The Nationals’ Search For Pitching

Now that they’ve traded for Gio Gonzalez and signed Edwin Jackson, the Nationals’ projected rotation looks significantly stronger than it did in 2011. Last year, Washington’s rotation included Livan Hernandez and Jason Marquis, along with Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Stephen Strasburg and Chien-Ming Wang. I wasn’t overly impressed with GM Mike Rizzo’s offseason additions at this point last offseason. 

“It's a passable rotation, but the Nationals had hoped for more,” I wrote on January 31st, 2011. “If and when they start winning, luring free agent arms to D.C. will likely be easier, but Rizzo has a challenge before him until then.”

One year later, the Nationals have upgraded their rotation in a meaningful way by adding young, hard-throwing pitchers with upside. Hernandez was 36 last year and Marquis was 32. In their places, the rotation now features Jackson and Gonzalez, who are entering their age-28 and age-26 seasons, respectively. Hernandez’s average fastball was just shy of 84mph in 2011 and Marquis’ average fastball checked in at 89.3 mph. Jackson and Gonzalez are among the game’s hardest-throwing starters, as are Strasburg and Zimmermann (all four had an average fastball of at least 92 mph in '11).

The Nationals’ rotation posted respectable numbers in categories such as ERA (3.80, 11th in MLB) and walk rate (2.6 BB/9, 8th in MLB) last year. But it was below average in other categories, such as strikeout rate (5.7 K/9, 29th in MLB).  

Only two teams obtained fewer innings from their starters than Washington in 2011, and no Nationals starter threw 200 innings. As Rizzo noted yesterday, six of the eight 2011 playoff teams had at least two starters reach the 200 inning plateau. Jackson has averaged 200 innings per season since 2008 and Gonzalez has completed 200 innings in both of the past two seasons, so the Nationals added more than youth and velocity to their starting corps — they added durability without sacrificing upside. 

The Nationals were linked to Mark Buehrle before he signed with the Marlins for $58MM and to C.J. Wilson before he signed with the Angels for $77.5MM, so it’s worth noting that Jackson’s deal is for only $11MM. Considering that MLBTR ranked Jackson just behind Wilson and ahead of Buehrle at the beginning of the offseason, the deal seems like a particularly good one for the Nationals.

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