With a new core, the Nationals need to completely revamp their starting rotation and bullpen.
In years past the Washington Nationals have been fueled by strong starting pitching. Since 2012, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmermann, Tanner Roark, Stephen Strasburg, Anibal Sanchez, and Patrick Corbin, have all played pivotal roles in the Nationals success. Now only Corbin and Strasburg remain in the rotation and both are shells of their former selves.
Injuries have once again derailed Strasburg’s season. This time, the veteran is out for the year with neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome. Corbin on the other hand has struggled immensely. On the season, he is 6-10, with a 5.74 ERA, 90 strikeouts, and a 5.47 FIP.
The Nationals rotation ranks 19th in ERA (4.38), 23rd in FIP (4.71), and 21st in fWAR (5.5). If you take Max Scherzer out of the equation (2.76 ERA, 3.59 FIP) and the numbers get even worse.
Jon Lester was terrible across 16 starts before he was traded to the Cardinals. Paolo Espino has stepped up but was shelled in his most recent outing. Both Joe Ross and Erick Fedde have shown glimpses of domination, but have battled injuries. Newcomer Josiah Gray was impressive in his debut, but he is only 23 with 13 MLB innings under his belt.
With Max Scherzer no longer in D.C. and very unlikely to re-sign in the off-season, the Nationals need to fix their pitching staff. But it’s not just the rotation that needs an overhaul, the bullpen is also in some serious need of upgrades.
The Bullpen Continues To Disappoint
At the start of Spring Training, on paper, the Nationals had one of the best bullpens in baseball. Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Jeremy Jeffress, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan, Brad Hand, Wander Suero, and Austin Voth were supposed to provide the team with plenty of closing options.
From the start, the bullpen started to unravel. Jeffress was cut due to undisclosed reasons. Harris was put on the IL and is out for the season. Rainey and Suero suffered from constant overuse in years past and were unable to find the strike zone. Austin Voth started strong but is currently on the IL.
Hand and Hudson were shipped out at the trade deadline, leaving just Finnegan to lead the way. Now, the Nationals have promoted multiple prospects in order to see if any of them can stick. Gabe Klobosits and Mason Thompson have impressed, but the bullpen will need plenty of reinforcements come next season.
The upcoming free-agent class will be led by plenty of top-tier talents including Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and Kenley Jansen. But there are plenty of underrated options that can help bolster the team’s pitching that the Nationals should target.
For starters, a reunion with Daniel Hudson should be in order. The World Series hero was having an excellent season with the Nats before being traded to San Diego and he would provide stability to the backend of the bullpen. In 31 appearances with Washington, he went 4-1, with a 2.20 ERA, 48 strikeouts, and a 2.46 FIP. Hudson is a fan favorite and would be welcomed back with open arms.
Another former Nat to keep an eye on is Craig Stammen. Drafted by the Nationals in 2005, the veteran spent seven seasons in D.C. before signing with the Padres. The 37-year-old is having another stellar season, going 5-2, with a 2.71 ERA, 63 strikeouts, and a 3.60 FIP. Stammen would provide the team with another late-inning option.
Other names to watch out for are Raisel Iglesias, Joe Kelly, Archie Bradley, Corey Knebel, Aaron Loup, and Yimi Garci.
For the rotation, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg (if he’s healthy), Josiah Gray, and Joe Ross can be penciled into next year’s starting rotation. Erick Fedde and Paolo Espino will be given a chance to make the rotation, but the Nationals should still bring in some reinforcements.
Max Scherzer will be the off-season prize, but at 37, it is very unlikely he will want to return to a rebuilding team. Instead, the front office should target Marcus Stroman. The veteran has helped carry the Mets rotation in Jacob deGrom’s absence. In 23 starts, he is 7-11, with a 2.83 ERA, 106 strikeouts, and a 3.53 FIP.
Stroman would take over as the team’s ace (until Strasburg is healthy) and provides stability to a rotation that needs it. He also has the ability to go deep into games, having thrown 180+ innings in a season three out of his six seasons in the pros.
Robbie Ray is a high-risk high-reward option that the Nationals may want to roll the dice on. During his six seasons with Arizona, Ray was known for his high strikeout numbers in addition to his inconsistency. In 147 starts with the Diamondbacks, he went 47-46, with a 4.11 ERA, 998 strikeouts, and a 4.05 FIP.
Traded to Toronto last season, Ray has finally put everything together. In 22 starts this year, he is 9-5, with a 2.90 ERA, 159 strikeouts, and a 3.87 FIP. His FIP doesn’t fully support his numbers, but Ray has finally lowered his walks, a problem that has plagued him in years past. Through the first eight years of his career, he averaged 82 walks, but has only issued 35 free passes so far this season.
Both Ray and Stroman will be looking to cash out which could rule out the Nats. Other names to keep an eye on are Charlie Morton, Jon Gray, Anthony DeSclafani, and Zach Davies.