Washington Nationals Depth Chart: The Rotation

The Washington Nationals have such an embarrassment of riches in their starting pitching rotation, there has actually been talk of trading wunderkind Stephen Strasburg because, well, they could probably get away with it. Take your pick of #1 starters here, because all five could be featured at the top of the rotation for many teams. Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez make up their normal rotation, making the odd man out a 3-win pitcher from 2014 named Tanner Roark.

The smart money is on one of these pitchers being moved in Spring or early in the season in order to address other needs, or perhaps to start saving for the 20 years of salary they owe Max Scherzer. But for now, the Nationals have kind of a dream-team of starters to trot out there and mow down opponents for 2015. Any of these five are roster-worthy in even the shallowest of 10-man formats and fully three of them could anchor your fantasy staff.

Let’s start with Max Scherzer since he’s now worth a quarter billion dollars. Scherzer of course comes over from the Detroit Tigers where he put up 16.5 wins above replacement over the span of three seasons. In fantasy speak, Scherzer can really do it all: low ERA, low WHIP, and big strikeouts. And his move to the National League ought to buoy his strikeout numbers as he doesn’t have to face that middle of the order batter who is employed only to hit baseballs.

Steamer pegs Scherzer for a 2.91 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and a 28.5% strikeout rate. I could actually see that strikeout rate flirt with 30%, although I’d say a 2.91 ERA might be a little bullish. It’s worth mentioning that Scherzer is going to be 31 by August and his velocity has gradually declined for three seasons straight. Going with it are a smattering of strikeouts, with his K rate moving from a career high 29.4% in 2012 to 28.7% in 2013 to 27.9% last year. But if 27.9% is a low, you’re doing pretty well for yourself.

For drafting purposes, Scherzer might not even be the first Nationals pitcher off the board. Currently, Stephen Strasburg appears to slightly have an edge in terms of ADP, but just by a hair. Strasburg had probably his finest season last year — and I say probably because he’s been pretty darn awesome for three seasons straight. The major step forward in 2014 was his ability to reduce the free pass, with his walk rate dropping from 7.7% to a stingy 5%. He was more hittable last season than in 2013, however, and his fastball wasn’t quite as effective as it has been in the past as far as pitch values go. But he leaned on his change a little more in 2014, and it remains his most valuable pitch going forward. Steamer has Strasburg at about 10 K/9 with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP, which sounds perfectly reasonable to me. The question fantasy owners have to ask is if that’s worth a second or third round pick as he appears to be about the fifth starter off the board and there’s still a lot of quality behind him in the draft.

Speaking of quality, Jordan Zimmermann stands as perhaps the #3 starter and he had a lower ERA and WHIP than the above arms described. Zimmermann is coming off a career year (if you’re not counting wins, which you shouldn’t be) after posting a 2.66 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. He doesn’t strike the world out like Strasburg and Scherzer, but a 23% K rate isn’t anything to scoff at, although his career rate sits at 20.2%. It’s not mystical what’s coming from Zimmermann as he offers up 70% fastballs and the rest are almost always sliders — yet he’s been murder on right handed batters in his career and he started to solve lefties in 2014 to boot. Certainly not as flashy as #1 and #2, but Zimmermann could wind up being the most valuable starter at the end of the season, and he’s likely going to be available three or four rounds later.

So that leaves us with the back end inning-eating chumps Doug Fister and (Ronnie James) Gio Gonzalez. The former who was just 6th in the league in overall ERA and had a WHIP better than Corey Kluber. The latter is just a two time All-Star who finished third in Cy Young voting just a couple years ago, and when having a “down year” still comes in over 3 WAR. Fister is certainly not the strikeout guy you’re looking for and yes, he significantly outperformed his predictors (2.41 ERA vs. 3.93 FIP) in 2014 but he has a long track record of solid ERA’s and low WHIP’s in large part due to great control, a great cut fastball and a terrific change, inducing oodles of ground balls. If you’re well anchored with strikeouts, Fister could be a terrific late addition (ADP sitting in the 150’s) to keep your WHIP low and with any degree of luck, your ERA in check and a nice shot at 15 wins.

Getting selected a few rounds ahead of Fister is Gonzalez, who Steamer puts at a 3.70 ERA (3.59 FIP) with a 1.27 WHIP and 23% strikeout rate, predicting his worst season since 2009. Gonzalez might walk a lot of people, and he had some truly awful starts last year, but he’s likely to net you 190 strikeouts if he can pitch 200 innings. He may not have had terrific counting stats by the end of the season, but don’t forget that his second half FIP was just 2.73 and he had an extremely effective September, finally finding his control. There’s no guarantee that spills over into 2015, but for a guy that can put up big strikeout numbers who is available in the 120’s or so, he’s a pretty decent risk to take if you got shut out on the other high-K arms early on.

Lastly, Tanner Roark is still getting drafted in the mid-200’s but right now he doesn’t have much in the way of a role on your fantasy roster. But the Nationals maintain he’s preparing to start in the Spring, so stay tuned. He could be a real sneaky stash should he wriggle his way into the rotation via trade or injury. Roark posted a 2.85 ERA (3.47 FIP) and 1.09 WHIP pitching out of the #5 slot in 2014, using a solid cut fastball along with a nice repertoire of slider, curve, change to keep batters on their toes. He’s not overwhelming and he’ll probably not post strikeout rates north of 18%, but if he can land a starting gig, you could certainly do much worse at the back end of your rotation.





Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Werpster
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Werpster

I think AJ Cole may be condemned to the minors forever.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman

I’d say AJ Cole is a VERY solid bet to come up as a reliever in the spring/summer and get entrusted with some 7th or even 8th innings.

JCCfromDC
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JCCfromDC

Remember that Zimmermann & Fister are both FA after the season, and Strasburg after next. Cole will get his chance, one way or another.