Rob Carr/Getty Images
Don't let the 8-11 record fool you. Jordan Zimmermann was the Nationals ace this year. He posted a 3.18 era over 161 1/3 innings, striking out 124 and walking just 31.
To answer my question a little further of how a team flirting with .500 be so bad when it comes to scoring runs, look no further than the vast improvement in the Nationals pitching staff. Currently eighth in baseball in team ERA, the Nationals can flat-out pitch and are poised to be an even better staff in the coming years.
The Nationals came into 2011 with a mix of veteran and youth among their starting five and have ended the year with only two pitchers with three-plus years of big league experience as opposed to the four out of five that they began the year with.
The Nationals rotation began the year with the following:
RHP Livan Hernandez
LHP Jason Marquis
LHP John Lannan
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
LHP Tom Gorzelanny
While each member to start in the rotation did a good to great job, due to the youth movement in the nation's capital, only one of the five remains. Jason Marquis was moved to Arizona at the trading deadline, Tom Gorzelanny was move to long-relief in preparation for the return of Chien-Ming Wang manager Davey Johnson's desire to have a dependable bullpen guy to pitch two-plus innings at any point in a ballgame. Jordan Zimmermann was shut down due to his innings limit after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in August of 2009, and Livan Hernandez was removed due to the club's desire to start evaluating its top pitching prospects as the season began to wind down.
Their rotation now consists of the following:
LHP John Lannan (10-13, 3.73, 32 GS, 178 2/3 IP)
LHP Tom Milone (1-0, 3.32, 4 GS, 21 2/3 IP)
RHP Brad Peacock (2-0, 0.75, 3G, 2 GS, 12 IP)
RHP Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 2.00, 4 GS, 18 IP, 14K's to 0 BB)
RHP Chien-Ming Wang (4-3, 4.04, 11 GS, 62 1/3 IP)
LHP Ross Detwiler (4-5, 3.00, 15 G, 10 GS, 66 IP)
No one on the team's current rotation, outside of Wang, is older than 27 and three of the five have dominated in the upper level of the minor leagues and could eventually be No. 2s or in Strasburg's case, No. 1 in the Nationals' rotation.
Assuming no starters of significance are traded or acquired, the Nationals have to fill five rotation spots will a plethora of legitimate candidates in 2012.
To break it down further, three pitchers—if they are retained—will be locks:
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
RHP Stephen Strasburg
LHP John Lannan
Now look at the battle for the final two spots:
1. LHP Ross Detwiler: The 2007 first-rounder hasn't been much other than a disappointment prior to 2011. He has had sprinkles of success in previous seasons, but since getting a chance to start consistently in August, the left-hander has made himself look like the right selection for the Nationals four years ago. Given his late season performance, he will more than likely be first in line for that fourth spot in the team's rotation in 2012.
2. LHP Tom Milone: The 2010 minor league pitcher of the year for the club and dominated the International League at AAA for much of the '11 season. He posted a crazy K/BB ratio of nearly 10-1. Did I mention that this kid tops out in the low 90s on his fastball?
3. RHP Brad Peacock: He dominated the Eastern League and got invited to the Future's game along with Bryce Harper. He even pitched well in a cup of coffee at AAA before posting a sub 1.00 ERA with the Nationals.
4. Chien-Ming Wang: The Nationals spent almost two years waiting on Wang's return to the big leagues and were rewarded with four quality starts and five-plus innings in every outing other than his first start back in the bigs.
All four pitchers have a legitimate case for being a National on opening day, but barring a big free agent acquisition, there will be four of them fighting for just two spots.
The logjam in the rotation can only lead one to believe that the Nationals have come a long, long way with their pitching staff. It was only a few years ago when players like Tony Armas Jr, Odalis Perez, and Ramon Ortiz were some the Nationals "top" rotation arms.