Spring Training Preview, Part III: Starting Pitchers
by Kyle Mann
Coming off a Major League Baseball-best 3.03 starters ERA, the Washington Nationals added 2013 American League Cy Young Award Winner Max Scherzer to a starting staff that is now projected to feature five members with Top-10 Cy Young Award finishes since 2012.
*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.
2014 Season Totals: 18-5, 3.15 ERA, 2.85 FIP, 10.29 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, 5.6 fWAR in 220.1 IP
2015 Steamer Projection: 14-8, 2.91 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 10.46 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 3.9 fWAR in 192.0 IP
Even in a rotation full of aces, Scherzer stands out due to his impressive resume that includes the 2013 American League Cy Young Award and a fifth-place Cy Young finish in 2014. Scherzer, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-hander, also has two straight All-Star appearances, earning the starting nod in 2013 and winning the game out of the bullpen last season.
Now back in the National League, where he started his career as a first round pick of then-Diamondbacks Vice President of Scouting Operations (and current Nationals President of Baseball Operations and GM) Mike Rizzo, Scherzer is poised to continue his success in 2015 and beyond. Scherzer, baseball’s active leader (and fourth all-time) in strikeouts per nine innings pitched, also led the AL in wins each of the last two seasons (tied in 2014) and was a top three finisher in in strikeouts each of the past three years.
2014 Season Totals: 14-5, 2.66 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 8.20 K/9, 1.31 BB/9, 5.2 fWAR in 199.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 13-9, 3.39 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 7.65 K/9, 1.72 BB/9, 2.9 fWAR in 182.0 IP
A model of consistency, Jordan Zimmermann has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the Major Leagues the past four seasons. After tying for the NL lead in wins and finishing seventh in the Cy Young Award voting in 2013, Zimmermann followed up his first All-Star season with an even better 2014.
Zimmermann’s no-hitter to end the regular season was certainly the highlight, but Zimmermann was dominant all year. Zimmermann twice won NL Player of the Week honors and allowed the fewest walks per nine innings in the league, en route to a fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting. Known for being a bulldog on the mound, Zimmermann finished second in the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio and fourth in WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and finished behind only National League MVP and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in fielding independent pitching (FIP) —a key indicator of future performance.
2014 Season Totals: 14-11, 3.14 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 10.13 K/9, 1.80 BB/9, 4.3 fWAR in 215.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 13-8, 3.03 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 9.78 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 3.8 fWAR in 182.0 IP
Since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of San Diego State University, Stephen Strasburg has established himself as one of the game’s most talented pitchers. Last season, Strasburg led the National League in strikeouts and games started behind a dominating fastball that averaged 94.8 mph and a change-up that averaged 88.2 miles per hour.
Strasburg struck out 10.13 batters per nine innings, good for second in the NL, on his way to a ninth-place finish in the Cy Young Award balloting. Thanks to a reduction in walk rate, Strasburg improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio from 3.41 in 2013 to 5.63 last season, good for second in the National League. Strasburg has been the Nationals’ Opening Day starter each of the past three seasons and served as the Game 1 starter in the 2014 playoffs — and at just 26, is still improving — but it remains to be seen where he’ll slot in this rotation at the start of the 2015 campaign.
2014 Season Totals: 16-6, 2.41 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 5.38 K/9, 1.32 BB/9, 1.3 fWAR in 164.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 12-10, 3.78 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 6.20 K/9, 1.82 BB/9, 2.1 fWAR in 182.0 IP
In his inaugural season in Washington, Doug Fister had the best ERA among all Nationals starters, and his 2.41 ERA was good for fourth best in the National League. Considering he may head into 2015 as a possible fourth starter in the rotation, D.C. has plenty of reasons to be excited about the team’s chances during the 2015 season. With a quick tempo and a four-pitch mix that perplexed hitters all season long, Fister improved his ERA every month of the season on his way to an eighth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award voting. Finishing behind only teammate Jordan Zimmermann in the NL in walks per nine innings, Fister’s control is the key to his success. After flourishing in his first season in the nation’s capital, Fister is poised for another great season for the Nationals in 2015.
2014 Season Totals: 10-10, 3.57 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 9.19 K/9, 3.18 BB/9, 3.1 fWAR in 158.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 11-9, 3.70 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 8.68 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 2.0 fWAR in 163.0 IP
The lone southpaw in the Nationals’ batch of starters, Gio Gonzalez enters 2015 coming off a strong September where he posted a 2.48 ERA and had 31 strikeouts and only five walks. Overall, his effectiveness in 2014 was masked by an ERA more than a half run higher than his FIP, which could indicate a return to some of the numbers the Hialeah, Fla. native posted during his 21-win 2012 campaign. The two-time All-Star is sixth among active pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings and sixth among active MLB lefties in career ERA, with an uptick in numbers since joining the Nationals three seasons ago. Gonzalez could be in line for a strong 2015, particularly if he continues to develop his change-up, a pitch he threw with more regularity in the second half of the season.
2014 Season Totals: 15-10, 2.85 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 6.25 K/9, 1.77 BB/9, 3.0 fWAR in 198.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 2-2, 4.10 ERA, 4.13 FIP, 6.44 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 38.0 IP
Part of the package the Nationals received for Cristian Guzman in a 2010 trade, Tanner Roark finished the 2014 season with 15 wins and a 2.85 ERA, proving his strong rookie season was no fluke. While Roark’s 2015 role isn’t yet clear, he’s shown he can be very successful as a starter, or coming out of the bullpen, including 22.2 innings in 2013 in which he posted a 1.19 ERA. After finishing last season in the Top 10 in the National League in wins, WHIP, walks per inning pitched and pitching WAR, Roark provides great rotation depth for the Nationals and should easily beat his Steamer projections if he gets regular work. As the old saying goes, you can never have too much pitching, and Roark has shown he will provide value no matter how he is used in 2015.
2014 Season Totals: 2-3, 2.49 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 5.33 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR in 50.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 2-2, 3.55 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 6.83 K/9, 2.17 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR in 45.0 IP
A key part of the three-team trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle before the 2013 season — a deal that also netted the Nationals A.J. Cole and Ian Krol (later an integral part of the trade for Doug Fister) — Blake Treinen’s blazing fastball generated a lot of buzz in D.C. during his first taste of the Major Leagues. After posting an outstanding 2.49 ERA in 15 appearances (seven starts) with the Nationals in 2014, Treinen is an option to provide rotation depth, or be utilized out of the Nationals bullpen. A former college walk-on, Treinen threw his hard, sinking fastball nearly 80 percent of the time last season with an average speed of 94.8 miles per hour. Regardless of role, Treinen should be a solid contributor for the Nationals in 2015.
2014 Season Totals: 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 5.96 K/9, 2.81 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR in 25.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 3.79 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 6.45 K/9, 2.14 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR in 20.0 IP
After a successful rookie season in 2013, Taylor Jordan began the year in the Nationals rotation before returning to Triple-A Syracuse in early May. The young right-hander underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow in September, and began the process of working toward this spring. A groundball pitcher, the Merritt Island, Fla. native has induced a 56 percent groundball rate during his time in the Majors, peaking at 57.5 percent during his 2013 campaign, in which he posted a 3.66 ERA. Provided he’s healthy to start the season, Jordan should be ready to contribute in the role and the level the Nationals feel will be his best fit.
2014 Season Totals: 0-1, 9.00 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 5.00 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 0.1 fWAR in 9.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 3.88 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 5.69 K/9, 1.65 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 30.0 IP
A sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt University, Taylor Hill made his Major League debut for the Nationals in June and earned his first big league start in September of last season. While Hill ran into some tough luck during his brief MLB stint, he produced an outstanding 2.81 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse in 144 innings. Hill provides great starting rotation depth for the Nationals.
2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 0-0, 4.14 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 6.99 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 1.0 IP
Ranked as the Nationals’ No. 2 prospect by MLB.com, A.J. Cole features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s as well as a solid changeup and curveball. After being selected as a fourth-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Cole was included in the haul to acquire All-Star Gio Gonzalez from the Oakland Athletics in December 2011. But the Nationals have always been high on Cole, who was reacquired by the Nationals in January 2013 as the centerpiece of the Michael Morse trade. After a successful 2014 season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse, in which he combined for a 3.16 ERA and 111 strikeouts over 134 innings, Cole enters Spring Training with a chance to contribute to the Nationals at some point during the 2015 season.
2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 0-0, 4.48 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 6.86 K/9, 3.96 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 1.0 IP
Acquired with Jose Lobaton and Drew Vettleson last spring for Nathan Karns, Felipe Rivero is a hard throwing southpaw who can hit 97 mph with his fastball. He complements that offering with a curveball and a change-up, both which show promise. The native of Venezuela struck out 8.4 batters per nine innings across three levels in 2014, ending his season with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. If Rivero improves his command, the 23-year-old projects as left-handed starter in the majors, but also has potential as a left-handed stopper in the bullpen.
2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 0-0, 4.06 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 7.16 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 1.0 IP
A 6-foot-5 left-hander, Sammy Solis has pitched well when healthy. Solis has an impressive 3.33 ERA over the course of his Minor League career with 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings, and features a fastball that can touch 95 miles per hour to go with a solid change-up. A former second-round draft pick out of the University of San Diego, Solis has the chance to move through the Nationals’ system quickly.