Earlier, James Wagner took a look at the Nationals’ lineup for 2013. Below, we break down the pitching staff. To see the complete Nationals season preview, click here.
RHP Stephen Strasburg
|AGE: 24 |||HT: 6-4 |||WT: 200 |||B-T: R-R |||W-L: 15-6 |||ERA: 3.16 |||WHIP: 1.15 |||K/9: 11.1|
Strength: Multiple plus-plus pitches. One of the best curveballs in baseball, a devastating change-up and an overpowering fastball. Actually, two fastballs — his four- and two-seam versions are distinct weapons.
Weakness: To fully establish himself as elite, Strasburg will need to carry a full load. At least 30 starts and 180 regular season innings sound both reasonable and unfamiliar for the young ace. Look for efficiency in 2013.
Did you know? Strasburg was the best hitting pitcher in baseball in 2012 (minimum 50 plate appearances), according to Baseball Prospectus’s Total Average, edging out Cincinnati fifth starter Mike Leake.
LHP Gio Gonzalez
|AGE: 27 |||HT: 6-0 |||WT: 200 |||B-T: R-L |||W-L: 21-8 |||ERA: 2.89 |||WHIP: 1.13 |||K/9: 9.3|
Strength: The 2012 Cy Young candidate is the clear No. 2 on this staff. He has increased his velocity over the years and developed a devastating change-up that stymies right-handed batters. He led the league in avoiding the longball, allowing just 0.4 home runs per nine innings.
Weakness: The leap forward was driven in part by the new league. He was mostly the same against non-pitchers, and the homer rate may be hard to sustain.
Did you know? The World Baseball Classic didn’t just get Gonzalez ready for 2013, it helped him get past the rough end to 2012. Greg Maddux’s advice paid off, as The Professor’s lesson translated into calmer nerves.
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
|AGE: 26 |||HT: 6-2 |||WT: 220 |||B-T: R-R |||W-L: 12-8 |||ERA: 2.94 |||WHIP: 1.17 |||K/9: 7.0|
Strength: With hitters having to be ready for 94-plus mph heat, Zimmermann set up his secondary pitches, Zimmermann got ahead 0-1 to 59 percent of batters in 2012. That led major league starters, ahead of renowned control artist Cliff Lee.
Weakness: Doesn’t miss many bats for a power pitcher, which may cast doubt on the effectiveness of his secondary pitches. It’s also an opportunity — an improved breaking pitch or change-up could take Zimmermann to an even higher level.
Did you know? Zimmermann told Fangraphs he started pitching to contact after his Tommy John surgery. Maybe the weakness/opportunity is nothing more than the reflection of this approach.
RHP Dan Haren
|AGE: 32 |||HT: 6-5 |||WT: 215 |||B-T: R-R |||W-L: 12-13 |||ERA: 4.33 |||WHIP: 1.29 |||K/9: 7.2|
Strength: The veteran addition brings a competitive attitude to a talented staff. Haren’s experience and guile are reflected in his approach. Location and movement are his best allies.
Weakness: Haren’s velocity has been in decline for a few years. If recent hip and back treatments have been as successful as he has indicated, he won’t have to pitch through discomfort.
Did you know? As his fastball velocity declined (92 mph in 2008 to 89 in 2012) his curveball usage has declined (24 percent to six). Haren’s cutter has become his favorite (14 percent to 37), peaking at 49 percent in 2011.
LHP Ross Detwiler
|AGE: 27 |||HT: 6-5 |||WT: 200 |||B-T: R-L |||W-L: 10-8 |||ERA: 3.40 |||WHIP: 1.22 |||K/9: 5.8|
Strength: A good sinker, and he also has power. His four-seam fastball was sixth fastest for left-handed major league starters in 2012 at just less than 94 mph. At 6 feet 5, he works downhill and induces a lot of groundballs. Give him a good defense and you have a quality pitcher who’s not a typical fifth starter.
Weakness: A lack of swing-and-miss stuff leave him a narrow margin of error, and his numbers look like those of a crafty lefty. His stuff is a lot like Gio Gonzalez’s, so there could be upside, but he’s always taken a pitch-to-contact approach.
Did you know? Despite being two mph slower, Detwiler’s four-seam fastball is similar to 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price’s. Similar whiff (19-21 percent) and groundball rates (45 to 47 percent) were elicited in 2012 by the tall lefties.
Closer Rafael Soriano
|AGE: 33 |||HT: 6-1 |||WT: 210 |||B-T: R-R |||SV: 42 |||ERA: 2.26 |||WHIP: 1.17 |||K/9: 9.2|
Strength: Experience in the clutch. Soriano led all relievers in Win Probability Added from 2010 to 2012, placing among the leaders in two of the three seasons. Give him the ball, turn up the lights — he won’t wilt.
Weakness: Despite the bottom-line success, he was in the middle of the pack among 2012 relievers in most stat categories. That could lead to more anxiety per inning than the norm.
Did you know? Soriano loves his slider, throwing it almost as often as his fastball in 2012 (41 percent to 50 percent). He was one of only 12 relievers to throw more than 400 last year with 412, nowhere near leader Luke Gregerson of San Diego, who threw 738 sliders in 2012.
Strength: The mind-set and experience of a closer is exactly what you want from your setup men. Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard set up for each other in 2011 and 2012 and will share getting the ball to Soriano in 2013.
Weakness: Storen missed time because of injury in 2012 and Clippard has piled up a lot of innings in the past three years. With the big-armed Henry Rodriguez a question mark for opening day, the Nationals will need good health from Storen and Clippard or they’ll be looking down the bullpen for help in late innings.
Did you know? Clippard and Storen have the pitch mix to start. Clippard is known for his fastball/change-up combo and also throws a cutter and a curveball. Storen has two fastballs (two- and four-seam), a change-up and a slider. Usually two is enough — just ask Soriano.