Washington Nationals: 2012 Starting Rotation Grades
Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Davey Johnson of the Washington Nationals
The 2012 Washington Nationals pitching rotation consisted of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler. As a group they were good enough to win the National League East. Washington finished with its best record ever at 98-64. Of their 98 victories the starting rotation accounted for 68. John Lannan started six games as well and finished 4-1.
The Nationals starting rotation produced five pitchers with double digit victories. Gonzalez had the most with 21. This made him the first pitcher since the team came to Washington in 2005 to win 20 or more games. Strasburg finished with 15 before being shut down in September. Between them Gonzalez and Strasburg accounted for over half of the starting rotation's victories.
Zimmerman won 12 while Jackson and Detwiler finished with 10 each.
The Nationals could rely on getting good performances from Gonzalez and Strasburg every time that they took the mound. Zimmerman was consistent in most of his starts. Jackson and Detwiler were slow starters. If teams got to them early it usually led to defeat. If Jackson and Detwiler got through the first two innings they usually got stronger as the game progressed.
Washington went into the post season without Strasburg. He was missed as the Nationals lost their best of five divisional series to the St Louis Cardinals. Gonzalez never really got on track. Zimmerman and Jackson did not pitch well in their starts. Detwiler had the best outing as he held the Cardinals to one run in game four.
Now that the season is over, it is time to grade Washington's starting rotation. They showed improvement in 2012, but there is still room to grow.
Here is the final report card.
Gonzalez came to Washington in an off season trade with the Oakland Athletics. Washington gave up four players to get him. The 26 year old left hander did all that he could to justify the trade.
Gonzalez went 21-8 with a 2.89 earned run average. He led the Nationals in wins, ERA and strikeouts with 207. This performance should earn him serious consideration for the NL Cy Young Award.
Statistics do not tell the story with Gonzalez. He was the left handed pitcher that Washington needed to go with the right handed Strasburg. With these two at the top of the rotation the Nationals knew that they had a chance to win back to back games every five days. Having Gonzalez and Strasburg meant that the team had two chances to stop any losing streak as well.
When Gonzalez had command of his fastball, he was almost untouchable. He had a tendency to become wild from time to time without warning. Fortunately, he was on his game more often than not.
In the post season, Gonzalez did not fare as well. He did not win a game against the Cardinals. In game one he left after five innings trailing 2-1. He left game five ahead 6-3, but Washington could not hold on to win.
The post season does not diminish what Gonzalez did for the Nationals in 2012. He has earned the right to be considered a Cy Young candidate.
The lightening rod decision of Washington's entire season was Strasburg being shut down after pitching 159 1/3 innings. This was done by team general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson as a precautionary measure. Strasburg was coming off of Tommy John surgery so the Nationals did not want to overwork him in his first season back.
While he did pitch, Strasburg was good enough to go 15-8 with a 3.16 ERA in 28 starts. He finished second to Gonzalez with 197 strikeouts.
Strasburg has been everything advertised since joining Washington in 2010. He has been the power pitching ace the team needed. One could make the case that the Nationals would still be in the playoffs if he had pitched, but that is water under the bridge.
Strasburg gives Washington a chance to win every time he takes the mound. However, like all young pitchers he was not always sharp and needs to learn how to pitch through adversity. This will come with experience. That experience will come next season when he pitches and entire year.
In 2012, Strasburg was Washington's second best pitcher behind Gonzalez. Every team in baseball wishes that they had one as good.
Zimmerman is the model that the organization used to handle Strasburg. Like Strasburg after him, Zimmerman came back from Tommy John surgery and was given a pitch count in 2011. In 2012, he was allowed to pitch an entire season. There was a time when Washington felt Zimmerman could be a staff ace. The elbow surgery may have changed their mind.
Zimmerman finished with a 12-8 record and 2.94 ERA. He is not the strikeout pitcher that Gonzalez and Strasburg are, but finished with 153. What Zimmerman does not do is walk batters as he led the team with a low of 43.
In 2012, Zimmerman looked like a pitcher still trying to find his way. When he was on his game the Nationals could count on seven strong innings. However, like the other members of Washington's staff Zimmerman could fall into a funk. This often happened when he felt umpires were squeezing the strike zone on him. Zimmerman is not a power pitcher. He struggles when not getting calls on pitches around the plate.
In his first full season back, Zimmerman did enough to justify his status in the rotation. When he learns to pitch through adversity the 26 year old will take that next step.
This is the man whom Washington brought in from St. Louis to eat up innings and keep the bullpen fresh. In that capacity, Jackson did the job as he pitched 189 2/3 innings. The win-loss category is another story.
Jackson won 10 games, but lost 11. He was the only member of the staff to finish with a losing record. The funny thing is that Jackson pitched one of the three complete games that the Nationals starters had.
Jackson finished with an ERA of 4.03. This was the worst on the staff by far. He finished last in walks, runs scored and earned runs as well.
With all of that said, Jackson did his job. His 189.2 innings were second most on the team to Gonzalez and Strasburg. He took his lumps as Johnson kept him in even when teams got to Jackson early.
Jackson was true to form in game three of the divisional series. He gave up four runs in the first two innings of an 8-0 Nationals defeat. It was the only game Jackson started.
If pitching is about winning and losing, Jackson gets a low grade. If we rate him on what the Nationals asked him to do then it is raised just a little.
Detwiler surprisingly beat out John Lannen for the final spot in the rotation. The 26 year old left hander did well enough to warrant Washington's faith in him.
Detwiler finished with a record of 10-8 in 27 starts. His ERA was 3.40.
During the regular season, Detwiler had games in which he was really sharp and others where he struggled. This is to be expected of any major league pitcher with less than 100 starts. It takes at least that many games to learn how to pitch in the big leagues.
When his fastball was clicking, Detwiler could pitch with anyone. His body language exuded confidence. When he could not spot the fastball, Detwiler seemed afraid to stick with it and challenge hitters.
If one were to go on just what he did in the regular season, Detwiler would get a low mark. However, his performance in game four of the NL Divisional Series raises it a little. When the Nationals needed him in a do-or-die situation, Detwiler pitched six solid innings. He gave up one run on three hits. Washington went on to win 2-1.
The Nationals hope that Detwiler will use that game as a springboard to future success. If he does Washington's staff will become formidable.