The Future of the Nationals Rotation Looks Surprisingly Bright

After the sudden emergence of Jake Irvin and Mitchell Parker, the Nationals' pitching has gone from a weakness to their biggest strength.
Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Heading into the 2023 season, the Nationals rotation could not have been in worse shape. Patrick Corbin was the Opening Day starter, followed by Josiah Gray who was coming off an up-and-down 2022. MacKenzie Gore was the #3 starter as a complete wild card, after a 2022 with the San Diego Padres where he got off to a blazing start before getting roughed up quickly and then injured. Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl rounded out the back of the rotation, with both players having a rocky, at best, track record, with Williams and especially Kuhl continuing that trend and ending up being two of the worst pitchers in baseball, along with Opening Day Starter Patrick Corbin.

The pitching staff as a whole ended up as the 4th worst in baseball in terms of ERA, only ahead of the Kansas City Royals, Oakland Athletics, and the Colorado Rockies. In need of a revamp, Washington did little in the offseason to improve the staff, with the most notable signing being... Zack Davies to a minor-league deal. Jake Irvin proved he deserved a shot at a full year in the rotation, but with Trevor Williams and Patrick Corbin struggling so mightily in 2023, it was a slap in the face to the fans for not bringing someone else in.

With expectations unable to be any lower, the rotation has proven us all wrong this season and his been the strength of this ball club. Outside of Patrick Corbin, who we all know is absolutely terrible, the highest ERA on the pitching staff is Mitchell Parker. On the surface, this is not a surprise, as I had heard little to nothing about Parker before the year, but Parker sports a great 3.60 ERA and 3.44 FIP in nine career big league starts. He is followed by Jake Irvin with a 3.39 ERA and 3.19 FIP, MacKenzie Gore with a 2.91 ERA and 2.82 FIP, and the team leader Trevor Williams with a 2.22 ERA and 2.79 FIP.

Even with Patrick Corbin inflating numbers with his ERA over 6 and Josiah Gray having an awful start to the year before being injured, the Nationals rotation ranks 7th in all of baseball among fWAR, and 14th in starters' ERA. This is a drastic improvement after ranking in the bottom 5 in almost every pitching category in 2023.

What has changed you ask? Sean Doolittle deserves some credit along with the rest of the pitching staff, and MacKenzie Gore has made a ginormous leap this year with his stuff. Mitchell Parker and Jake Irvin have both proved to be major league-caliber pitchers, a huge surprise after being borderline irrelevant before last season. Trevor Williams has upped his sweeper usage while throwing the fastball and curveball less, leading to fewer home runs, better control, and slightly more swing-and-miss.

Not only is this good for this season, but it gives me some hope for the future of the Nationals rotation. We are a third of the way through this year, with four spots in the rotation seemingly locked up for the future.

MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, Mitchell Parker, Cade Cavalli, and Josiah Gray should all receive the bulk of the starts next season, with prospects Jackson Rutledge, DJ Herz, Seth Shuman, Andry Lara, and maybe others in line to get an opportunity. Patrick Corbin will finally be off the books, with Gore and Irvin the most tenured, followed by Parker and Cavalli who will hopefully both remain healthy and fully come into their own this season. Surprisingly Gray seems like the biggest question mark, after a rocky ending to 2023 and a nightmare start in 2024 before the injury. Herz and Rutledge are intriguing, with Seth Shuman being a name to watch, working his way back from injury after being in the Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison trade from Oakland. 21-year-old Andry Lara has been one of the biggest bright spots in our minor league system this year behind James Wood, as he dominated A+ before being called up to AA and dominated in his first 3 starts for a combined 2.02 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 49 innings this year.

Not only does the rotation project be a future strength, but we know the Lerner's have shown the ability to spend, especially with a team nearing contention.

After a tumultuous past few seasons, the emergence of Gore, Irvin, and Parker, with the latter two seemingly coming out of nowhere, has given me a lot of hope for the pitching staff's future. It will be difficult to maintain the starts our top four pitchers have put up, but even if they slightly regress, the rotation is in great shape heading into 2025.