Washington Nationals 2016 Player Preview: Tanner Roark

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Mar 26, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (left) talks with Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark (right) before a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos (left) talks with Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark (right) before a spring training game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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What should the expectations be for Tanner Roark as he re-enters the Washington Nationals rotation?

Last season was an up-and-down year for right-handed pitcher Tanner Roark. After being in the starting rotation in 2014, Roark moved to the bullpen due to the signing of Max Scherzer. In 40 games (12 starts), the 29-year-old went 4-7 with a 4.38 ERA over the course of 111 innings.

Out of the 12 starts that he did make, Roark went 3-4 with a 4.82 ERA and only made it into the sixth inning or better in five of those games. However, now with Jordan Zimmerman and Doug Fister no longer in DC and Yusmeiro Petit signed as the new long man, Roark is back in the rotation for 2016.

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So far this spring, Roark is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA in four games (three starts). In his last outing against the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, he went five innings, gave up no runs on six hits, struck out four batters, and walked one. While Roark hasn’t thrown six or seven innings in a game late, he has shown good control of his pitches. Out of all of the Nats’ starting pitchers, he has the fewest amount of walks (three in 14 innings).

With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg the top two in this rotation, there isn’t much pressure on Roark to duplicate his 2014 season in which he went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA over the course of 31 starts. During that season, he was second on the team in wins (Fister had 16), third in innings pitched (198.2), second in ERA (Fister – 2.41), and fourth in strikeouts.

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While Roark is not a high-volume strikeout kind of pitcher, he also isn’t one to induce groundball outs. Back in 2014, his groundball percentage of 41.4% (according to Fangraphs) was the second lowest of any Nationals’ starting pitcher behind Zimmermann (40.1%).

It will be interesting to watch Roark this season as he continues to get back into the mindset of being a starting pitcher and getting back to a familiar routine. So far, he has definitely made a good first impression on Dusty Baker and the coaching staff, especially after getting out of key jams yesterday, such as runners on the corners in the first inning and one out:

"“Everybody can’t do that. You don’t win 15 games. I don’t understand how you win 15 and go to the bullpen.” (h/t Mark Zuckerman, MASNSports.com)"

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If you look at both Fangraphs’ Steamer and Baseball Reference’s player projections for Roark, they both have him winning under ten games. If he is in the rotation long year and makes 25+ starts, I think Roark can win at least ten games.

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In this rotation with Scherzer, Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, there won’t be that high of expectations on him or Joe Ross, which should work to Roark’s advantage. While I don’t think Roark is going to equal his 2014 season, he is a player that can be an X-Factor for the Washington Nationals if he returns to that level.

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