Tyler Clippard says this is the best rotation in Nationals history. Is it?


Gio Gonzalez. (EPA/TANNEN MAURY)

After Monday’s blanking of the Brewers thanks to another strong performance by a starting pitcher, Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard had nothing but praise for the team’s rotation. While Gio Gonzalez was on the disabled list, the rotation took off, putting together a historic run. Gonzalez produced an encouraging start Monday, firing six scoreless innings and showing signs of progress. The prospect of an improved Gonzalez slotting into an already-dominant rotation prompted Clippard to declare:

“I feel sorry for the rest of the league. It’s the bottom line. It sounds a little cheesy but it’s true. We have five No. 1 starters. I said it [Sunday] and I’ll say it again. What I’ve seen so far this year, out of our starting rotation, it’s the best in baseball.”

Clippard’s support of his teammates is understandable. But this isn’t just a blind backing, there is proof: By one measure, Fielding Independent Pitching, which calculates ERA by factoring out defense, the Nationals’ rotation paces the majors with a 3.24 FIP. Three starters — Jordan Zimmermann, Tanner Roark and Doug Fister — have ERAs under 3.00 and Stephen Strasburg has a 3.24 ERA.

Asked whether he thought this was the best Nationals rotation of all-time, Clippard offered a telling and interesting answer. And he should know, because he has been with the Nationals since 2008 and once started. 

“Yeah, I think it is,” he said. “I can’t think of a rotation that’s been better.”

Looking at statistics, the 2012 rotation may go down as the best because of the NL East title and other accomplishments. On paper, the 2013 rotation was considered better but the results didn’t bear that out. Maybe Clippard is right.

Below is a chart of every Nationals rotation since 2005, the first season in Washington. (The starters listed for each year are simply a snapshot: the five starters who made the most starts that year. The ERA and FIP, however, are for the entire rotation.)

YEAR ROTATION ERA (MLB ranking)  ROTATION FIP (MLB ranking) TOP FIVE STARTERS (based on number of starts)
2014 3.27 ERA (4th) 3.24 FIP (1st) Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez
2013 3.60 ERA (7th) 3.58 FIP (t-5th) Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Dan Haren, Ross Detwiler
2012 3.40 ERA (2nd) 3.46 FIP (1st) Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ross Detwiler
2011 3.80 ERA (11th) 3.93 FIP (14th) Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Tom Gorzelanny
2010 4.61 ERA (26th) 4.40 FIP (23rd) Livan Hernandez, John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, Scott Olsen
2009 4.97 ERA (27th) 4.79 FIP (27th) John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Jordan Zimmermann, Garrett Mock, Shairon Martis/J.D. Martin
2008 4.97 ERA (23rd) 4.95 FIP (28th) Tim Redding, John Lannan, Odalis Perez, Jason Bergmann, Collin Balestar
2007 5.11 ERA (26th) 5.45 FIP (30th) Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann, Mike Bacsik, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding
2006 5.37 ERA (28th) 5.09 FIP (28th) Ramon Ortiz, Tony Armas, Livan Hernandez, Mike O’Connor, Pedro Astacio
2005 4.03 ERA (12th) 4.16 FIP (12th) Livan Hernandez, Esteban Loaiza, John Patterson, Tony Armas, Ryan Drese
James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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James Wagner · June 24, 2014