Washington Nationals: Tanner Roark the epitome of the rotation’s struggles
By Blake Finney
The next member of the Washington Nationals to get their 2018 report card is Tanner Roark. The right-hander’s sub-par season epitomized the team’s rotation.
We’ve got more 2018 Report Cards for you this weekend. Tanner Roark is next in line as his struggles throughout the season summed up how the rotation’s struggles hindered the Washington Nationals in 2018.
He ended up leading the National League in losses, with a 9-15 record to go with a 4.34 ERA. For a time, his rotation spot looked at risk as the summer rolled along until he seemed to rediscover some form mid-season.
But after he slumped back to his early-season form, you could argue that with the team looking to upgrade its starters, he may have to move to the bullpen. It’s going to be interesting to see how things shake out over the winter for Roark.
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The Positives for Roark
In 2018, Roark was able to take a huge step forward with his slider and was able to make it a huge out-pitch. Opposing hitters slashed just .139/.158/.264 against the pitch with a 23.4 percent strikeout rate, the highest of any of his pitches. While teams hit his two-seam fastball well, the movement on it helped to set up his slider as they looked similar out of his hand and often had hitters off-balance.
For a portion of the season, it looked like Roark had figured things out on the mound, as he had a stretch of seven starts where he was almost unhittable. In those seven starts, he went 5-1 with a 1.61 ERA while striking out 36 and walking just five. Byron Kerr of MASN Sports reported that the right-hander had worked with Brandon Kintzler prior to the start against the Milwaukee Brewers that got the whole thing started, and hopefully if he can get back to those mechanics next season, the success will follow.
Areas for Improvement
However, in contrast to the incredible spell, in his previous 10 appearances, he had a 1-8 record with a 7.11 ERA with a .963 OPS against. The hot and cold nature of the right-hander’s season is essentially the opposite of his career arc so far. Usually, he had been the steady element of the rotation, consistently pumping in quality starts of six innings and only giving up two or three runs. As one of the possible candidates to round out the rotation next season, he’s going to have to get back to those ways to keep his rotation spot.
One of the trademarks of Tanner Roark over the years had been his ability to keep the ball on the ground, but that ability deserted him this year. He had a career-low 40.7 groundball percentage, as hitters seemed to square him up more and make harder contact. The average exit velocity against him was the highest in the four years Baseball Savant has been recording the data at 87.2 mph, where the next highest was 86.2 mph in 2016. Limiting hard contact by trying to keep his pitches down will be vital to a turnaround.
The Final Grade
Usually, in his career, Tanner Roark would be nailed on for a B grade with a solid effort, but he certainly seemed to take a step back in 2018. The bad spells he had didn’t leave the team much chance to stay in the game and pull out a win, a big reason he led the league in losses.
With the front office consistently mentioning how much they need to improve the rotation this winter, his poor season could easily see Roark become a casualty of that move. A disappointing year, but the midseason hot streak showed he’s still got that reliable pitcher in him somewhere. D
Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.