Washington Nationals: Hard work rehabbing pays off for Joe Ross
By Blake Finney
The next 2018 Report Card is for starter Joe Ross who made it back to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals after Tommy John surgery last year.
Our 2018 Report Cards move into week number four now, as we review several members of the Washington Nationals. Next in line is Joe Ross, who completed his long rehab process after a Tommy John procedure this year.
After diminished velocity in July 2017, the right-hander underwent surgery, hoping to be back before the 2018 season was over. He accomplished his goal and was able to get back on a big league mound in September for three starts.
He ended the year 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA in those three appearances in September, with the team out of contention. He could be a huge boost to the rotation moving forward and should be ready to go for Spring Training.
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The Positives for Ross
If it wasn’t obvious already, the biggest positive was Ross getting healthy, and being able to pitch at full tilt in the major leagues again. He had to slowly build up his arm in the minors, starting off the Gulf Coast League Nats, ending with the Syracuse Chiefs making six rehab starts in total. He never went beyond six innings at all in 2018, but this was likely intentional to still be cautious with someone who is going to be a big part of the rotation next season and beyond.
Despite coming back from TJ Surgery in just over 12 months, Ross’ velocity seemed to increase a tick when he came back. His fastball averaged 93.6 mph in 2018, whereas in 2017 on average his fastball came in at 9.18 mph. His offspeed also saw an increase as his slider went up from 85.6 mph to 87.1 mph on average, while his changeup averaged 85.0 mph last year before jumping to 87.8 mph in 2018. Perhaps he cut it loose a little bit at the end of the year, knowing he wasn’t going deep into games, but if he comes back in 2019 with that velocity, it will be a huge plus.
Areas for Improvement
In his brief time back in the majors, Joe Ross just couldn’t quite find that strikeout touch on the mound. He had a measly 3.94 K/9 with the Nats as hitters were swinging away and making contact at a higher rate. His contact percentage jumped up to 83.0 percent overall and contact percentage on pitches outside the zone went up from 64.4 percent in 2017 to 72.3 in 2018. His heatmap shows that he never missed the zone by too much, so if he can get his offspeed stuff a bit more deceptive and out of the zone a further, that should correct itself.
The lack of strikeouts also contributed to his predictive metrics appearing to be poor as well. With his ERA sitting at 5.06, his FIP came in at 5.85 and he had an xFIP of 5.79, which would indicate some regression coming. He also had a BABIP of .269 which is low too, however, there’s one key reason for these figures, the home run ball. He gave up three long balls in his three starts, but all three came at Coors Field, which seems pretty forgiveable. If he can keep the ball in the ballpark consistently outside of the thin air, then these metrics may not be much to worry about.
The Final Grade
The good news for Nationals fans is that Joe Ross made his comeback without a hitch in 2018, which is about as much as they could hope for. It would be fair to expect some kind of innings limit next season, but we should still see him for a fair chunk of the year.
At the very least, the team was able to get Ross some valuable innings at the end of the year, even if the results themselves weren’t great. An OK effort from the right-hander, but plenty to improve and build on next season. C
Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.