This is a segment that I’ve called “predictions” in previous seasons, but there really aren’t any questions about the Washington Nationals 25-man roster going into 2013. We’ll take a couple of posts to remind you who the key players are to the Nationals upcoming season what they’ll need to do to be successful. We start today with the starting pitchers, because if the Nats are going to be successful, it all starts here.
Last season, the starting pitchers avoided a single injury to the core rotation, which is unbelievably uncommon. Statistical probability says the team won’t be quite so lucky this year. However, if they’re able to stay healthy, this is undoubtedly the best rotation in baseball once again.
1. Stephen Strasburg – Strasburg is, without question, the ace of this rotation. He’s coming off of an extremely solid season with a 3.16 ERA, an even more impressive 2.82 FIP, and a 4.3 WAR. The one issue was his innings, obviously, considering his much-discussed shutdown in mid-September. The Nationals have publicly said he won’t be on a limit this year, but I do expect they will be a bit cautious. Don’t expect Strasburg to throw many, if any, complete games unless he’s pitching historically well (see: no-hitter, perfect game), nor should you expect him to wind up with 240 innings. I do expect his numbers to be at least as good as last season, though.
2. Gio Gonzalez – By all indications from ESPN’s Outside The Lines report, Gonzalez did not receive PEDs from Biogenesis and Dr. Anthony Bosch, so the Nats can look forward to putting this nasty matter behind them once they get official word that MLB’s investigation didn’t turn up anything. The team can lock in Gio as their starter for Game 2 on April 3. They’ll hope to get similar production from him, and his 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, and 5.4 WAR are definitely great numbers to strive for.
3. Jordan Zimmermann – One of the team’s most underrated players, Zimmermann finally got some recognition in mid-to-late summer when he posted some truly ludicrous July numbers: 0.97 ERA, 2.09 FIP, and 0.84 WHIP. His end-of-season numbers weren’t too bad either: 2.94 WHIP, 3.51 FIP, 3.5 WAR. Zimmermann finally had a chance to put in a full season’s worth of innings after he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and it’s clear how valuable he has become to the team.
He’s among the best number three pitchers in the game, and he signed a nice one-year/$5.35 million deal for 2013 to avoid arbitration. You’d expect the Nationals would like to try signing him long term, but it’s becoming more and more clear that JZimm may make some serious dough in free agency considering recent deals like the one Zack Greinke signed with the Dodgers. The team may have some trouble getting a hometown discount for the Wisconsin native, especially considering his added experience should make 2013 a very good year for him.
4. Ross Detwiler – Detwiler was widely regarded as the best number five starter in baseball in 2012, so he’ll have a lot to live up to this season, especially since he’s moving up in the rotation. Moving Detwiler to the number four is the right move given his recent performances at the MLB level. I expect Detwiler to continue challenging hitters with his fastball like he did last season, and his 3.40 ERA to be about the same and his 4.04 WHIP to come down a tick to below 4.00.
5. Dan Haren – Haren’s acquisition this offseason was yet another shrewd move by Nats GM Mike Rizzo. Haren had back problems last year with the Angels, which caused him to put up career-worst numbers since he became a full-time MLB starter in 2005. If he’s healthy, however, Haren is a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. In the five seasons before his down, and injured, 2012, Haren posted a cumulative 3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 8.1 K/9. If the Nats get anywhere near that with Haren throwing against other number five pitchers, the team will be in excellent shape. It all depends on his health, which Haren claims is a non-issue entering this season.
This team has very few weak links, but the success of the team will largely depend on the health of these five players.
Next edition: Bullpen preview