Don't crown the Nats just yet

Washington is good but has more holes than most people realize

Updated: March 30, 2013, 9:28 AM ET
By Paul Swydan | FanGraphs
Bryce HarperAP Photo/Alex BrandonAdam LaRoche, Bryce Harper and the Nationals aren't as dominant as one may think.

It's hard to find someone who is betting against the Washington Nationals this season. The enthusiasm has seemingly reached a fevered pitch, and rightly so -- the team boasts an impressive array of talent. But while Washington should be considered a favorite, the Nats are far from a sure thing.

A lot of the enthusiasm is based on the fact that the Nationals won 98 games last season, the most in baseball. But WAR paints a different story. As a team, Washington ranked fifth in team WAR (per FanGraphs) and was closer to 10th place than first.

Now, certainly a team doesn't need to lead the league in WAR to win 100 games. We don't need to go back any further than 2011 to find an example of that; the '11 Phillies posted a 102-60 record while finishing fourth in total WAR.

But then, a 100-win season wouldn't really be an improvement for the Nationals, as that would essentially be the same record as they had last year. No, a real improvement would be a 105-win season -- seven more wins than last year, or just over one more win per month. Since baseball moved to a 162-game season in 1961, this has happened only nine times, and all nine teams were either first or second in their league in WAR -- and usually by a significant amount. The nine teams were on average worth five more WAR than the next-best team. An objective look at the 2013 Nationals does not show such a juggernaut.