like this. Because we’re dealing with a pretty mixed bunch of ballplayers here, I can’t just use career UZR figures and take an annual average. Jayson Werth’s figure would have to be divided by 9, while Danny Espinosa’s would only be divided by 2. To even things up, I’ve decided to use a four-year average of each of the stats above. That gives just about enough of a sample size, I think, to be useful. It’s also fair: the four-year moving average sweeps from 2008 through the end of 2011–good news for Jayson Werth, who gets to include his phenomenal run with the Phillies with his near-abysmal 2011 campaign.

# The Starting Lineup: Meet your 2012 Washington Nationals!

With today’s acquisition of veteran relief pitcher Brad Lidge, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Hot Stove League is at an end. Without further ado, meet your 2012 Washington Nationals! [All of the data here, by the way, is from Fangraphs.]

## Starting Rotation

 Pitcher Name 2012 IP (Projected) FIP (2008-2011 Average) Remarks Stephen Strasburg 160.00 1.87 Strasburg’s coming back after Tommy John surgery, so he’ll be on an innings limit, just like Jordan Zimmermann was in 2011. I’ve set his limit at 160 innings, around about where J.Z. was limited last year. Jordan Zimmermann 180.00 3.59 Now that J.Z. is healthy again, I’ve allocated him what I feel is a fair load for a starting pitcher. Gio Gonzalez 200.00 4.06 Gio’s had a few 200 IP seasons, and he comes billed as an inning-eater, so I’ve given him a heavier IP load. Chien-Ming Wang 180.00 4.35 Wang is also coming off a long injury. I wonder if giving him a regular starting pitcher’s load isn’t a bit ambitious. Also, Wang gets hurt by my somewhat arbitrary 4-year window. His career FIP is really 4.04, but for now I’m going to accept the 4.35 number because… John Lannan 180.00 4.57 Lannan’s FIP is really really high compared with the rest of the rotation. I’ll get a lot of flak for putting him in the rotation at all, especially from Detwiler’s (4.30 FIP) partisans. On a wholly subjective level, though I think Lannan’s pitched well enough for long enough to land a spot in the rotation. Detwiler, to me, anyway, seems to have a much harder time the second and third time through an opposing batting order, but I don’t have any data to confirm that at the moment.

## Bullpen

 Pitcher Name 2012 IP (Projected) FIP (2008-2011 Average) Remarks Ross Detwiler 63.2 4.30 Long relief. Tom Gorzelanny 98.1 4.64 Long relief. Craig Stammen 61.0 4.23 Middle relief Sean Burnett 62.0 4.20 Middle relief Brad Lidge 60.0 3.72 Middle relief. Lidge figures to be a 6th-inning pitcher to get to Clippard & Storen. Also, as far as I can tell, Lidge has never had a plate appearance, so he doesn’t mess with my offensive calculations. Henry Rodriguez 72.2 3.22 Middle relief; alternate closer; last-ditch pitcher in losing efforts. Tyler Clippard 72.2 3.61 Clip’s 2008-2011 FIP is better than his career FIP of 3.91 Drew Storen 73.0 3.29 Closer.

## Starting Position Players

Note on position players: because UZR is calculated per-position, players will appear more than once on each table. In effect, it’s like having lots of players, one at each position, on defense, but having them form like Voltron into a single batter for offense. Also, I’ve omitted the pitchers’ offensive numbers from these tables–they were getting too cluttered, anyway. Don’t worry, I’ve factored the pitchers’ offensive contributions, such as they might be, into my final projections, but it would be tiresome to list them here. Also, UZR ignores defense from pitchers & catchers, so you won’t see any UZR numbers by Ramos or Flores.

 Player Position UZR 2008-2011 wRC 2008-2011 annual average wRC/PA 2008-2011 annual average 2012 PA (projected) 2012 wRC (projected) Adam LaRoche 1B 4.30 65.50 0.132658 600 79.59 Danny Espinosa 2B 3.00 22.50 0.116883 600 70.13 SS -0.20 Ryan Zimmerman 3B 30.20 83.25 0.151158 600 90.69 Ian Desmond SS -13.70 33.25 0.102151 600 61.29 RF -0.70 2B -2.80 Michael Morse LF -6.90 37.75 0.161670 600 97.00 1B -3.50 RF -7.50 3B 0.40 Roger Bernadina CF -8.40 22.25 0.100112 400 40.04 RF -4.10 LF 6.60 Jayson Werth RF 17.40 95.25 0.154941 600 92.96 CF 0.00 LF -1.60 Wilson Ramos C 15.75 0.121857 400 48.74

## Bench Players

 Player Position UZR 2008-2011 wRC 2008-2011 annual average wRC/PA 2008-2011 annual average 2012 PA (projected) 2012 wRC (projected) Mark DeRosa RF 6.10 44.50 0.129927 400 51.97 LF 2.70 SS 0.00 1B -1.20 2B -2.80 3B -4.50 Steve Lombardozzi 3B 1.10 0.25 0.031250 350 10.94 2B 0.10 SS -0.90 Jesus Flores C 13.25 0.101727 300 30.52
Unless something unusual happens in the next couple of days, I don’t see the Nats’ opening-day 25-man roster looking too different from this. How will they do in 2012? Stay tuned for the next part of my 2012 projection series, Top of the Inning: Pitching, Defense, and Runs Allowed.