The Washington National have MLB’s best rotation, MLB.com writes.
Whenever Opening Day is actually played, the MLB season finally back as part of our daily lives, the Washington Nationals have an ace up their sleeve. Actually, several.
MLB.com recently ranked the Top 10 rotations in baseball. The Nationals sat atop that list.
Anthony Castrovince wrote:
"The 102 1/3 innings Washington got from its great rotation last October was the most by a World Series champion in a single postseason since the D-backs’ 120 1/3 innings in 2001. A group that can turn in that kind of workload is both a source of strength and concern, because it can catch up to you the following year."
With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg a formative one-two punch, along with Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, and Joe Ross rounding out the rest of the rotation, it’s hard to see almost any team feeling like it’s got the edge in starting pitching when it faces the Nationals. Their NL East competitors, the New York Mets, were ranked second, but that was before the news of Noah Syndergaard requiring Tommy John surgery.
Castrovince notes that three Nationals — Scherzer, Corbin, and Strasburg — earned spots among the best in ERA+ in 2019. Sanchez ranked 35th, per Baseball Reference.
ERA+ is a good way of comparing players across the entire league. The stat tries to make a comparison between pitchers by evening out factors like ballparks they played in or opponents they faced. An average ERA+ is by definition 100.
A good question to ask is whether the past predicts the future here.
A deeper dive shows that there aren’t really any big red flags when you compare expected statistics to actual statistics last season, though on average the Nationals probably got a little lucky.
Scherzer posted the best wOBA (weighted on-base average) among the club’s starters last season with .269, per Baseball Savant. That statistic is a good way to measure a pitcher or hitter’s effectiveness by giving different weights to different outcomes. Home runs are weighted more than singles, basically. The stat is then set on the same scale as OBP to make it more intuitive. The average wOBA last season was .320.
Scherzer’s expected wOBA (or xwOBA), based on contact quality plus walks and strikeouts, was .254. So he may have been a little bit unlucky, if anything.
Strasburg’s expectations were right in line with his results (.266 wOBA), while Corbin (.285 vs. .304) and Sanchez (.296 vs .313) were both a little lucky.
The Nationals may benefit from this year’s schedule, though it’s too early to tell. With the start of MLB season being pushed back by at least eight weeks, and more realistically several more beyond that as players work through a second “spring” training, there’s some guesswork thrown in.
Often teams that go deep in the playoffs face a bit of fall the following year due to the extra wear and tear on pitchers’ arms. Scherzer said he was dealing with some “discomfort” during spring training. Can he use the extra time to rest up? Or will there be other unforeseen consequences that arise for players after getting ramped up for the season only to be put back on ice for a few months?
That remains to be seen. What we do know, though, is the Nationals have a strong starting point whenever baseball finally returns.