The Washington Nationals have an absurdly strong pitching staff heading into the 2013 season, and their collective depth will be something that carries the team throughout the season.
While any of these guys has a legitimate opportunity to beat the opposition's ace, there is one guy that stands out to me as someone who can have a ridiculously good season in 2013.
That guy isn't Strasburg, nor is he Gonzalez. He is Zimmermann.
To take it one step further: Jordan Zimmermann will be the best pitcher on the Nationals next season.
Sure, Strasburg struck out 197 batters in 159.2 innings and compiled a 3.16 ERA with 15 wins.
And sure, Gonzalez was a NL Cy Young candidate after winning 21 games and pitching to a 2.89 ERA.
But Zimmermann can be better than both of them.
He was just 12-8 with 153 strikeouts in 195.2 innings last season. He did, though, have a 2.94 ERA. That being said, they were an improvement from his 2011 numbers of 8-11 and 3.18. Those numbers were a huge improvement from his combined 2009-10 numbers of 4-7 and 4.79 (122.1 innings).
If he continues to improve, even if by just a little, Zimmermann is in for a fantastic season.
Let's gaze into the crystal ball for just a second.
Assuming the upward trend continues, Zimmermann could produce an ERA of 2.80 in over 200 innings of work. Maybe he'll strike out around 165, though that number really isn't important. He doesn't have to be insanely dominant to get outs.
Records are overrated when determining the value of a pitcher.
I mean, hey, just look at Felix Hernandez back in 2010. He was 13-12 and won the AL Cy Young for the Seattle Mariners.
That being said, Zimmermann's record of 12-8 will likely improve in 2013, and that's because he'll have much more consistent run support.
He did receive 4.91 runs per game last season, good enough for 15th amongst pitchers in the majors.
That being said, that run support was sporadic. Injuries to the team's lineup—Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Michael Morse and nearly every catcher on the roster were all bitten by the injury bug—really prohibited Zimmermann from receiving consistent support.
Much of the 4.91 runs per game were received in offensive outbursts, making the number a bit skewed.
Plus, the acquisition of leadoff man Denard Span will pay huge dividends for the team's offense. Zimmermann, along with every other pitcher on the staff, will benefit from his addition.
Zimmermann will continue to pitch to contact in 2013, just as he's done his entire career. He's effective when he does so, however, as evidenced by the combined 1.16 WHIP he's compiled over the past two seasons.
With his ability to keep the ball in zone and hit his spots, Zimmermann will be spectacular in 2013.
So spectacular that he'll be the Nationals' best pitcher.
If that ends up being the case, boy, the rest of the National League should be pretty darn worried about playing the Nationals in the postseason.
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