2011 Baseball Preview

Meet the Washington Nationals

Livan Hernandez

RHP} Livan Hernandez

age ht wt w-l era so bb
36 6-2 245 10-12 3.66 114 64

At this time last year, Hernandez seemed not like a core piece of the Nationals, but more like a dispensable stopgap until Stephen Strasburg made his debut. This year, partly by default but also based on his performance, Hernandez will start opening day, the spot reserved for Strasburg, barring further injury, for the next dozen years or so. Hernandez was released in both the middle of the 2008 and 2009 seasons and pitched for four different teams. His ERA over those two years was 5.74, the highest in the majors. He seemed like a player on his way out. He was not. Last year, of course, Hernandez was remarkable. But can he do it again? Advanced metrics pointed to luck being Hernandez's close ally last season. If Hernandez's sinkers and cutters deaden bats again this season, will we still call it luck?

John Lannan

LHP} John Lannan

age ht wt w-l era so bb
26 6-4 215 8-8 4.65 71 49

The Nationals gave the ball to Lannan on opening day last year, and by June his career had hit an unforeseen crossroads. He spent six weeks at Class AA Harrisburg — "culture shock," Lannan said — relearning what had made him a consistent major league starting pitcher. After Lannan returned Aug. 1, he went 6-3 with a 3.42 ERA in 11 starts. His time in Class AA had not only fixed him, by his estimation. It made him better than ever. In those 11 starts, Lannan struck out 6.2 batters per nine innings, nearly two more than his career average to that point. Lannan, still just 26, should be more secure this year, having signed a one-year, $2.4 million contract to avoid arbitration in the offseason. He's no longer the opening day starter — just a better, more experience version of himself.

Jason Marquis

RHP} Jason Marquis

age ht wt w-l era so bb
32 6-1 210 2-9 6.60 31 24

The Nationals expected a stabilizing, innings-devouring presence when they signed Marquis last winter, and what they got was a disaster. Before May arrived, Marquis had made three starts, compiled a 20.52 ERA and gone under the knife to remove bone chips from his right elbow. "Embarrassing," Marquis said. But hope arrived by the end of the year, when Marquis punched up a 3.61 ERA over his final eight starts. If Marquis performs like the Nationals hoped he would last season and his sinker keeps darting like it did all spring, it may earn him a ticket out of town — he's in the final year of his two-year deal. And, with Yunesky, Ross Detwiler and others at the ready, the Nationals could trade him to a contender should they fall out of the race. First, though, Marquis wants to prove that the Nationals really did get what they signed.

Jordan Zimmermann

RHP} Jordan Zimmermann

age ht wt w-l era so bb
24 6-2 220 1-2 4.94 27 10

He prefers anonymity to standing out, so Zimmermann felt perfectly at ease this spring. "It's good," he said, "just to be another ballplayer." Zimmermann spent last year apart from his teammates, different and distant, as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. After making seven starts last season, Zimmermann never felt quite all the way back. This spring, the bite on his slider — his best pitch — and the zip on his 94 mph fastball returned. At 24 , even after surgery, Zimmermann remains one of the most promising young starters in baseball. Zimmermann went 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA during his stint in the majors, but he flashed what he's capable of when he one-hit the Florida Marlins over six innings and faced the minimum. If Zimmermann reaches his potential, stardom awaits. He may not like it, but Zimmermann might not be just another ballplayer for long.

Tom Gorzelanny

LHP} Tom Gorzelanny

age ht wt w-l era so bb
28 6-2 205 7-9 4.09 119 68

The Nationals' failed search for a No. 1 starter this winter led them, eventually, to Gorzelanny, a 28-year-old lefty who slots in as the fifth starter — but who could be a better find than one of the would-be aces they missed on. The Nationals tried to deal for Matt Garza before the Tampa Bay Rays sent him to the Cubs. So they traded for Gorzelanny, who, by one leading sabermetric measure, actually had a better year than Garza. Gorzelanny posted a 3.92 FIP, a metric that predicts a pitcher's ERA based solely on what he can control. (Garza's FIP: 4.42.) If nothing else, Gorzelanny gives the Nationals' rotation a strikeout threat it lacked. Remove Stephen Strasburg's 92 strikeouts in 68 innings, and Nationals starters last year struck out 5.06 batters per nine innings, which would have been the lowest rate in the majors since 2007. Gorzelanny struck out 7.9 per nine last year, better than any returning starter.

By Adam Kilgore - The Washington Post. Published March 29, 2011.