Washington Nationals: Tanner Roark on His Way to Cementing Himself Among MLB Elite

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Mar 5, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark (57) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark (57) delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark is coming off a career year and will be representing the U.S. at the World Baseball Classic. Is it safe to consider him one of the best pitchers in baseball?

The Washington Nationals have been one of the best regular season teams in the majors over the last five years, winning three NL East titles. In each of their last two division-winning seasons, only one player has ranked within the top three in WAR among players on the team: Tanner Roark.

Roark, a 30-year-old right-hander, was acquired by the Nats in 2010 in a trade deadline deal that sent utility infielder Cristian Guzman to the Texas Rangers. A former 25th round pick, Roark wasn’t regarded as a very valuable piece at the time.

A full-time starter for just the second year of his career last season, Roark made a case to be considered among the top pitchers in baseball. He threw 210 innings and finished the year with a 2.83 ERA and 173 strikeouts. He led all qualified starters with the lowest hard-contact percentage and placed tenth in NL Cy Young voting. Now, he’s just days away from most likely facing the Dominican Republic in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.

Only nine starters in the MLB have posted an ERA+ of at least 131 twice over the past three seasons. Roark is one of them (Play Index required). Strikeout artists and flamethrowers receive most of the attention these days, but Roark’s been one of the most quietly productive starters when given the opportunity to pitch every five days.

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After beating out fellow righty Taylor Jordan for the number five spot in the rotation during spring training ahead of the 2014 season, Roark proceeded to toss nearly 200 innings in a breakout year.

He finished the campaign with a 15-10 record and 2.85 ERA, but it wasn’t enough for him to keep his spot in the rotation the following year. Washington acquired former Cy Young winner Max Scherzer in a blockbuster move, pushing Roark to a bullpen role.

Roark struggled with the hybrid job, making 40 appearances (12 starts) but slipped to a 4.38 ERA while posting a career-low 5.7 K/9. However, he never vocalized his displeasure or made excuses for his drop in production. A spot opened up for him in the rotation once again last season when Jordan Zimmermann departed via free agency, and he quietly stepped back into the role and got to work.

With three more years left on his contract, Roark still has plenty of time to prove to the rest of baseball just how valuable he can be. He’s still in the middle of his prime and is an unexpected vital piece to the Nats’ success moving forward.

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With three more years left on his contract, Roark still has plenty of time to prove to the rest of baseball just how valuable he can be. He’s still in the middle of his prime and is an unexpected vital piece to the Nats’ success moving forward.

While he has yet to receive the national recognition that other stars do for equally impressive performances, perhaps the WBC will shed some light on just how good he can be.

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