August 20, 2019

Washington Nationals Spring Training Preview: The Starters

This week, District Sports Page will review the players currently on the Washington Nationals 40-man roster and their potential contributions to the Major League roster this season.

Monday: Catchers
Tuesday: Infielders
Wednesday: Outfielders
Thursday: Starters
Friday: Bullpen

Max Scherzer
2014 AL: 33 games, 220.1 IP, 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 (6.0 WAR)

Scherzer, 30, led the American League in wins the past two seasons, winning the Cy Young in 2013 and placing fifth last season. He’s thrown more than 170 innings in each of the past six season, and 210-plus that past two. He is, arguably, one of the top half-dozen starters in the Major Leagues. With Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister both free agents after this season, and Stephen Strasburg after 2016, the Nats wanted to make sure they had an “ace” under contract for a long time, and Scherzer is tied up until 2021 when he’s 36 years old.

Stephen Strasburg
2014: 34 games, 215.0 IP, 14-11, 3.14 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 (3.5 WAR)

Is Strasburg the least appreciated great pitcher in the game today? Even fans of his own team wanted to leave him out of the playoff rotation last season because he “didn’t know how to win.” The bottom line is this: Strasburg led the league in strikeouts and games pitched last season. He walked fewer than two batters per nine innings. His FIP was lower than his ERA. And he finally got over the 200 inning plateau. His BABiP against was above league average and that was the only thing keeping Strasburg from achieving a more impressive W/L record. But make no mistake, he’s got elite skills.

Jordan Zimmermann
2014: 32 games, 199.2 IP, 14-5, 2.66 ERA, 1.072 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 (4.9 WAR)

Here’s the thing. If Zimmermann had gone on the 15-day DL last season after the All-Star game with the biceps strain that caused him to miss the game, instead of pitching through it and allowing eight earned runs over 8.1 IP in two starts, Zimmermann’s numbers would look even better. As it was, he led the NL in fewest walks per nine as a starter and gave up just 0.6 HR/9 (13 homers). He’ll give up a few more round-trippers this season, but since he never walks anyone the damage is limited. Fans love his bulldog mentality, but he is destined to test free agency after the season and very unlikely to stay in the District.

Doug Fister
2014: 25 games, 164.0 IP, 16-6, 2.41 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 1.3 K/9 (4.5 WAR)

Fister missed all of April last season and still put up 16 wins, generating a result in 22 of his 25 starts. Was almost as stingy with free passes as Zimmermann, but has to be since his margin of error is so much smaller. Such is the paradox of the world’s tallest (6-foot-8) finesse pitcher. He threw a higher percentage of sinkers last season than previous with a better defense behind him and it worked. Still, he works fast and limits damage as well as anyone in the bigs. As with Zimmermann, Fister’s a free agent at season’s end. Of any of the potential free agents, one could envision Fister signing a sneaky quiet extension during the season at the right price. But all the classic warning signs are there: drop in velocity, K rate, ground ball rate and swinging strike rate.

Gio Gonzalez
2014: 27 games, 158.2 IP. 10-10, 3.57 ERA, 1.197 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 (2.3 WAR)

Gonzalez led the league in wins and was third in Cy Young voting two seasons ago. He’s now the Nats No. 4 or 5 starter. That’s less a reflection on the Nats sole lefty starter than the abundance of riches the Nats have at the position right now. Gonzalez saw his walk rate drop last season – even lower than his career year in 2012. His FIP was lower than his ERA, his HR/9 was low, BABiP right at league average…so why weren’t his final boxcar numbers better? The shoulder strain he battled though certainly played a part, but when he came back was same old Gio.

Tanner Roark
2014: 31 games, 198.2 IP. 15-10, 2.85 ERA, 1.092 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 (5.1 WAR)

In his first full season in the bigs, Roark shocked everyone. Ev. Ree. One. He had displayed some promise in the minor with a heavy sinker and competitive nature, but he had never produced along the lines of what we saw last season. Underlying those results, though, are some warning signs: he significantly outperformed his FIP, his homer rate belied his FB rate, and though he’s a sinker pitcher, his ground ball rate wasn’t elite. But he’s got great control and could really thrive in a bullpen role, which is where he’ll start out this season due to the signing of Scherzer. How about that? Win 15 games, get relegated to the bullpen.

Blake Treinen
2014: 15 games, 50.2 IP. 2-3, 2.49 ERA, 1.382 WHIP, 5.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9 (1.1 WAR)

Treinen stepped in admirably for 16 starts due to assorted injury stints last season. His K rate wasn’t spectacular, but he owns a career 7.6 K/9 in the minors and with his size (6-foot-5, 215) and velocity (97) he will generate some more swings and misses. He generated ground balls at a 59 percent rate, so he’s almost a prototypical Mike Rizzo bullpen guy. He should absolutely thrive in a one-inning role this season in the mid-to-late innings.

Taylor Jordan
2014: 5 games, 25.2 IP. 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 (-0.5 WAR)

Jordan only pitched in six games in the minors last season. He broke his ankle last offseason, rushed his rehab, altered his mechanics to compensate, lost velocity – an already precious commodity – and eventually had surgery in September to remove bone spurs in his elbow. He’s a Tommy John survivor already, so it doesn’t bode well for his long-term prognosis. He’s healthy this spring and will compete for innings in Syracuse, but the Nats have several better options should they need a seventh or eighth starting pitcher this year.

A.J. Cole
2014 AA-AAA: 25 games, 134.0 IP. 13-3, 3.16 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9

Cole is the Nats No. 2 starting pitcher prospect behind Lucas Giolito, and has rightfully earned his spot in the top 60 or so prospects in all of baseball. He throws three pitches for strikes, including a heavy fastball and is knocking on the big league door at age 23. Rizzo traded Cole to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, then got him back in the Michael Morse trade the following year. Cole was a little more hittable last season split between Double-A and Triple-A, but his excellent command and control will translate to the next level. Many teams would love to have Cole as their top pitching prospect.

Taylor Hill
2014 AAA: 25 games, 144.0 IP. 11-7, 2.81, 1.118 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9

Hill, 26, is a big, soft-tossing righty and as such has a very limited ceiling. He uses a four-pitch mix to fool minor league hitters and keep them off his upper-80s fastball. Now, if you see this profile and yell “DOUG FISTER,” I don’t blame you because they sound like much the same pitcher. But guys that succeed at the Major League level with this profile are few and far between. He gave up nine earned runs in nine innings for the Nats in three games last year.

Sammy Solis
2014 Rk-A-AA-AAA: 5 games, 18 innings. 2-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.333 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 1.5 BB/9

Solis was once one of the Nats prized pitching prospects. But he was once again shut down by injury and may never realize the potential the Nats saw in him. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and back spasms started his season late last year, then in June he was shut down again due to elbow discomfort. He’s still on the 40-man, but now 26, unfortunately not everyone comes back from Tommy John surgery.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

%d bloggers like this: