With the injuries to pitchers, Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson, the performance of Tanner Roark is key to the Washington Nationals quest for another division title.
Before the 2018 season District on Deck contributor, Drew Douglas indicated that Roark would be a good candidate for a bounce-back season. In 2017, Roark had his highest ERA (4.67), however, he had a FIP of 4.16.
What does the lower FIP tell us? It tells us that he actually pitched better than his numbers indicated. In 2017 Roark struggled, but he may have also been unlucky.
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Fast forward to June and Tanner Roark has had a solid start to the 2018 campaign. He has been a reliable arm in the Washington Nationals rotation. In fact, he is second in quality starts (10) and has pitched at least six innings in 12 of 13 starts.
The only pitcher better: Cy Young candidate, Max Scherzer.
So what has made Roark so successful this season?
During spring training Roark worked to modify his delivery. He told Jamal Collier of MLB.com the goal was to simplify it.
"“Simple, so you don’t have to think too much,” Roark said of his new delivery. “You don’t have to worry about much. If something is off mechanics-wise, it should be an easy fix.”"
By simplifying his mechanics he has been able to make any necessary adjustments during the game. By correcting any mistakes on the mound it has allowed him to successfully pitch in and out of trouble more often. As can be seen, him stranding 76.6% runners on base.
Roark has sacrificed some velocity off his fastball (down from 92.8 to 91.7 mph). This has led to greater movement of his pitches. In particular his sinker, which he throws with a two-seam grip, a pitch that he has relied on heavily (37%) this season.
Finally has seen his hits (7.2 H/9) and walks (2.8 BB/9) allowed return to numbers that are similar to his best season in 2016. Opponents are hitting .216 against Roark, and he has impressive 1.11 WHIP after the first two and a half months.
After a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, manager Clint Hurdle told AP:
"“Well, there’s a guy that’s won over 50 games since 2014,” Hurdle said. “The guy can pitch. And he throws everything at you. He’s very unpredictable on the mound.”"
The Washington Nationals’ injuries to Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) and Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) have tested the depth of the rotation. The timing could not be worse as they are looking up to the Atlanta Braves who are sitting in first in the National League East.
If the Washington Nationals are going to get back to the top of the division, they will need Tanner Roark to help lead the rotation with Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez. Luckily he is having the bounce back season some predicted prior to the season.