The Tenure Trials: Nationals

By: Joe Pohoryles

As I continue to come up with content ideas amidst the sports-less COVID-19 pandemic, a question appeared in my mind:

For each Washington team, who has played the most games/minutes/innings for the team?

With just a handful of guesses, I figured I could name the correct player for all four major DC sports team. These are the players we celebrate most; the more years they play for the franchise, the more recognizable they become.

Then a follow-up question came to mind:

Which players have played the fewest games/minutes/innings for these teams?

This question is harder to guess the correct answer to. Sure, there have been countless players that spent the majority of their career in the minor leagues or the practice squad, and the only time they were on the main roster was to provide depth of some kind. The team is ravaged by injuries, so the player is sent up just to be a body on the bench, getting zero action, and then is sent back down to where they came from. You hardly notice they were ever there.

They may spend one game sitting on the bench, or maybe they stay there for a full season, and while every player in the locker room brings at least some level of importance to the team, from a fan’s perspective these players did not make any tangible impact when looking back at team history.

That’s not to shame these players. Only the best of the best crack into the highest level of sports, and to even get close is a testament to the player’s talent and hard work, but for the purposes of answering the two questions that came to my mind, they mean nothing.

I wanted to find out the players who had the shortest active playing time in franchise history. For example, JamesOn Curry is notorious for having the shortest career in NBA history, appearing for just 3.9 seconds on Jan. 25, 2010 with the Los Angeles Clippers. Who holds that record for the Wizards franchise? Who has the fewest plate appearances/innings pitched in Nationals history? Who played the fewest snaps for the Redskins? Who skated the fewest minutes for the Capitals?

All these questions will be answered in the coming days, continuing with the Nationals in The Wildcard’s newest series: The Tenure Trials.

The longest-tenured position player in Nationals history is…

Ryan Zimmerman (7,129 plate appearances and 1,689 games played from 2005-2019)

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal

Looking at the history of the Expos/Nationals franchise, only Tim Wallach has more plate appearances (7,174), but Zimmerman has the chance to surpass him this season, whenever baseball does return. When strictly looking at Nationals players, however, Zim is ahead by a wide margin, which is clear just by knowing the history of the team. (For the record, Bryce Harper is second in team history with 3,957 plate appearances, and Anthony Rendon is right behind with 3,927. Neither are threats to catch up anymore, so Zim will hold the lead for the foreseeable future.)

As the team’s first ever draft pick, the longtime third baseman was for awhile the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal team. With a knack for hitting walk-off home runs, Zimmerman has been a fan favorite since he stepped foot in DC. From being the team’s first homegrown star to delivering game-changing home runs at age 35 in the 2019 playoffs, Zimmerman will always be “Mr. National,” even if/when his franchise records are broken.

The longest-tenured pitcher in Nationals history is…

Stephen Strasburg (1,438.2 IP, 5,821 batters faced from 2010-2019)

Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Yet another obvious answer; Strasburg’s arrival changed the trajectory of the franchise. Entering his 11th season on a freshly signed seven-year extension, Strasburg could very well retire with more years on the team than Zimmerman. While injuries have hindered him along the way, Strasburg has been among the best pitchers in the National League for awhile now, and if he can continue elevating his player through his 30s, he may finish with even more hardware.

The shortest-tenured position player in Nationals history is…

Tres Barrera (2 plate appearances and 2 innings played in 2019)

Photo Credit: Nationals Communications

Technically, the fewest plate appearances belong to Matt White (1 PA in one game in 2005), but since he was a pitcher by trade, I did not count him as a position player. He also pitched four innings in his lone season with the team, giving him more tenure than Barrera anyway.

Barrera, a catcher from Texas, was a sixth-round pick by the Nationals in 2016. His major league debut came on Sept. 14, 2019, pinch-hitting in the ninth inning of a 10-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. His second appearance came two weeks later in the final game of the season, where he was slotted at catcher for the final two innings of an 8-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 29. Neither plate appearances resulted in hits.

The former UT-Austin catcher spent most of 2019 with Double-A Harrisburg, totaling eight home runs, 46 RBI and 136 total bases while slashing .249/.323/.381 in 101 games. He joined the team for Spring Training in 2020, recording one hit in seven at bats across six games.

Barrera has a chance to expand upon his major league resume in 2020 and beyond, but for now he holds the title of least active positional player in team history.

The shortest-tenured pitcher in Nationals history is…

James Bourque (0.2 IP, 6 batters faced in 2019)

Photo Credit: MASN Sports

This one comes with a caveat as well. Gerardo Parra, instrumental as a locker room personality and bench hitter during the Nationals’ World Series run, has the fewest innings pitched in team history. In 0.0 IP, he faced five batters, walking four and allowing five runs in the 8th inning of an 18-7 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 3, 2019. However, he is primarily an outfielder, and thus has seen much more action in the field and at the plate than Bourque ever has.

Similarly, Mark Reynolds, longtime major league infielder, faced the fewest batters in team history (0.1 IP, 1 batter faced), having much more success than Parra, albeit without much significance. He pitched the final out in a 10-2 loss to the Miami Marlins on Jul. 8, 2018. While he may technically have the shortest pitching career in team history, Reynolds also appeared in 86 games in his lone season in Washington, and had 235 plate appearances.

Ironically, the statistically shortest-tenured batter was a pitcher by trade, and the shortest-tenured pitcher was an infielder.

Bourque, meanwhile, had a rough go in his only major league appearance. He walked two batters and allowed three hits and four runs, ballooning his ERA to 54.00. The Nats ended up winning the game 9-6 over the Marlins on May 26, 2019, but Bourque never got any more action that season.

Much like Barrera, Bourque’s story isn’t over yet. Spending most of the season in Triple-A Fresno, Bourque appeared in 33 games, earning a 4-1 record, but posting a 5.56 ERA. He had a much better stint in 14 games with Harrisburg, where he had a 3-0 record in 14 appearances, earning six saves and garnering 33 strikeouts to go with a 1.33 ERA.

The former Michigan pitcher also appeared in Spring Training in 2020, and was even among the better performers as of Mar. 10, when I discussed the top players at Spring Training. In 6.1 IP across six games, Bourque led all pitchers on the team with 11 strikeouts. He finished with an 0-1 record, allowing three hits, two earned runs and one walk, but still flashed potential for future use in the majors.

(Cover Photo Credit: Cheryl Nichols/Stock Photo)

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