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Nationals to Run More in 2016

The hiring of Dusty Baker by the Washington Nationals was probably met with a "meh" followed by an outdated joke about running young arms into the ground. He really didn't show any of that with the Cincinnati Reds and he had plenty of young arms there. However something that should've garnered great attention happened two days and may well have been Baker's first act as manager: he hired Davey Lopes to be the first base coach.

Now I'm not going to pretend I'm the only one in on Lopes. Several of you were definitely nodding right when you saw his name at the end of that first paragraph. Lopes is something of a Baserunning Whisperer. Check that, he is the Baserunning Whisperer. He really made his mark with the Phillies as their first base coach from 2007-2010. In that time, the Phillies were fourth in total stolen bases with 501, but their success rate was far and away tops at 84%!

Jimmy Rollins (136) and Shane Victorino (132) led the charge while Chase Utley (59) and current National Jayson Werth (60) were efficiency monsters. Utley nabbed those 59 bases on just 64 attempts – a 92% success rate. Break-even is 72%. Werth was no slouch at 60-for-68 (88%). By the way, Rollins and Victorino were at an excellent 88% and 82%, respectively. I didn't intend to snub them as volume-only in that first sentence.

From Philly he went out to LA with the Dodgers. They didn't burn up the basepaths quite like the Phillies, but they showed substantial improvement from the two years before he arrived.

2009-10 (w/o Lopes)20830668%
2011-15 (w/Lopes)50570172%

Although I will note that the 2015 iteration of the Dodgers really fell off the cliff with just 59 steals on 93 attempts (63%) – the total bases and success rate both ranking 26th in the league. The Nationals are primed to reap the benefits of Lopes' baserunning wisdom. Their 204 attempts the last two seasons are good for 27th in the league, though they have been rather efficient with a 77% success rate (tied for 4th).

A lot of that was built on a 2014 that saw them steal at an 81% clip with 101 SBs (tied for 12th). Health played a big role as Denard Span (31, 82%) and Anthony Rendon (17, 85%) were major factors. Ian Desmond (24, 83%) was great as well and while he was healthy in 2015 – or at least playing which signifies some measure of health – he only stole 13 bases on a 72% success rate. Span and Desmond are gone, but this team has plenty of potential beneficiaries including Rendon.

Let's just go down the projected lineup and find the guys who could see a Lopes-induced boost:

Ben Revere – He is already a proficient base thief (four 30+ SB seasons, two 40+; 82% success), but ran into a bit of a red light after being traded to Toronto. If Lopes has anything that can actually improve Revere, then we could see the first 70-SB season since Jacoby Ellsbury landed right on the number in 2009. By the way, Revere wasn't with Philly during the Lopes era.

Anthony Rendon – He missed half the season with a knee and then a quad so it's not surprising that he was just 1-for-3 on the basepaths last year. If he's healthy, I expect him to get back to running. I realize the thinking is that he'd be limited to ensure his health, but unless he's actively nursing something, I think he runs. He'll fill the Chase Utley role. We applied the same concern to Utley because of his continued health concerns, but he always ran and ran wisely so he didn't need to do much to ensure a double-digit output.

Bryce Harper – We haven't seen much running the last two years with just 8 steals on 14 attempts (57%), but in his first two seasons he went 29-for-39 (74%). The conventional wisdom is that he won't run anymore because he's now a prodigious power threat in the middle of the order. But so are Ryan Braun (24), Paul Goldschmidt (21 SBs), Justin Upton (19), and Anthony Rizzo (17) and it didn't stop any of them.

That same line of thinking regarding injuries and the stifling of running will likely be applied with Harper, too, but I just don't think he or other superstars play the game with a mindset of avoiding injury. When it comes to running into walls in the outfield, yeah I get changing a mindset there. But that's guaranteed to get you hurt, stealing bases isn't. By the way, Mike Trout had 11 SBs last year and while I do believe he will spike back up into the teens, I see virtually no division between he and Harper. If anything, Harper could jump back into the teens with his SBs and bypass Trout with relative ease.

Daniel Murphy – His fantasy value thrived on the fact that he did a bit of everything, but a June quad injury was a big factor in just a 2-for-4 effort on the bases in 2015. Prior to that he had a three-year run during which he was 46-for-56 (82%) with double-digits in all three seasons including a high of 23 in 2013. This is another situation where I don't think the scare of injury alone will prevent him from running. If he's working through a lower-body injury or has a DL stint for one as he did in '15 then the running will be hampered, but he's entering '16 healthy and I expect a return to double digits. I already tabbed Rendon as such, but Murphy could also fill the Utley role of high-efficiency, low-volume.

Jayson Werth – His guru returns! Although Werth seemed to take what he learned with him to Washington as he's gone 46-for-54 (85%) with the Nats since 2011, injury being the only real roadblock to bigger totals. In fact he ran once in 88 games last year (unsuccessfully, too). Now 37 years old with 11 DL stints under his belt, I'm less confident that Werth is ready to rev the wheels up once again.

If anything, he might return to being the guy from the three years prior to 2015 when he was 27-for-31 (87%) with totals of 8, 10, and 9. There have only been 17 seasons of 10+ SBs from guys 37 or older in the last decade. Ichiro Suzuki has 5, Omar Vizquel has 3, Kenny Lofton and Derek Jeter each have 2, and then Alfonso Soriano, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu, Gary Sheffield, and Jamey Carroll (!) each have 1.

Danny Espinosa – Did you know that Espinosa has two 20/17 seasons? Well actually that's kinda misleading since it's usually listed HR/SB so that implies it was 20 HR both times. It was actually 21/17 in 2011 and then 17/20 in 2012. The problem was that there wasn't much around the HR/SB totals. In '11 he was just above average with a  103 wRC+ and then in '12 he dipped below at 94. He lost his job in 2013 and then played the utility role in 2014 and 2015.

The departures of Desmond and Yunel Escobar have re-opened the door for Espinosa and I think he can make good on the chance. He's been averaging 15/10 if you extrapolate his last two seasons. This is exactly the kind of player that Lopes can have a real impact on in terms of his fantasy value. There were only five double-doubles at second base last year: Brian Dozier (28/12), Jose Altuve (15/38), BrandonPhillips (12/23), Ian Kinsler (11/10), and Kolten Wong (11/15). Espinosa can definitely join that group.

Plus, he's going to qualify at shortstop in-season. Seven shortstops double-doubled last year, but none went 15/15 and I think Espinosa gets his third such season. This is one case where Baker's penchant for veterans over rookies might not hurt so much. Don't get me wrong, I was getting pretty hyped about Trea Turner this fall, but he'll likely have to wait unless a) Espy craters and b) Turner just overpowers (not literally because he's not a power hitter, but I just mean dominant performance) his way into the lineup.

Not in the projected lineup:

Trea Turner – Speaking of Turner... If he does assume the role, I'm equally as excited about his prospects with Lopes, though more from a high-volume steals standpoint as opposed the power-speed aspect. He won't zero out in homers like Revere might, but Turner was 52-for-62 (84%) in the minors and has 70-grade speed. Bottom line is that I'm interested in the Washington shortstop this year… wait, unless it's Stephen Drew.

Michael Taylor – The Revere trade was a bummer because it tanked Taylor's stock for the foreseeable future. Of course, I did just get done discussing Werth's lengthy injury history so it's not like I've taken Taylor off my draft board. Taylor had just a .640 OPS in 511 PA, but managed a double-double (14/16) and seems capable of much more as he matures. He's not quite as fast Turner, but he's not far off and his power completely dwarfs Turner's (Fangraphs gave Taylor 60 raw power and Turner just 40).

If the Nats do run as much as they suggest they will, Taylor can still be a useful speed asset even as a bench bat. He crushed lefties in the minors so he'll likely pull some starts from Revere there in addition to entering as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, or defensive replacement (which could then yield a PA). Think about what Rajai Davis has been able to do all these years as a fourth-outfielder, lefty-killer type. Taylor probably doesn't have as much speed as him, but he's got Lopes on his side (and a helluva lot more power… though credit to Rajai for 8, 6, 8, and 8 HR totals the last four seasons after just 13 HR in his first 1793 MLB PA).