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9 Reasons the Washington Nationals Have the Best Pitching Staff in the NL

Robert WoodCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2016

9 Reasons the Washington Nationals Have the Best Pitching Staff in the NL

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    The Washington Nationals had arguably the best pitching staff in the National League during the 2012 MLB season.

    The Nats starters were at or near the top of the NL in wins, ERA, batting average against (AVG), walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), fewest home runs allowed and strikeouts.

    But will the departure of Edwin Jackson hurt the Nationals pitching staff? How much will the addition of Dan Haren help the Nats? And will having Stephen Strasburg for an entire season allow the Nationals pitching staff to retain their crown as best in the National League?

    Here are nine reasons why the Washington Nationals have the best pitching staff in the NL.

9. Bringing the Heat

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    First and foremost, the Washington Nationals pitching staff is the best in the National League because they have an intimidation factor other staffs do not have.

    Washington's starters can intimidate their opponents with unrelenting velocity. As a group, the Nats pitching staff led the NL with an average fastball velocity (FBv) of 93.5 mph. That was more than 2.0 mph faster than the Cincinnati Reds starters, who were second best in the NL with an FBv of 91.4 mph.

    Cincinnati's own Drew Stubbs told Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post what it was like to face the Nationals pitching staff, after a four-game series in Washington in April 2012:

    Against these guys, it’s like you don’t get a chance to catch your breath. You get done with one, it’s just on to the next one. We were here for four days. All four guys, and we missed Strasburg, can hit the mid-90s. That’s tough. It’s very rare. Usually, you only have one guy in the rotation who throws like that.

8. Chicks Dig the Strikeout

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    If the sexiest statistic for a hitter is the home run, then the sexiest statistic for a pitcher is the strikeout.

    In that case, the Washington Nationals pitching staff was pretty damn sexy during the 2012 season.

    The Nats starters finished third in the NL with 1325 strikeouts, behind the Milwaukee Brewers with 1402 and the Philadelphia Phillies with 1385.

    The sexiest pitcher on the Nationals staff was Gio Gonzalez, who finished fourth in the NL with 207 strikeouts.

    But Gio's stiffest competition for the title of sexiest pitcher on the staff was eliminated from competition in early September, as Stephen Strasburg was shut down on September 7 after 159.1 innings. Despite pitching exactly 40.0 fewer innings than Gonzalez, Strasburg still finished seventh in the NL with 197 strikeouts.

    As a result of this disparity in innings pitched, Gio Gonzalez led all qualified NL starters with 9.35 strikeouts per nine innings.  If Strasburg had qualified for this statistic, his 11.13 strikeouts per nine innings would have led the league.

    That's a sexy one-two punch.

7. Command of the Strike Zone

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    The Washington Nationals starters cannot strike out every hitter they face. But they can still command the strike zone.

    One good measure of this ability is by calculating the average number of walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP). 

    The Nationals starters led the National League with a 1.22 WHIP.

    Cy Young finalist Gio Gonzalez once again led the team in this category with a 1.13 WHIP, which was eighth-best in the league among qualified starters. Jordan Zimmermann was 11th in the NL with a 1.17 WHIP, while Edwin Jackson was 18th and Ross Detwiler was 22nd, both with a 1.22 WHIP. Stephen Strasburg would have finished 10th in the NL with a 1.15 WHIP, if he had qualified.

6. Keep It in the Park

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    Despite a pitcher's best efforts to strike out the opposing batter and minimize walks and hits allowed, he may occasionally fall victim to baseball's great equalizer: the home run.

    The Washington Nationals pitching staff was second best in the National League at limiting this type of damage, with 82 home runs allowed. The Nats trailed only St. Louis, with 79 home runs allowed.

    In case you have failed to spot the trend, Gio Gonzalez led the Washington Nationals pitching staff with the fewest home runs allowed. Gio surrendered only nine homers, while Ross Detwiler was second with 13.

5. Don't Let the Other Team Score

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    The primary goal of any pitcher when he takes the mound is to keep the other team from scoring.

    No pitching staff in the National League was better at this than the Washington Nationals during the 2012 season.

    The Nats starters allowed the fewest runs and earned runs in the NL, and by extension had the lowest ERA in the Senior Circuit. The Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation was second in all three categories, narrowly losing the battle for lowest ERA in the NL.

    Since the objective of baseball is to score more runs than your opponent, it would follow that the pitching staff with the lowest ERA wins the most games. The Nationals pitching staff did just that, as their 72 wins as a staff led the NL, barely beating out the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, whose pitching staffs each earned 71 wins.

    The Washington Nationals used the strength of their starting rotation to clinch the best record in the National League and all of MLB, finishing the season at 98-64.

4. Depth of Ability

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    Gio Gonzalez is not the sole reason that the Washington Nationals pitching staff is the best in the National League, despite the fact that Gio led the Washington Nationals in all but one of the statistical categories previously listed in this slide show.

    No, the Washington Nationals have the best pitching staff in the NL because they have depth.

    In 2012, Washington boasted a 20-game winner, a 15-game winner and two more pitchers with at least 10 wins. The fifth starter in the rotation finished with nine wins.

    The Nats had two starters with an ERA under 3.00, and two more with an ERA under 4.00. The odd man out had a respectable ERA of 4.03.

    And finally, as a nod to the sabermetricians among us, the Nationals pitching staff led the NL in wins above replacement (WAR) with a score of 18.1, according to FanGraphs.com.

3. Cutting the Weakest Link

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    The Washington Nationals may have been the best pitching staff in the NL last season, but their rotation has already undergone some significant changes.

    The first change to the Nationals' pitching staff is the impending departure of veteran Edwin Jackson. Nats GM Mike Rizzo did not offer Jackson a qualifying offer, and Jackson is expected to sign elsewhere.

    Subtracting Edwin Jackson will actually help the Washington Nationals. The 29-year-old Jackson was one of the worst if not the worst among the Nationals starters in several categories.

    Edwin Jackson had the worst ERA on the Nationals staff, along with the highest home runs allowed per nine innings. And Jackson was second worst in walks per nine innings, WHIP and WAR, according to FanGraphs.com.

    Now the Nationals have a chance to strengthen their rotation if they replace Edwin Jackson with the right pitcher.

2. Worthy Replacement

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    Dan Haren is the right pitcher for the Washington Nationals to replace Edwin Jackson.

    The Washington Nationals signed the 32-year-old right hander to a one-year deal reportedly worth $13 million, according to The Associated Press (via Sports Illustrated).

    Haren struggled during the 2012 season while a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He finished 12-13 with a 4.33 ERA and 142 strikeouts. Haren's win total was tied for the worst in his 10-year career, while his ERA was the third highest and his strikeout total was the lowest in a complete season.

    But over his career, Haren's numbers compare favorably to Jackson's. Edwin Jackson has also played in the major leagues for 10 years, but his 162-game average is a 11-11 record with a 4.40 ERA and 150 strikeouts. Haren's 162-game average is a 14-11 record with a 3.66 ERA and 185 strikeouts.

    An average Dan Haren would be an improvement over the 2012 version of Edwin Jackson.

1. The Ace of Diamonds

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    The Washington Nationals rotation may be a stacked deck, but Stephen Strasburg is the ace.

    Stephen Strasburg only made 28 starts in 2012, throwing 159.1 innings due to an innings limit imposed by the Washington Nationals due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery. But he finished the season with a 15-6 record, 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts.

    Projected over an entire season, Strasburg's numbers are pretty impressive. For his 162-game average, Strasburg has a 16-8 record with a 2.94 ERA and 236 strikeouts.

    And Strasburg has often been victimized by the no-decision. In his 45 career starts, Strasburg already has 14 no-decisions, nearly one-third of his starts. If he can cut down on that number, he can win 20 games.

    The Washington Nationals had the best pitching staff in the National League even when they weren't playing with a full deck. But once it's time to shuffle up and deal, the Nationals' ace of diamonds will help the team retain that title.

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