2012 Nationals Grades: Starting Pitching
2012 was a great season for the Washington Nationals, lots of good came to many players. Some players had career years, some had okay years, but all the aspects of the team came together to make the Nationals first time National League East Division Champions. Back in the winter, everyone was looking forward to the Nationals winning roughly 86 games and having a shot at the wild card spot. The Nationals far exceeded these plans and made an impact on Major League Baseball. It seems fair to review the year the team had and try to highlight strengths and weaknesses.
Having said all that to say this, I will break down the different aspects of the team and provide my thoughts on areas of improvement and areas of excellence. I want to start with the aspect of the Nationals that lead the team to the amazing year they had, the starting pitching staff. In years passed, Nationals fans got used to up and down players, groundball guys, and games that had a lot of contact. That was completely different in 2012 as the Nationals finally had a pitching staff that threw with velocity, conviction, and power. It was the most amazing aspect of any Nationals team I had seen since following the team.
Let's start with Stephen Strasburg, because I want to talk about something other than the "S" word for a change. Stephen Strasburg had his first season as the Nationals number 1 starter, a position we all saw coming. He was just what Nats fans had hoped for. He had spectacular high strikeout games and just absolutely dominated hitters at times. Strasburg ended up pitching 159.1 innings on the season with a 2.82 FIP and a 3.16 ERA. Strasburg also boasted a 11.13 K/9, the best K/9 on the Washington starting staff and he was one of four of the Nationals starters to win double digit games in 2012, going 15-6 on the season. Strasburg had a few hiccups that he will need to work on, there were a few games in which he was not able to go deep because of the heat or because of bad weather. These are things a young pitcher learns to adapt to, though. Let us not forget that Stephen is a youthful 24 and has not yet begun to reach his full potential. Things are bright for Strasburg in 2013 as he will be free to pitch as much as he wants to and dominate the league deep into the season.
Gio Gonzalez was brought over from Oakland in a trade that, in my opinion, worked out amazingly well. Gio had a career year, as he was able to get the walks under control a little bit. In 2010 and 2011, Gio walked at least 91 hitters. In 2012, Gio brought the walks down and it showed in his numbers at the end of the year. In the 2 previous seasons, Gio had a BB/9 higher than 4, in 2012 Gio was able to bring his BB/9 down to 3.43. Gio's K/9 also went up to 9.35, his highest number in a season where he pitched at least 190 innings. Gio's ERA and FIP also went down to career bests at 2.89 and 2.82 respectively. Gio also became the first ever Washington National to win 20 games, going 21-8 on the year. Probably the one enemy that Gio Gonzalez has himself. Gio holds himself to another standard where good enough is not always good enough. At times, this causes him to struggle, but more often then not it helps him to dominate. Additionally, the Nationals have Gio locked up for a long time, and while he grows and matures, he will only become a better pitcher.
Jordan Zimmermann had his first full season off the leash of an innings limit. He was shut down shortly after 160 innings in 2011, so it was exciting to see that he would be able to pitch to his heart's content in 2012. Jordan focused more on the ground ball and weak contact to achieve outs in 2012, but he could dial up a strikeout when he needed it. Jordan had a lot of games where he went deep and even had a streak in which he was able to go at least 6 innings. Effeciency became one of the aspects Jordan was most recognized for when he woudl start a game. Jordan was able to achieve very good stats, achieving a 2.94 ERA the second lowest on the starting rotation. Due to his reliance on the groundball, Jordan's FIP was 3.51, but that is still the 3rd best of the Nationals 2012 starting pitchers and puts him in the top half of best FIP in the National League. Jordan also had his first ever winning season picking up 12 wins and 8 losses. Jordan did have some flaws in his game, as he sometimes seemed to give up runs just as soon as the team would score him some. Additionally, it seemed at times that if Jordan had just one more pitch, he would be a lights out starter. Perhaps in time, Jordan will develop that extra pitch so that he can take his game to the next level.
Ross Detwiler was the surprise of the season in more ways than one. In 2012, Ross Detwiler was give the 5th starters spot in place of John Lannan, which no one saw coming, but it was the right move. Detwiler was given a full season in the Major Leagues and he did not disappoint. His 3.58 ERA and 3.95 FIP speak to the Nationals getting just what they needed and more out of a very hard throwing 5th starter. Detwiler had his up and down moments at times during the season, but it seemed like you could always rely on him for a win as he was credited with 9 wins on the year. Key moments that stick out about Detwiler's 2012 are the games where he clinched the Nationals first ever winning season and first post season birth. Let's not forget that Detwiler also had the best pitching performance of any of the Nationals in the NLDS in which he pitched 6 innings and did not allow a single earned run. The Nationals are lucky to have a solid starter in Ross Detwiler, who will undoubtedly help to bolster the rotation for quite some time.
Edwin Jackson was a pitcher that was picked up by Mike Rizzo in the off season on a 1 year deal. Edwin Jackson had a very good year with the Nationals, but was also exactly what it was expected he would be. One game he would be lights out, another he would only go a few innings. It is hard to ignore what Jackson did for the Nationals though, as he was one of the hardest workers and always seemed willing to help out any way he could. Jackson had a 7.97 K/9 a 4.03 ERA and a 3.85 FIP. Jackson made the double digit win mark with 10 on the year and definitely pitched some quality games. In fact, it was Edwin Jackson who pitched the Nationals first 9 inning complete game of the year at the beginning of the season.
Finally, there is Chien-Ming Wang. Wang had a lot of promise and potential to help the Nationals and it seemed that is what he would be in Spring Training. Unfortunately, it did not work out that way. Wang was hurt a lot, did some time out of the bullpen and had an all around mediocre year. Sadly, Wang was the one blemish on the Nationals starting rotation. It is a given that Wang was an experiment as a starter and it did not last. On the season, Wang pitched a total of 21.2 innings in 5 games as a starter. His numbers are not pretty, so if you really want to look at them I will point you in the direction of fangraphs.
All in all, the Nationals had the absolute best starting pitching in the National League in 2012. Nationals starting pitchers had a 3.45 FIP, the best in the Major Leagues, and a 3.37 ERA, which was second behind the Tampa Bay Rays at 3.34. I believe it is fair to give the Nationals starting pitching an A+ for 2012 as they performed phenominally all year long and showed Washington D.C. and the rest of baseball what good pitching looks like.