Since the Washington Nationals drafted Ross Detwiler sixth overall in 2007, expectations have been high for the left-hander. He was brought up the same year he was drafted after pitching to a solid, though unspectacular 3.51 ERA in two levels of minor league ball, and appeared in one inning of one game. Detwiler was given an opportunity to make the 2009 team, which he did and pitched to a 1-6 record and a 5.11 ERA on a Nationals team that was nothing short of garbage.
For most of the years following, Detwiler was shuttled between the minors and the majors, making spot starts and coming out of the bullpen all while attempting to change his delivery, which was later abandoned.
Detwiler was widely considered by fans and most likely executives as a draft bust for years until 2012, where he pretty much had his breakout season. It was not so different from a Detwiler’s previous seasons as he was used as a reliever until free agent bust Chien-Ming Wang was once again ineffective, opening the door for Detwiler to make 27 starts, where he was 9-8 with a 3.58 ERA in that role.
Detwiler also easily had the best start of any Nationals starter in the playoffs, pitching six innings of one-run, three-hit ball in the memorable Game 6 where Jayson Werth‘s walkoff home run overshadowed just about everything. As we know, Detwiler was the pitcher put in the rotation to replace Stephen Strasburg, who was shut down due to his Tommy John innings limit.
Detwiler came in the following year having finally locked in his no. 5 starter role with Washington. Unfortunately, a back injury sidelined him in July after a 2-7 record and a 4.04 ERA, paving the way for the likes of Nate Karns, Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark to reveal the pitching depth nobody thought Washington had.
Now, going into 2014 Spring Training, Detwiler has to once again win a rotation spot coming out of Spring Training, something he has never done without the benefit of another player injury or because he was on a subpar team. So, with that in mind, where exactly is Detwiler better off, the rotation or bullpen?
This is actually a fascinating question, and it bears some thought, especially when looking at Detwiler’s splits. In his career, his ERA as a starter is 4.02, almost three full runs higher than his ERA as a reliever, which sits at a dominant 1.11. Detwiler is basically a one-pitch guy as he is incredibly stubborn when it comes to his pitching style; he loves to pound the zone with his sinking fastball and he doesn’t really change speeds, though he can be dominant when he mixes in his curveball. Changing speeds as a starter is paramount, and it is easy to see why Detwiler is so much better as a reliever since hitters tend to figure out pitchers as games progress.
No player should ever lose their job due to injury, and Detwiler deserves a fair shot to win back his job — that is a fact. However, with younger options with no serious injury history in Roark, Jordan or Karns, and with Detwiler’s splits so heavily favoring him as a reliever, it could be a very easy decision for the Nationals brass. Detwiler is statistically way better in the bullpen, and with only one lefty with major league experience competing for a job there, he should be that second lefty.