Where Does Lane Thomas Go From Here?

After a 2023 season as the Nationals’ best hitter, Lane Thomas has undeniably struggled in 2024. If we break down the good and the bad, is Lane still a viable option with Dylan Crews and James Wood on the horizon?
Apr 14, 2024; Oakland, California, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas (28) stands in
Apr 14, 2024; Oakland, California, USA; Washington Nationals outfielder Lane Thomas (28) stands in / Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Lane Thomas had a good season last year. Putting together a 20/20 season with 28 homers and 20 stolen bases, Thomas showed his ability to be a solid everyday outfielder for the Nationals. 

On the surface, he was a decent option offensively, slashing .268/.315/.468 with a 114 OPS+. He also fell into the 94th percentile in sprint speed and made smart baserunning decisions. Underneath these stats, however, the cracks were already starting to show. 

The biggest flaw in Lane’s game last year was his plate discipline. With a 25.8% K rate and a 5.3% walk rate, he clearly struggled to take pitches effectively and see the ball well. Much of this was owed to difficulty with following breaking pitches, with a 30.6% Whiff rate and a .290 WOBA on breaking balls in 2023. 

Unfortunately, many of these same issues have carried over into this year. 

Thomas is currently hitting below the Mendoza line with a .179 and struggling to get on base, with a .225 WOBA. He has hit two home runs and— credit where it’s due— has already stolen 10 bases in 84 ABs. So he’s still making well-times stealing decisions when he gets on base and has maintained his speed, but his .497 OPS is definitely not what the Nationals want out of their everyday RF. 

This is where the carryover from 2023 comes into play. Lane continues to be completely decimated by breaking pitches, with an xBA of .183 and an xWOBA of .225 when seeing any breaking balls. 

While he has mildly improved upon his strikeout and walk rates, having 21.3% and 6.7% in these categories respectively, it’s still not enough of an improvement to demonstrate clear discipline. 

Thomas has definitely improved his ability to not chase or whiff in this young season, falling in the 81st and 86th percentiles, but with sub-40% Sweet Spot and Hard Hit rates, even when he is making contact, he’s not doing much damage. 

He has also continued to struggle with his range covering the outfield as he did last year, with -2 OAA and -2 defensive run value. 

So what should the Nationals do? 

The immediate answer: continue to help him attempt to improve during these struggles and see if they can get a reasonable return at the trade deadline. 

Lane was a big part of the Nationals’ 2023 season and could definitely break out of this slump down the road enough to make a case to a contending— or on the brink of contending—  team and net the Nationals a decent prospect or two and fill out a farm system that proves to be more top-heavy with each passing season. 

With the promotions of top prospects James Wood and Dylan Crews on the horizon, Lane will likely not have much of a place outside of a platoon bat, especially considering the current success of Jesse Winker and the eventual return of Stone Garrett. 

The best approach is to simply see if he can break out of this slump, then do what many fans expected last year and explore what options exist for him on the trade market. 

With several promising outfield prospects looking to arrive in the near future, Lane Thomas should go somewhere he can consistently be utilized, and fill out the Nationals farm system as a result.