Washington Nationals starting pitcher Tanner Roark has been one of the best pitchers in the league over the last few years. However, he has not received the attention he deserves.
In 2010, the Washington Nationals traded two-time All-Star Cristian Guzman to the Texas Rangers in a deal that brought Tanner Roark to the nation’s capital. Little was made of it at the time. However, it turned out to be one of the best transactions in Nationals history. Despite this, it is one that few people know or talk about when discussing the rise of the Nationals.
Roark spent three seasons in the Washington farm system (including three additional seasons in the Texas farm system) before securing a starting pitcher role with the Nats in 2014. He took full advantage of the opportunity, and posted a 2.85 ERA in 198.2 innings.
After spending time between a starting role and the bullpen in 2015, Roark gained the trust of new skipper Dusty Baker, who took the leash off the following year. Roark responded dominantly. He finished 9th in the MLB in innings pitched (210.0), 6th in ERA (2.83) and tied for 10th in wins (16).
Roark did regress in 2017, posting a 4.67 ERA in 181.1 innings. Some advanced metrics say Roark pitched better than his ERA suggests, but it was a down year nonetheless. His home run rate increased, and his runners left on base percentage (LOB%) declined over 13% from 2016.
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Ever since his emergence with the Nationals, Tanner Roark has been a stalwart player. He is a grinder, a gamer, and will push himself hard in a baseball game (even when his actual abilities cannot keep up). For this reason, he deserves more respect among Nationals fans.
ESPN Senior Writer Eddie Matz wrote a short piece on Roark during the 2016 season. Matz’s article is an excellent testament to how rough Roark had it in 2015, and how he was able to bounce back. It is well worth a read.
Another word to describe Tanner Roark would be consistent. Despite his partial bullpen role in 2015, Roark has started the third-most games (106) among Nats pitchers since 2014. Not coincidentally, his mark of 701 innings pitched ranks second.
Roark has been able to do this, in part, due to his immaculate durability (and likely his ability to battle through ailments). Believe it or not, Tanner Roark has spent a total of zero days on a disabled list. Don’t believe it? Check out his foxsports.com injury page.
Here’s one other cool tidbit on Roark: In his tenure with the Nats, Roark has 30 instances of going at least seven innings while allowing zero or one earned runs. In Nationals franchise history, he ranks fifth in that category. If the criteria are set to at least seven innings of shutout baseball, Roark is tied for fourth place with Jordan Zimmermann, both of whom did it 16 times.
Nats fans often overlook how genuinely great Roark has been with the team. In his time as a Nat, Roark has a 3.41 ERA. For comparison, that ranks fifth among Nats starting pitchers (out of 13 total) with at least 250 innings pitched. He is in front of pitchers such as Gio Gonzalez (3.49) and Livan Hernandez (4.32).
When thinking of Nationals pitching over the past six years, which pitchers come to mind? Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are likely the first two (and deservingly so). The next two likely popular options are Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
This leaves Tanner Roark as the odd man out. Not to discredit the other great Nationals, but it is a disservice to what Roark accomplished after everything he went through. He has done more for the Nationals franchise than most people realize.
It is time that he get the credit he deserves as one of the best pitchers in Washington Nationals history.