A tremendous 2016 from Tanner Roark piles on the expectations in 2017. The Washington Nationals starter seeks to do just that.
As he filled in for an ailing Stephen Strasburg as the team’s second starter, Roark won 16, tossed a career-high 210 innings and earned the start for Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. With a WAR score of 5.5 and a tenth place finish in the NL Cy Young vote, how does he build on that for 2017?
Now 30, Roark is at his prime peak. If the Nats are to make a deep run this fall, he has to play a huge role. His 2.83 ERA last year was sixth in the NL while his 7.414 H/9 ratio was ninth. Coming close on those numbers again is a good start.
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The key, however, might be his workload. With the closer role at the end of games undefined, it will be essential for Roark, along with Strasburg and Max Scherzer, to go as deep as possible into starts. Last year, he averaged close to seven full innings a start. Overall, he was fourth in the league in innings pitched.
Asking him to go deeper is unlikely in today’s game, but maintaining that level of efficiency is crucial. A contact pitcher, he must keep the ball in the yard. Last year, he did that, allowing 17 home runs in 34 games.
If Roark is a student of his own video, he should pay attention to his 2016 second half, particularly September. Although he posted identical 8-5 records in each half, his ERA dropped from 3.01 to 2.60 as his opponent’s batting average plunged from .244 to .207.
The on-base percentage remained constant, .309 the first half to .304 the second, but his batting average for balls in play—BAbip—dropped from .304 to .234. More amazing when you consider his K/9 rate went from 7.8 to 6.8. His stuff drew contact and into outs.
In September, the batting average hit .189 as the BAbip reached .233. Those numbers win you Cy Young Awards. With the amount of talent at the front of the rotation, opposing managers will share nightmares against the Nats.
Roark’s success is genuine. He trusts his stuff can get hitters out even when they make contact. After a rocky start in the playoffs, fueled by nerves, he enters this season achieving most of what he set out to do.
He bounced back last year after injuries in 2015 and stepped up when Strasburg went on the disabled list. Now is about establishing dominance on his own terms. Because he is not the strikeout pitcher Scherzer and Strasburg are, he causes other teams to plan differently. His craftiness is his biggest asset.
Whatever the Nats accomplish this year, Roark plays a huge role. He is too good not to.