The Washington Nationals have been in the market for an innings-eating type starting pitcher since the offseason began. Today, they’re still looking for that workhorse guy but are also beginning to accept the fact that they may begin the regular season with the same group they finished last season with. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan and fifth-starter candidates Ross Detwiler and 2008 10th round pick Tommy Milone.
The biggest issue facing the Nationals with their rotation though is that there isn’t a single starter in that group who can be counted on for 200 or more innings in 2012. The team’s pitching staff as a whole finished the 2011 season 7th in all of baseball with a 3.58 ERA and just 14th in total innings pitched with 1449.1. However, the alarming statistic in that the starting pitchers only accounted for 928.2 innings of that work, which was only good for 28th in all of baseball. The starters’ ERA on the season was 3.80 and they were 24th in baseball with just 79 quality starts.
Stephen Strasburg, the team’s de facto ace, only pitched 24 innings last season after coming back from Tommy John Surgery. The team would be extremely fortunate if they were able to get 150 to 160 innings of work out of him next year, without risking further injury to their superstar.
Jordan Zimmerman, the team’s obvious number two starter, only pitched 161.1 innings last season and will be two years removed from Tommy John Surgery in 2012. I really don’t see the team pushing Zimmerman past 180 to 185 innings next year, as to avoid higher injury risk for the young star.
“We feel we have in-house candidates for the No. 2 starter behind (Strasburg). Jordan Zimmermann had a terrific year last year, really a breakthrough year for him. We expect bigger and better things—it will be his first full season off of Tommy John surgery—so we’re excited for big things from him. We’re always looking to improve the rotation. You can never have enough good, quality starting pitching in this division, so we’re always in the market for that.”—Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, discussing the team’s starting rotation in a Q-and-A with the team’s website.
John Lannan is likely the team’s number three starter and while he pitched 184.2 innings last year, he walks way too many batters to be counted on for 200 innings. He walked 3.7 batters per nine innings pitched last season and if it wasn’t for the ground balls he was able to induce at a 54.1% rate his ERA wouldn’t have been sitting at a ‘decent’ 3.70 by seasons end.
Their likely number four starter is Chien-Ming Wang and he won’t be coming close to 200 innings either because he only pitched 62.1 innings last year. Wang was certainly effective for most of those innings, especially coming back from almost 2 ½ years of injuries, but the team won’t be pushing him very far either. He will likely finish the season with around 160 to 170 innings of work as long as he stays effective over the course of a full season.
As far as their number five starter goes – well, if it were up to me then I’d choose to throw rookie Tommy Milone in that spot. This guy had a 3.22 ERA in Triple-A Syracuse over 148.1 innings of work and then got called up to the Nationals and posted a 3.81 ERA over 26 innings of work. That’s 174.1 total innings of work for him in 2011, which means that he’s the best candidate to get close to 200 + innings in 2012 if he’s in the rotation.
Every team aspires to land a workhorse starting pitcher in the offseason because let’s face it, every team could use one. And while not landing that guy this offseason certainly doesn’t help the Nationals cause of winning their division, and the World Series, in 2012 – they still have a top ten starting rotation if they aren’t decimated with injuries and three out of the five can get you close to 200 innings.
I would definitely look for the Nationals to become a serious wild-card contender next season, even if the division title is still slightly out of reach.