1. Ivan RodriguezPudge is putting up his best OBP and wOBA since he led the Tigers to the World Series in 2004. And yet his line-drive rate is the lowest of his career, he's hitting groundballs on a whopping 57% of balls in play, and yet his BABIP is .361. And even when he was a great player, he never took walk. He's also 38 and on pace for about 450 plate appearances, and he's already on the DL with back issues. Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.
2. Livan HernandezOh, Livan, what a lovely illusion. The 84-mph fastball, the Bugs Bunny curve ball, the shit-eating grin and "I'm the man" slow-walk to the dugout after a 1-2-3 inning. If only this was really the real you. Alas, Livan is striking out fewer hitters than he ever has, a minuscule 9.3%. He's stranding 90.8% of runners, allowing a .213 BABIP, and giving up homers on 9.1% of flyballs. That last number is a bit lucky, but the first two are just silly. If his ERA only doubles from here on out, consider that a positive outcome.
3. Scott OlsenThe good news is that he played catch yesterday. The bad news is, that's the good news. His strikeout rate this year has bounced back to a workable level, and he's getting more groundballs and swings on pitches out of the zone than he ever has. But his velocity is still two ticks below where it was when he was good. The bottom line is that some guys' bodies just can't hold up under the strain of the unnatural act of pitching. For whatever reason, Olsen looks like one of those guys, and that's been the case for almost four seasons.
4. Alberto GonzalezAfter failing in an extended audition as a starting middle infielder last year, Gonzalez could have easily ended up as a victim of the numbers game in spring training and spent the year in Syracuse. But he managed to hang on as a utility infielder and 25th man, and he's turned that opportunity into a .326 / .383 / .395 line in 48 scarce plate appearances. He's also played overall solid defense, enough to put him on pace for 1.5 wins above replacement, even if his playing time doesn't increase. This was enough to really help patch the Zimmerman injury, but the best thing for the Nationals would be to make sure Gonzalez doesn't have a chance to see those numbers decline.
5. Josh WillinghamJosh Willingham is a good player. But he's not an MVP candidate. For the second year in a row, however, he's posted early-season numbers that would have put him right in that conversation, if he played for a better team. Right now, he's tied for 3rd in the NL with 2.1 WAR, trailing just Chase Utley and Jason Heyward. One thing you can count on with Willingham is consistency--almost every year he's finished around his career average of .265 /.368 / .482. He probably will again, and that will mean a prolonged slump at some point. And that would fit his pattern. For his career, his OPS is 62 points lower in the second half than the first half.
6. Matt CappsCapps has pitched really well this season. If anything, his peripheral stats suggest he's been a little unlucky, with his BABIP way up at .362. He's gone back to throwing his slider less and his fastball more, which could be a function of feeling fully healthy, or it could just be that he's getting back to a better strategy. Still for any pitcher, it's hard to be perfect in save chances, as he was through his first 16 opportunities. And I'm still a bit skeptical that he can maintain his career-best strikeout rate of 19.8%. He's doing it by getting more guys to chase pitches out of the zone, but will that catch up to him as the scouting reports spread and the sample sizes grow? I tend to think it will. Overwork is also a concern.
7. Tyler ClippardDid someone mention overwork? Clippard's 36.2 innings trails only Matt Belisle's 37 innings for the league lead in relief innings. He's on pace for over 108 innings, and that's not going to happen. So even if he keeps getting the same outcomes, his contribution will shrink. I've noted before that he's been lucky on strand rate, BABIP, and HR/FB rate, and hes actually been pretty terrible on allowing inherited runners to score. But the key rate for him in the dominant 28.8% strikeout rate. Regardless of what else happens, if he keeps missing bats like that, he'll be good. He just won't be this good.
8. Luis AtilanoAtilano has done well for himself, putting up a 5-2 record and a 4.24 ERA. But to keep succeeding, Atilano needs a better off-speed pitch than he has now. There are just very very few pitchers in the history of the game who have succeeded over time while striking out fewer than 10% of batters faced. The scouting reports will catch up, and it could get ugly. You have to like the kid's poise out there, but with Strasburg, Wang, and now maybe Zimmermann waiting in the wings, plus a possible trade in the works, Atilano will need an injury or two to stay around anyway.
9. Cristian GuzmanGuzman is doing what he always does--swinging at everything, taking walks in a microscopic 3.6% of plate appearances, and providing little in the way of power. But, because of a .378 BABIP that's 71 points over his career rate of .307, he has a .323 batting average and .349 OBP. Given his consistent walk rate, strikeout rate, and ISO power rate, Expect him to finish around his 2009 line of .284 / .306 / .390--those numbers are ok for a bench guy, but it'll take a lot of slumping to get back to those numbers. That's assuming he doesn't have a shoulder flare-up send him to the DL.
10. Miguel BatistaHe's survived for 33 innings with a 4.09 ERA, while walking more batters than he strikes out. He's this year's Julian Tavarez, and I don't expect him to be here by the end of August.
11. Nyjer MorganMorgan has been a disappointment to the people who put too much stock in the small sample size last summer, but really this is probably about who he is. He's actually been ok at the plate. His walk and strikeout rates are similar to what he did last summer. His line drive rate is up. Fewer balls are falling in, but about what you'd expect. It's the fielding and baserunning that's really hurt. Last year he seemed like a real find in center, but this year we've seen the funky routes and bad jumps that made Pittsburgh stick him in left. And he's been a disaster on the basepaths with 9 caught stealings in 21 attempts, plus 4 pick-offs. So he could improve in those areas, but he could also slump at the plate. It's not impossible to imagine him finding his way to the bench if the sloppy play continues.
12. Drew StorenStoren has a blistering 15:3 strikeout to walk ratio in his 16.2 minor league innings. Since coming to the majors, he's had some bumpy command, already walking 5 in 9 innings. By all indications that will not continue, but the fact is that he hasn't pitched nearly as well as his 2.00 ERA would suggest. Expect more growing pains.
13. Sean BurnettBurnett has pitched well, and this could certainly continue. Two things to watch for: 1. as Riggleman is forced to dial back on the innings for Clippard and Capps, Burnett may have to face more righties. Second, Burnett right now is striking out 22% of batters faced, which is a big jump from what he's ever done before (career rate: 14.9%). We'll have to see a bigger sample before deciding he's really gotten better at missing bats.
14. Roger BernadinaBernadina isn't doing enough to show he belongs in the big leagues. I don't expect him to be worse than he's been, but if he doesn't get better, he shouldn't be here at all.
15. Ian DesmondDesmond's defense is just what we were told it would be. Good range, good arm, lots of errors. So far it balances out to about average, maybe a little better. His bat is struggling. His plate discipline has really regressed. His OBP is down to .309, and he's not getting pitches to drive.
16. Craig StammenStammen will never ever strike out enough hitters to be a good major league starter, but if you're getting 50% ground balls, you're going to keep the ball in the yard and survive. Stammen gets hit really hard (24% line drive rate), but manages to hang around replacement level. Of all the guys here, this is the first guy who I would bet would improve. He may not get the chance after Strasburg arrives, but he's better than a 5.88 ERA pitcher.
17. Tyler WalkerI feel like Tyler Walker has been really unappreciated this year by Nationals fans. He's got a 5.40 K:BB ratio, which is a fantastic number. If he'd been on last year's team, he'd have been the closer for sure. He probably won't keep pitching this well, but I expect to see him in higher leverage situations. Walker could be a key for the Nationals going forward.
18. Adam DunnPower, walks, strikeouts, sun up, sun down. He hasn't killed them with the glove either, which is nice.
19. Wil NievesNieves shouldn't be playing this much at AAA, much less in the big leagues. But with a .186 / .213 / .267 line, even he's bound to get at least a little better. Right? Right?
20. Willie HarrisHarris has a terrible .184 / .284 / .391 line, but he'll be fine. His ISO power is over .200, and he's still walking in 10.7% of plate appearances. It's impressive how he's remade himself as a player, and whether it's because of an injury or performance, he'll find his way back into the lineup soon enough.
21. Ryan ZimmermanHe just keeps getting better. He's one of the best players in the league. Take it to the bank.