The primary focus of this season is going to be on the future of the Washington Nationals. Guys like CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz, Luis Garcia, Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore give you a reason to turn on the TV each night to watch this ballclub. MacKenzie Gore has really flashed his potential early this season in just five starts for the Nats. Here are three takeaways from those five starts.
1. His stuff is electric
Let’s start with the good. In his five starts for the Nationals, it is apparent how good MacKenzie Gore’s stuff is. While there are many aspects that are important to becoming a great pitcher, having great stuff is near the top of that list.
Having that electric stuff allows a pitcher to overcome so many weaknesses. Gore has shown that he has four legit pitches he can turn to. His pitch arsenal includes a mid-90s fastball, a slider, a curveball and a changeup.
MacKenzie Gore’s fastball was on full display in his last start against the Mets. Mets hitters were well behind his fastball all night and, in turn, Gore struck out 5 hitters with his fastball. One reason that MacKenzie Gore can create so many swing-and-misses on his fastball is his delivery. Gore ranks in the top 5% of all MLB pitchers in extension, meaning that he extends down the mound making the distance to home shorter. This makes Gore’s fastball, which averages 95mph, play a bit faster for the hitter. Gore’s fastball is his most important pitch, as he throws it about 60% of the time.
MacKenzie Gore has an effective slider and curveball to pair with his fastball. Scouts went back and forth on which pitch was better as he made his way through the minors, but at the major league level, he has shown that he can be effective with both breaking balls. So far this season, Gore has 15 strikeouts with his curveball and 5 with his slider.
The fourth pitch in MacKenzie Gore’s arsenal is his changeup. He hasn’t thrown the changeup much for the Nationals, but it has potential to be another out pitch for him late in at-bats. So far this season, he has only thrown six changeups, but his best one this season, by far, created a swinging strikeout against Orioles OF Anthony Santander, as it dove down and away from the right handed batter. Gore hasn’t used his changeup much, but look for him to bump the usage up a bit as the season goes on.
There’s no doubt, if you’ve watched MacKenzie Gore this season, that he has a very high ceiling. His stuff has made some hitters look plain-out silly, and he is only going to get better with time. But with the good from Gore so far this season, also comes the bad.
2. Command is a real issue
MacKenzie Gore has been impressive this season, but the biggest drawback from his first five starts has been his command issues. Through 27 innings, Gore has walked 16 batters and has one of the worst walk rates in the league. The walks have caused problems in most of Gore’s starts with the exception being his last start against the Mets.
Before the season, Davey Martinez talked about MacKenzie Gore needing to let his stuff play in the zone. As I discussed earlier, Gore has the stuff to be an elite pitcher in the majors, he just needs to trust it. When in the minors, he showed an ability to create swinging strikes at a great rate. If he just trusts his stuff, he can fix many of his command issues.
The other reason that Gore struggles at times is trying to be too perfect. This works hand-in-hand with letting his stuff work in the zone. Davey has alluded that Gore tends to be a perfectionist and too hard on himself at times. This translates to more walks when Gore tries to be too fine and throw the perfect pitch and doesn’t allow his stuff to do the work. There is no issue trying to dot fastballs and throw sharp curveballs, but sometimes you just have to throw the pitch and let the outcome be what it is.
As MacKenzie Gore sees more success at the major league level, he will gain more confidence in his ability, and that should help with some of his command issues. Gore has been excellent this season outside of the walks. If he fixes his command issues, the sky is the limit for him.
3. He has ace potential
MacKenzie Gore has shown all the makings of an ace so far this year for the Nationals. He has shown an ability to strike out hitters, create swings-and-misses, and work through trouble like you’d expect any ace to do. The next step for Gore is reigning in his command and giving the Nationals a bit more length.
At one point, Gore was the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, and through his first five Nationals starts, he has looked every bit the part. Gore has a 3.00 ERA with 35 strikeouts through five starts. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this were back to the glory days of the Nationals and a frontline starter from one of those teams. Gore’s development into an ace is going to be pivotal to the Nationals becoming a legit contender once again, and so far, all things are pointing to MacKenzie Gore becoming another great starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals.