We’ve unveiled the second-team pitchers and position players, as well as the top pitchers in recent Nationals history. So now there’s only one thing left to decide upon: the best batters of the last decade.
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of big names here, but there are also some that may not have immediately popped into your heads, and still others who you may not have realized were as good as they were.
Catcher: Wilson Ramos
The Stats (2010–16): 578 games, .268 average, 83 home runs, 222 runs scored, 320 RBIs, 34 percent caught stealing
The Nationals have generally taken this position year-to-year, at times even splitting the duties between two players. Aside from Ivan Rodriguez in 2010, they’ve only really let two players handle everyday duties behind the plate this decade — Matt Wieters and Wilson Ramos.
Ramos is the easy choice. He suffered his bumps and bruises — literally and figuratively — along the way, but he was generally solid at the plate, and he was often among the league leaders at throwing out potential base stealers — gunning down 34 percent of them during his time in Washington. His swan song in 2016 (.307 with 22 home runs in 131 games, prior to an abrupt ending due to a torn ACL) was arguably the best season he’s ever had. All told, he averaged 22 home runs and 90 RBIs on a per-162 game basis. Not bad for a catcher!
First Base: Ryan Zimmerman
The Stats (2010–19, including third base and left field): 1,087 games, .276 average, .341 on-base percentage, 179 home runs, 586 runs scored, 651 RBIs, 25 stolen bases
This debate is much tougher. Adam Dunn and Michael Morse had great consecutive single-season campaigns to start the decade, but they were just that — single seasons. A case could be made for Howie Kendrick, considering how gaudy his 2019 statistics were on a limited basis, but his overall role (much like Morse) makes him more of a utility player. And if Adam LaRoche’s injury-plagued 2011 and lackluster 2013 never happened, this would be even harder to decide. But they did, and that makes the face of the franchise the clear choice.
Up until 2014, the team’s first draft pick after moving to Washington was strictly a third baseman, but injuries — coupled with the emergence of a player who will be discussed later — moved Zimmerman away from the hot corner, and by the following season, first base was his full-time position. The injuries unfortunately persisted, but over those five seasons (2015–2019), he batted .253 with 86 home runs and 305 RBIs (28 and 101 on a similar rate basis to Ramos) in 491 games. He also earned his second career All-Star bid in 2017, a mostly-healthy season in which he hit .303 with 36 homers while driving in 108 runs.
Aside from his obvious historical significance to the franchise, his clutch performance is likely what he’ll be remembered for. He had seven walk-off hits in his first two seasons alone, and his even-keeled nature seems to make him a threat in these situations even as he entered his upper-30s. You can’t have an All-Decade team without a player like Zimmerman.
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
The Stats (2016–18): 342 games, .329 average, .380 on-base percentage, 54 home runs, 199 runs scored, 226 RBIs, 8 stolen bases
First base was complex in its own right, but second likely takes the crown for the biggest hodgepodge. The keystone featured six different primary year-to-year starters, and that doesn’t even include either split-season stint for Asdrubal Cabrera, when he clearly became the top option upon his arrival. However, most of them either weren’t particularly productive or didn’t stick at the position for more than a year.
The lone exception is Daniel “Hits” Murphy. Defense was never his strong suit, but he was a force in the middle of the lineup — which is rare for a second baseman. Many pundits were skeptical of his signing (three years for $37.5 million) given his “limited” skillset, but he repeatedly proved them wrong in Washington, adding more consistency at the plate and slugging ability than anyone thought was possible for him.
Murphy was an All-Star in 2016 and 2017, hitting for a combined .334 average with 90 doubles (best in the NL), 48 home runs, 182 runs scored, and 197 RBIs over 286 games. Even in his down year (an injury-hampered 2017) he hit .300 in 56 games. It’s a shame that the team became sellers at the Trade Deadline that year, because his abrupt departure likely hurts his legacy in some people’s eyes.
Shortstop: Trea Turner
The Stats (2015–19, including second base and center field): 482 games, .291 average, .348 on-base percentage, 63 home runs, 332 runs scored, 216 RBIs, 159 stolen bases
After quickly dismissing Espinosa’s one year at shortstop, there are only two contenders for the top honor. Ian Desmond is certainly intriguing. For three seasons, he might’ve been the best shortstop in baseball not named Troy Tulowitzki, with a combination of power and speed that doesn’t come around every day. The trouble was his other three years, in which he was no more than an average starter, albeit with the upside to carry the team for a week or two. Even in the good years, his defensive work was always confusingly inconsistent.
In many ways, Trea Turner was the opposite. He was a contact hitter, elite base runner, and consistently above-average defender. He didn’t take over the shortstop job until 2017 — he was an everyday player as a rookie, but only appeared at shortstop in two of his 73 games — which on some level disqualifies his all-around most productive season offensively. But .283 with 49 home runs, 274 runs scored, and 124 stolen bases in 382 games isn’t too shabby. That’s 116 runs and 53 steals per 162 games — yes, I triple-checked the math.
Third Base: Anthony Rendon
The Stats (2013–19, including second base): 916 games, .290 average, .369 on-base percentage, 136 home runs, 571 runs scored, 546 RBIs, 46 stolen bases
This spot is a two-horse race, but you’ve already seen where Zimmerman slots in. So, now let’s discuss Rendon, excluding 2013 and 2015, when he was primarily a second baseman.
In 2014 (his first full season) Rendon was sandwiched between Denard Span and Jayson Werth — both of whom hit over .290 — at the top of the lineup and scored 111 runs. After an partially injury-plagued 2015, he won NL Comeback Player of the Year the following season. Then in each season from 2017–19, he hit over .300 with more than 40 doubles and 90 RBIs. He gained modest MVP consideration in the first two years of that stretch, and then capped it off by batting .319 with 34 home runs, 44 doubles (best in the NL), 117 runs scored, and 126 RBIs (also best in the NL), which earned him his first All-Star appearance — shame on voters for omitting him for so long — his second Silver Slugger and a third-place finish in the NL for the MVP award.
Oh, and he went 20-for-61 (.328) in the postseason, including two home runs and eight RBIs in the World Series. I’d say he deserves this honor. He probably also deserved a fat contract from upper management, but that’s neither here nor there.
Left Field: Juan Soto
The Stats (2018–19): 266 games, .287 average, .403 on-base percentage, 56 home runs, 187 runs scored, 180 RBIs, 17 stolen bases
Sorry, Jayson Werth! Even your highest points don’t match the production Juan Soto has had so far in his career.
Very few players have ever accomplished as much as Soto did before turning 21 years old. And what did he do after that important birthday? Only hit his second and third home runs of the World Series en route to clinching the Nationals’ first championship.
In addition to nearly messing around and being named the MVP of that series, Soto was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year in 2018 and came in ninth in NL MVP voting the following season to go along with a second-place Gold Glove finish. His combination of extreme plate discipline, confident quirkiness in everything he does, and obsession with continually improving every aspect of his game is uncanny for someone as young as he is. You can pretty safely bet on him making this list in the upcoming decade, as well.
Center Field: Denard Span
The Stats (2013–15): 361 games, .292 average, .345 on-base percentage, 14 home runs, 207 runs scored, 106 RBIs, 62 stolen bases
This has generally been one of the Nationals’ biggest weak spots. It’s seemingly been shored up by a young phenom going forward, but there was one player of note in the years prior to him that deserves mentioning.
I’ve hinted at Denard Span already, but now I’ll make it extra clear: he was the spark plug of the early-to-mid 2010s teams. When he arrived in Washington in 2013, relatively speaking, more of his value came from his glove — not that a .279 batting average with 20 stolen bases and a league-high 11 triples is anything to sneeze at. Over the following two years, his bat came alive, as he eclipsed the .300 mark in both seasons. All in all, he hit .292 with 207 runs and 62 stolen bases (in only 75 attempts) in 361 games, and his #Spanning ability on defense never left him.
Right Field: Bryce Harper
The Stats (2012–18): 927 games, .279 average, .388 on-base percentage, 184 home runs, 610 runs scored, 521 RBIs, 75 stolen bases
What really can be said that people don’t already know? Bryce Harper was the wonder kid. Even if he fell short of everyone’s lofty expectations, he was still a very productive player — even if it often came in unconventional ways — and he brought eyes onto the team that likely wouldn’t have been there without him. Call him overrated if you wish, but that star quality alone had immense value to such a young franchise in a national market filled with teams that are often in turmoil and/or a cycle of underachievement.
Although both were somewhat plagued by injuries, Harper’s time in Washington can essentially be split into two separate careers. From 2012–14, he was really just ok, hitting somewhere between .270 and .275 each season with resectable power, but nothing worth truly fearing. Then he found himself in 2015. In what is widely regarded as one of the best seasons any outfielder has ever had, Harper batted .330 with 38 doubles, 42 home runs, 118 runs scored, and 99 RBIs. He took home the MVP by a unanimous vote and led the league in homers, runs, on-base percentage, and slugging — his OPS+ of 198 (100 is average) is among the highest ever recorded by a full-season starter.
From that season on, teams (starting with Joe Maddon and the Cubs) decided that the best way to avoid damage from Harper was to not throw him strikes. On some level, that’s a compliment, but it also caused impatience on his part, and he began to swing at clearly unhittable pitches. He still drew as many walks as anyone — he led the MLB with 130 in 2018 and 20 intentional walks in 2016 — but his batting average cratered in two of those seasons — .243 in 2016 and .249 in 2018, the year before he became a free agent and subsequently left town. He still had a strong season in 2017 (.319 with 29 home runs, 95 runs scored, and 87 RBIs in only 111 games) and his Nationals career was still very productive, but we’ll always be left wondering what could have been.
Potential Lineup and Bench
- SS Trea Turner
- RF Bryce Harper
- 2B Daniel Murphy
- 3B Anthony Rendon
- LF Juan Soto
- 1B Ryan Zimmerman
- C Wilson Ramos
- CF Denard Span
Ian Desmond (Shortstop)
The Stats (2010–15): 906 games, .263 average, .312 on-base percentage, 106 home runs, 415 runs scored, 420 RBIs, 121 stolen bases
In three of Desmond’s seasons (2012–14) in Washington, he hit at least 20 home runs with more than 20 stolen bases — hitting .280 or higher in two of them — en route to a Silver Slugger each year. In the other three, he left a lot to be desired, and his defense was always flashy, yet extremely inconsistent. He certainly has the ability to be the backup shortstop, though, and he could probably even play second base, third base, and maybe even a pinch of the outfield.
Howie Kendrick (Infield)
The Stats (2017–19): 213 games, .322 average, .367 on-base percentage, 28 home runs, 102 runs scored, 99 RBIs, 7 stolen bases
You’d be crazy to call Kendrick a true slugger, but his hard-hit rate stacks up among the best in the league. He’ll provide the definition of a professional at-bat every time he steps into the batter’s box, and he also offers some defensive versatility (although he doesn’t exactly excel at any one spot). He’d likely be best-served at first base and occasionally second, and he’d be a prime designated hitter candidate when that position is available.
Michael Morse (First Base/Outfield)
The Stats (2010–12): 346 games, .296 average, .345 on-base percentage, 64 home runs, 162 runs scored, 198 RBIs, 2 stolen bases
Here’s the slugger off the bench. “The Beast” was a fan favorite in his heyday, and “Take On Me” still remains a part-time fixture at Nationals Park. It’s a shame that Morse couldn’t have been around for more of Washington’s glory years, but perhaps his defensive woes had something to do with it. Nonetheless, with limited time in the field, it’s hard to imagine his presence and power potential without a true slugger’s mentality wouldn’t be immensely valuable on a roster like the one I’ve constructed.
Victor Robles (Outfield)
The Stats (2017–19): 189 games, .258 average, .327 on-base percentage, 20 home runs, 96 runs scored, 79 RBIs, 31 stolen bases
Nyjer Morgan got this honor with the “B team,” and I don’t think anyone would dispute that Robles is more talented than Morgan was. Even so, on a roster so loaded with star hitters, there’s no reason to use Robles as more than a pinch-runner and defensive substitution. But man, you can’t do much better in a role like this than the guy who should’ve won the center field Gold Glove award in 2019 — countless data points will indicate such.
Kurt Suzuki (Catcher)
The Stats (2012–13, ’19): 207 games, .249 average, 25 home runs, 73 runs scored, 113 RBIs, 11 percent caught stealing
Suzuki’s second stint in Washington salvaged his hopes of making the All-Decade reserves. In a somewhat limited role, his offensive production in 2019 mirrored the typical season from Wilson Ramos. He wasn’t a defensive wizard, but the top pitchers have enjoyed throwing to him. That’s good enough for me in a backup catcher. Actually, it’s better, because Suzuki wasn’t a .200 hitter.
Add this to a starting rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark, plus a strong bullpen. I’d say that puts you in pretty good shape as a team.
Hopefully this was a fun way to look back at the decade that was for the Nationals. Maybe you were even reminded of some players that you’d forgotten about over the years. These memories are essentially all we have until this pandemic passes and the league decides it’s appropriate to let teams start playing again, so cherish them!
And as always, don’t be afraid to share your opinion. Not every accolade is black and white, and creativity is part of what makes roster construction fun.