Value is a term that is often misunderstood.
For instance, the MLB betting sites have the Dodgers to win the World Series at +300 (or 3/1) may not seem like a valuable pick considering the vast amount of contending teams, especially in the National League.
However, it doesn’t take long to watch this team and realize their dominance and just how hard they are going to beat come playoff time.
As a result, the Dodgers hold solid value to win the World Series at current odds.
Still, crazier upsets have happened.
Looking for Some Serious Value
After a slower-than-expected start to the season, there is another National League club that is surging into contention and could make life difficult on any team in a playoff series (or Wild Card game): the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals lost Bryce Harper to the rival Phillies in free agency, but it’s not like they waited around for their former star player to make his decision.
The Nationals made the first big splash of what turned out to be a long, stagnant winter free agent market by inking left-hander Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140M contract on the final day of November.
The move signaled the Nats’ desire to remain a contender with or without Harper. Less significant but no less important were the offseason moves that further bolstered the Nationals’ chances at contending for an NL East crown. In fact, some even came before locking in Corbin during his free agent tour.
- Re-vamped their catching duo by trading for Yan Gomes from the Cleveland Indians and signing veteran Kurt Suzuki in free agency.
- Signed veteran second baseman Brian Dozier in free agency.
- Added both Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough to the bullpen, albeit those moves have not paid dividends and the Rosenthal experiment was over before it began.
- Re-signed slugging first baseman Matt Adams after trading him to the Cardinals last August.
- Signed veteran right-hander Anibal Sanchez to fill out the rotation.
Needless to say, GM Mike Rizzo did work. While everyone had their eye on the Nationals and their pursuit to keep Harper in the fold, Rizzo was doing damage in both the free agent and trade market to ensure his club would contend if Harper signed elsewhere.
While the moves noted above were surely vital to their 2019 chances, some might forget the core the Nats had in place without Harper.
They have an MVP-caliber third baseman in Anthony Rendon. Rendon’s 6.2 WAR tied for eighth last season with Manny Machado and finished only to NL MVP Christian Yelich’s 7.6-mark among players who played the entire season in the National League.
There is also Juan Soto, the surprising runner-up for the NL Rookie of the Year. Had it not been for Ronald Acuna bursting onto the scene, the NL ROY was Soto’s in 2018 to be sure.
Victor Robles, who entered the season as one of the very best prospects in baseball, is showing his power/speed combination well with 13 homers and 12 steals at the All-Star break of his first full season in the bigs.
Add in the veteran bats of Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam Eaton, and it was foolish to write off the Nationals, especially after some roster-bolstering additions early in the offseason. With all the attention on the Phillies’ busy offseason – including luring Harper aboard – the Nats’ front office was quietly doing yeoman’s work of their own.
Of course, no addition was bigger than Corbin. Coming off a season where he pitched to a 3.15 ERA, but also a 2.47 FIP and 2.61 xFIP to go along with an 11.07 K/9, the addition of Corbin gave the Nationals a scary-good three-headed monster atop the rotation along with perennial Cy Young candidate Max Scherzer and former No.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg. By adding Corbin, the Nationals had two of the top five pitchers from 2018 in their rotation as judged by FanGraphs’ WAR (Scherzer 7.4, Corbin 5.9).
This is where the Nationals become very dangerous. The divisional playoff rounds are short at best-three-of-five. As a result, teams only need a maximum of four starting pitchers to get through such series’, and could even get by with three if need be. The championship series’ stretch to best-four-of-seven, where teams comfortably roll with a four-man rotation.
Few teams have a better top three in their rotation than Washington. No one within the NL East is even close when it comes to starting pitching, as seen below.
NL East Starting Pitching
The Nationals’ rotation has been the best in baseball this season, and that includes a disastrous eight-start stretch from Jeremy Hellickson before hitting the IL in which he pitched to a 6.08 ERA and 6.09 FIP.
The second best rotation in baseball? The L.A. Dodgers with a WAR of 11.6. It’s those Dodgers that are the only team in baseball with a top three that stacks up with that of the Nationals with their own three-headed monster of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, and Walker Buehler, in no particular order.
If you’re a fan of flat-out dominant pitching, a Nationals/Dodgers NLCS is what you should be searching for.
From Opening Day through to the end of May, the Nationals tied for 17th with a .316 wOBA. They also ranked 20th with a 24% strikeout rate and 18th with a 92 wRC+.
From June 1st until the All-Star break, the Nats rank seventh with a .337 wOBA and 13th with a much-improved 105 wRC+. They’ve also cut down on strikeouts by more than 5% with an 18.7% K-rate in that time, good for third in all of baseball.
It should also be mentioned that the Nationals are among the league’s top-hitting clubs against left-handed pitching. Only the Astros and Twins have hit lefties for a higher wOBA than the .358 mark Washington has produced versus southpaw pitching.
Dozier, Rendon, Kendricks, Soto, Suzuki, Adams, Robles and Gomes are among the Nationals that have produced at least a .374 wOBA versus lefties. If the Nats were to face the Dodgers in a playoff series, they could possibly feel relatively confident against both Ryu and Kershaw despite the All-Star seasons both left-handers have enjoyed to this point.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the glaring fact that the Nationals’ bullpen still ranks 29th with a ghastly 6.12 ERA on the season. Better times should lie ahead with a 4.70 FIP as well, but there’s little doubt Rizzo will be on the lookout for notable bullpen help before the trade deadline at the end of July.
Having arms like Scherzer, Corbin and Strasburg going deep into games and shortening the distance to closer Sean Doolittle and his 3.13 ERA/2.93 FIP has helped hide that atrocious bullpen to this point.
Still, few teams can sport a bullpen ERA north of 6.00 and enjoy any sort of success over the long haul.
On May 31st, the Nationals sat at 24-33, nine games out of top spot in the NL East and six games back of the second NL Wild Card spot. Washington then caught fire, posting an 18-8 mark in the month of June before going 5-1 across six July contests entering the All-Star break.
Add it up and the Nationals are back within six games of the NL East lead, but would be a playoff team if the regular season ended today as they currently hold down the top Wild Card spot in the NL.
In fact, their 47-42 record at the break is the third-best record in the National League, behind only the Dodgers (60-32) and NL East-leading Braves (54-37).
The entire NL Central, although deep, is spinning their wheels. The Phillies have struggled for consistency and are six games under .500 on the road. Aside from the Dodgers, their doesn’t appear to be a real threat in the NL West, especially with the once-hot Rockies dropping six in a row entering the break.
All the sudden, the Nationals look very much like a team that you don’t want to play come October.
It probably should have been this way all along. Raise your hand if you want to face Max Scherzer in a one-game, do-or-die Wild Card game? Didn’t think so. Scherzer could simply decide to go 8-9 innings and disregard that bullpen you so very much wanted to see.
During All-Star week in Cleveland, the Nationals sit with +2800 odds to win the World Series as per Bovada. Those odds are in the vicinity of the Indians (+3000), Rays (+2500), Brewers (+2500), Red Sox (+2500) and even the Phillies at +2300.
All of the above clubs are good ball teams, to be sure. The Indians have won six in a row and are 12 games over .500 at 50-38 entering the break while the Red Sox have won four in a row and are up to eight games over .500 at 49-41. The Rays continue to stay within arm’s length of the AL East-leading Yankees at 52-39, but with the way the pinstripes are playing that might be hard to do moving forward.
The Brewers have next to no starting pitching, nor do the Phillies, especially with Jake Arrieta possibly done for the season.
I’m looking at the Nationals’ +2800 odds, the three-headed monster atop the rotation and the vastly improved bats and I’m seeing plenty of value all told. No one wants to face that type of pitching in the postseason and pitching is the main ingredient of postseason success more often than not.
Take the Nationals at +2800 to win the World Series and pat yourself on the back for locking in some serious value in the process.