4.79 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 0.4 WAR
One of the few roster battles this spring laid within the starting rotation, with A.J. Cole coming out on top. He did not blow the Nats away, but pitched well enough to at least begin the season in the rotation.
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Cole joined the Nats organization as a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, the same year Bryce Harper and Sammy Solis were drafted, but 2017 was his first impactful season in the majors. In 11 appearances (eight starts), the former top prospect pitched to a solid 3.81 ERA.
Now, Cole will be on the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career.
Although Cole pitched well in 2017, FanGraphs expects him to regress quite a bit. According to the FanGraphs Steamer projection, his ERA will jump almost a whole point. Unfortunately for the Nats, this appears plausible.
Last year, despite having a sub-four ERA, Cole had a 5.20 FIP. He had a good year, but he was likely the beneficiary of great defense.
Cole also struggled to harness his control this spring. He issued seven walks in four appearances and was hit hard after falling behind several other hitters. If he is not able to improve his command, he may not last long in the rotation.
Jeremy Hellickson will not be on the Opening Day roster, but he could potentially replace Cole in the rotation. Hellickson signed late in spring training, so he is not quite ready to pitch in the bigs, but he impressed in his first spring outing.
If Hellickson continues to pitch well, he could find himself in the Nats’ rotation by May.
Although FanGraphs projects regression for most of the Nats’ rotation, they are in good shape. These projections are often fairly conservative, and the Nats have some of the best pitchers in the league. If they are able to remain healthy, the Nats should have an elite rotation once again.