As the MLB offseason continues and we are a month away from Spring Training, the Washington Nationals haven't been active in the starting pitching free-agent market. It seems as if GM Mike Rizzo could begin the 2024 season with a starting rotation of Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, and Jake Irvin. Jackson Rutledge could also force his way into the rotation with an effective Spring Training while Cade Cavalli will return from injury this season. Let's dive into 2024 statistical predictions for the Washington Nationals starting rotation.
30 starts:11-8 record, 158 innings, 3.78 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 174 SO, 72 BB
2024 is the year of MacKenzie Gore. The 24-year-old left-hander possesses the tools of a dominant starting pitcher. This season, he will take a big step in his development. Gore flashed elite traits on the mound last season with two games of ten or more strikeouts. He also gave up 27 home runs and walked 57 batters, according to ESPN.com. Falling behind in counts was a major problem for Gore across the season, leading to many walks and homers.
2023 was Gore's first full Major League season. It's expected for young pitchers to have growing pains in their development. More importantly, improvement is vital in the offseason. Gore has the potential to lead the Nationals' starting rotation. Finding the strike zone and keeping the ball in the ballpark are the keys to MacKenzie's success.
32 starts: 10-10 record, 182 innings, 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 160 SO, 64 BB
Consistency is the key for Josiah Gray. At one point last season, Gray had ten consecutive starts with three earned runs allowed or less, according to ESPN.com. Josiah also had low points in 2023, having eight starts with four or more earned runs allowed. Like MacKenzie Gore, Gray struggled with command of his pitches, leading to many walks. Josiah did also improve his opponent's home run total by 16, which was an encouraging sign for Nats fans.
While Gray may not possess the same "ace" potential as Gore, the right-hander could prove to be as serviceable. The steady improvement of Gray from season to season is impressive, lowering his ERA each year. The next step for Josiah? Limiting his pitch count. Gray constantly pitched himself into sticky situations last season. If Gray consistently locates his pitches in the strike zone, he will have a much better 2024 season.
32 starts: 8-13 record, 175 innings, 5.15 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 125 SO, 54 BB
It doesn't feel great to predict these statistics from 2019 World Series Champion Patrick Corbin, but it's the reality of the situation. The 34-year-old left-hander's job for the Nats is to take the mound every fifth day; no specialties, coach Davey Martinez expects the veteran to do his job. Corbin did his job, maybe not efficiently, but he has made over 30 starts in the past three seasons. In the last season of his six-year contract, it's expected to be the final one in Washington for Corbin.
Is one elite season of Patrick Corbin worth a six-year contract? Even if that one season includes a World Series victory? Since 2019, Corbin has a record of 25-57 and statistically has been the worst pitcher in the league among qualified starters. It's been a rough ride for Patrick the last four seasons, but he has a chance to leave on a high note in the 2024 season.
30 starts: 4-12 record, 135 innings, 5.35 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 98 SO, 52 BB
If Trevor Williams lasts the entire 2024 season in the Nats' starting rotation, I would consider that a failure for GM Mike Rizzo. Let's hope Williams does not start 30 games. Barring unexpected improvement from the 31-year-old, Williams will be classified as another free-agent failure in Washington. Williams posted an abysmal 5.55 ERA in 2023, combined with 34 home runs allowed. Nationals fans think Patrick Corbin struggled in 2023? Corbin recorded ten more quality starts(15) than Williams(5). Often last season, the bullpen could expect extra work the day of Williams' starts.
It's expected that Nationals top prospect Cade Cavalli will return to action this June, according to masnsports.com. Cavalli could potentially replace Williams in the starting rotation. Cavalli was expected to be part of the 2023 Opening Day roster before being sidelined with Tommy John Surgery.
32 starts: 7-9 record, 163 innings, 4.15 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 138 SO, 74 BB
A pleasant surprise in 2023 for the Nationals was Jake Irvin. Irvin came into Spring Training under the radar. He wasn't present on the Nats' Top-30 prospect list but had a strong showing. His fastball was lively, striking out seven batters in five innings. Irvin was called up in May and never looked back. Jake struggled in his last two starts in 2023, which shot his ERA to 4.61, but it didn't tell the story of his season. Irvin started just five games at the AAA level, and one could argue more time in the minors was required. But at 26 years old, the Nationals decided it was time for Jake.
I believe the Nationals have something in Jake Irvin. Will he be an ace-caliber pitcher? Most would argue against that. The chances of Irvin becoming a serviceable fifth starter in the Nationals' starting rotation are better. Not every prospect is a diamond, and well-rounded players fill championship-caliber teams, which is the goal in Washington.
The Other Potential Nationals Starting Pitchers
The Nationals experienced good fortune in the health department last season, but the starting rotation is still susceptible to change due to injuries, amongst other reasons, and depth in the rotation will be required. Others could force their way in based on performance (here’s to hoping Trevor Williams does not make all those starts). Here are a few candidates to replace slots in the Nationals starting rotation.
10 starts: 2-4 record, 53 innings, 4.50 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 43 SO, 20 BB
A bit of a wildcard, Rutledge is currently ranked as the Nats 13th best prospect, which could change when MLB.com releases their 2024 ranks. The Nats have high hopes for the former first-round pick, who possesses an imposing 6-foot-8 frame on the mound. Control of his repertoire is imperative for Rutledge, who walked 30 batters in 50.2 innings at AAA last season. The 24-year-old shouldn't be judged for his four-game stint in the Majors last season, where he posted a 6.75 ERA across 20 innings. Jackson will get another chance for the Nats in the 2024 season.
5 starts: 0-2 record, 22 innings, 5.25 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 15 SO, 8 BB
The Joan Adon experience has been a wild ride for Nats' fans. In the final game of the 2022 season, Adon flashed lots of potential against the Boston Red Sox, striking out nine batters in 5.1 innings. Adon has been inconsistent in his Major League career, posting a 3-16 record across 27 games. It's likely the last season of the Adon experience, as prospects like Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli are Major League-ready.
12 starts: 4-5 record, 68 innings, 3.97 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 74 SO, 25 BB
The Nationals have a stud in the form of Cade Cavalli. The fourth-ranked prospect in the Nats' organization has a high powered fastball combined with a nasty slider. The now 25-year-old should return to the Nationals' rotation in June. Maintaining health is a priority for Cavalli. In 2022, Cade was called up in August and made one start before being placed on the injured list, ending his season. Cavalli cannot progress unless available to pitch. Cavalli is the highest-rated pitcher in the Nationals organization. The success of Cade is imperative to the Nationals due to the lack of pitching depth within the minor league system.