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Nats rotation will be stacked again

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Nats rotation will be stacked again

As we transition into offseason mode, we'll start by breaking down the Nationals' roster by position (infield, outfield, catcher, rotation and bullpen) this week and examine where things stand at season's end and where things might stand moving forward. Today's position: The starting rotation...

RHP STEPHEN STRASBURG
Stats: 15-6, 3.16 ERA, 159.1 IP, 1.155 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
4.3 WAR
2012 salary: $3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2014, free agent in 2017
Where he fits in: Right at the top of the rotation. And straight through September (and into October, should the Nationals get that far). The Shutdown will be a huge topic of discussion all spring, but once the season gets underway, Strasburg will be free to pitch every fifth day with no restrictions (aside from running up pitch counts only Livan Hernandez is allowed to reach). One more year removed from his Tommy John surgery, the right-hander figures to be more consistent from start to start and should feel like he's still got plenty left in the tank late in the year, much as Jordan Zimmermann did this year.

LHP GIO GONZALEZ
Stats: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 199.1 IP, 1.129 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9
5.4 WAR
2012 salary: $3.25 million
Contract status: $6.25 million in 2013, $8.5 million in 2014, $11 million in 2015, $12 million in 2016, $12 million club option in 2017, $12 million player option in 2018 (guaranteed with 180 IP in 2017)
Where he fits in: Though he led the majors in wins in 2012, Gonzalez will almost certainly play second fiddle to Strasburg in 2013. That's the role the Nationals intended all along for the left-hander, who while brilliant at times is still prone to the occasional hiccup (as we saw in the postseason). Another year wiser and more comfortable against National League lineups, Gonzalez should continue to develop as a front-line starter and give the Nats as good of a 1-2 punch as there is in baseball right now.

RHP JORDAN ZIMMERMANN
Stats: 12-8, 2.94 ERA, 195.2 IP, 1.170 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
3.5 WAR
2012 salary: $2.3 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Actually, make that as good of a 1-2-3 punch as there is in baseball right now, because Zimmermann deserves to be lumped in with Strasburg and Gonzalez as front-line starters. The right-hander took another big step forward this season, throwing more innings than he ever has and showing he still had enough left in the tank to dial his fastball up to 97 mph during his surprise relief appearance in Game 4 of the NLDS. Though they still control his rights for three more years, the Nationals are going to seriously consider locking up Zimmermann to a long-term deal this winter. They've already got Strasburg and Gonzalez for at least four more years; they'd love to ensure they've got Zimmermann at least that long as well.

LHP ROSS DETWILER
Stats: 10-8, 3.40 ERA, 164.1 IP, 1.223 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
1.8 WAR
2012 salary: $485,000
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2016
Where he fits in: Perhaps the most pleasant development from the entire Nationals pitching staff this season was Detwiler's long-awaited emergence after years of teasing everyone with his potential. The left-hander proved he can get through big-league lineups three times with success, proved his arm could hold up over the long haul and proved he could thrive under pressure (witness Game 4 of the NLDS). In the process, he locked up the fourth starter's job for next year and several years to come, though his price is going to go up now that he's reached arbitration eligibility.

RHP EDWIN JACKSON
Stats: 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 189.2 IP, 1.218 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
2.7 WAR
2012 salary: $11 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: Signed to provide veteran influence, eat up innings and help fill the void when Strasburg was shut down, Jackson was brilliant times, downright ugly at others. He'd love to return in 2013, but the Nationals appear ready to look elsewhere, leaving the enigmatic right-hander to hope another club offers him the long-term deal he couldn't procure last winter.

LHP JOHN LANNAN
Stats: 4-1, 4.13 ERA, 32.2 IP, 1.439 WHIP, 4.7 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
0.5 WAR
2012 salary: $5 million
Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2014
Where he fits in: After a bizarre season, most of it spent at Class AAA Syracuse waiting just in case the Nationals needed his services, Lannan is going to once again find himself in an uncomfortable position this winter. He's still under the Nationals' control for another year, but they don't appear committed to giving him the fifth starter's job. And because he's now out of options, he can't be stashed away in the minors again. Mike Rizzo will hope Lannan's strong performance when called upon late this season prompts some trade interest. But the more plausible scenario would have the Nationals electing not to tender the lefty a contract before the Nov. 30 deadline, making him a free agent.

RHP CHIEN-MING WANG
Stats: 2-3, 6.68 ERA, 32.1 IP, 2.010 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 4.2 BB/9
-0.4 WAR
2012 salary: $4 million
Contract status: Free agent
Where he fits in: The Nationals invested three years and $8 million in this reclamation project, hoping he could make it all the way back from a major shoulder injury and recapture his 19-win form from 2006-07. In the end, Wang made more rehab starts in the minor leagues (21) than starts in the big leagues (15). They won't feel the need to take another chance on him next year.

IN THE MINORS
Last December's trade for Gonzalez stripped the Nationals of some upper-level pitching depth -- Yunesky Maya (remember him?) and Zach Duke were their best Class AAA starters -- but there is another wave of power arms creeping up the organizational ladder. Unfortunately, several of them have been sidetracked by injuries, including left-handers Matt Purke (shoulder) and Sammy Solis (elbow) and 2012 first-round draft pick Lucas Giolito (elbow). The best of the healthy bunch is Alex Meyer, a tall right-hander selected in 2011 with one of the compensation picks the Nats received for losing Adam Dunn to free agency. Meyer went a combine 10-6 with a 2.86 ERA at low-Class A Hagerstown and high-Class A Potomac. He'll probably start 2013 at Class AA Harrisburg and could theoretically be in the big leagues by September. One of the most successful starters in the system early this season was Danny Rosenbaum, though the lefty faded significantly during the second half at Harrisburg. One interesting name to keep an eye on: Ryan Perry, who appeared out of the bullpen in D.C. during the season but was sent to Class AA to convert into a starter and wound up posting a 2.84 ERA in 13 games. Another bright spot was right-hander Nate Karns, who returned from a torn labrum to go 11-4 with a 2.17 ERA at Hagerstown and Potomac and was named organizational pitcher of the year.

OFFSEASON NEED?
Though it remains the backbone of this team and its biggest strength, the Nationals rotation still needs a boost during the offseason. With Jackson likely headed elsewhere, Rizzo will look to add another veteran arm to the mix, perhaps offering a multi-year deal for the right pitcher. That yet-to-be-determined No. 5 starter will take up the back end of what should by all rights be the majors' best rotation in 2013, with an unfettered Strasburg leading the charge.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low. 

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