With the Nats getting a healthy Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann and adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson (and finally shedding the Livan Hernandez albatross), the Nat Pack has a formidable and exciting rotation full of fantasy baseball value.
The ace, Stephen Strasburg, doesn’t require much analysis. We just have to sit back, watch in awe and pray that he doesn’t get injured. Dude owns a 6.11 K:BB rate in 92 innings. The best in baseball history, Tommy Bond, had a 5.0363 K:BB rate (and he last pitched in 1884). Second on the list, Curt Schilling, is at 4.3826. A full season of Strasburg could rival Pedro Martinez at his apex.
In addition to Strasburg, the Nats have produced Jordan Zimmermann, who, similarly, is an injury risk. In 283.2 MLB innings, Zimmerman has a 3.84 K:BB rate, which is really good. He will finish 2012 with a 3.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 160 K’s or so. He could be the Tom Glavine to Stephen Strasburg’s Greg Maddux (or at least the John Smoltz).
To fill out their rotation, the Nationals went out and got relatively young hurlers in Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. Gonzalez, a former first round pick of the Chicago White Sox, has a 3.17 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 2.01 K:BB rate in 402.2 innings over the last two seasons. While his 2011 looked a lot like his 2010, the mainstream ratios masked a pretty big step forward. Gonzalez threw his fastball, curveball and change-up faster and generated more swinging strikes. He pushed his K-rate to 8.78 and was able to offset an increase in his line drive rate, BABIP and HR/FB percentage. While leaving the friendly confines of Oakland’s cavernous ballpark are a little disconcerting, he also won’t have to face the designated hitter. We will see the first 200 K season in the career of Gio Gonzalez in 2012.
Jackson is pretty much a league average pitcher (last three years ERA+: 108). Since 2008, Jackson has averaged a 4.06 ERA, 150 K’s, a 1.40 WHIP and a 2.08 K:BB rate. Not overly sexy, but solid. Jackson is good for 160 K’s, a 3.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. The WHIP is a little gross, but he has a decent upside on his ERA and K’s. Oddly enough, Jackson has spent parts of the last two seasons in the National League, yet had worse K-rates pitching against pitchers. In 2010, his K/9 rate for the White Sox was 9.24, for Arizona, 6.97. Last season, his K/9 rate was 7.18 for the White Sox and 5.88 for the Cardinals. It’s certainly possible that’s just small samples (roughly 200 innings), but it’ll be interesting to see if he can take better advantage of National League line-ups.
As for the back-end of the rotation, Chien-Ming Wang and John Lannan will, apparently, slowly battle for it. Lannan is not a good pitcher, as his career 1.39 K:BB rate attests. In reality, he isn’t much different from Livan Hernandez and, in fact, might be worse. Hernandez over the last three seasons: 4.48 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 90 ERA+, and 1.78 K:BB rate. Lannan over that same time frame; 4.03 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 101 ERA+, 1.38 K:BB rate. But Hernandez pitched roughly 30 more innings. Meanwhile, Wang should be the guy in the Nationals rotation. He was, at one point of his career, incredibly solid and has always had good control. If healthy, Wang could have an ERA somewhere around 4.00 with a 1.35 WHIP and absolutely no strike-outs. He’ll simply test that defense of Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa.