Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Roark throwing his hat in the 2014 rotation ring


Roark is putting himself into 2014 rotation contention.  Photo Alex Brandon/AP via

Roark is putting himself into 2014 rotation contention. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via

I’ll admit it; I’m a fan of Tanner Roark.  I’m a fan of the underdog.  I’m a fan of the 25th round draft pick working his way up and making an impression at the MLB level.

I never could understand how his decent numbers in Texas’ AA hitters league AA didn’t translate once he got to the Eastern league (after he was included in a trade for Cristian Guzman back in 2010).  I figured that he was bound for the dreaded “org guy” title after his 2011 season; a middling .500 record with a 4.69 ERA while repeating AA in his fourth pro year.  I figured he was just playing out the string when he passed through Rule-5 drafts and posted a 6-17 record in AAA.

Nobody thought he could suddenly be dominant.  And around August of this year, it seemed like calling him up to cover for a suddenly open “long man/spot-starter” role in the bullpen made complete sense.  And so far, he’s done nothing to disappoint.

Is he putting his name into the lead for the 5th starter spot on this club in 2014?

After Ross Ohlendorf failed to make a case to stay in the rotation, Roark was given a start over the weekend and threw 6 incredibly efficient innings of 4-hit ball.   71 pitches, 46 for strikes, giving up 4 hits and zero walks to earn his 5th victory of the season and first by way of being a starter.   Since this was Roark’s first start of the season, his pitch f/x data is telling (in shorter stints pitchers can throw harder knowing they’re done after 20 pitches).  Roark threw his 49 fastballs at an average of 93.07mph with a max of 94.81mph, had great success with his change and curve (throwing 5 of each and getting 8/10 for strikes).   He maintained the same velocity he was showing in shorter stints before his start.  Roark got excellent movement on his fastball, hit corners well (as he has shown he can do), and controlled the Marlins for 6 innings.

Now, this is the Marlins we’re talking about.  So we’re not talking about the 1927 Yankees.  And one telling stat about Roark was this: he only got 2 swinging strikes the entire game (he had 4 punchouts for the night, mostly called).  He does not have swing-and-miss stuff.  But he does seem to really have “weak contact” stuff; there were only 2-3 really well hit fair balls on the night.  But, like I’ve pointed out in the past, Roark works the corners, throws a heavy ball, gets a lot of weak contact, and doesn’t need to have 8.5 k/9 stuff to succeed.  And it isn’t like this Marlins team is a little league team; they pounded Dan Haren the night before (you know, Dan Haren, the guy who’s making 26 times what Roark is and the guy who, when he’s on the mound his team is now 9-18 on the year.  Great signing he’s turned out to be…).

Taylor JordanNathan Karns: attention; Roark’s making a name for himself.  Spring Training could be fun.

Written by Todd Boss

September 9th, 2013 at 8:15 am

8 Responses to 'Roark throwing his hat in the 2014 rotation ring'

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  1. Roark is an example of why GMs are reluctant to give up on guys who can throw the ball hard. Sometimes, it all suddenly “clicks.” The question is, how good will Roark be going forward? I agree he is a potential rotation candidate next year, and wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up bumping Detwiler into the long relief/spot starter role, which I think Det may be better suited for anyway.

    The other factor is whether the Nats will risk not obtaining another veteran starter over the winter and settle for filling two rotation spots in house now that some of their young SP prospects are getting close to be ready. You mentioned Jordan and Karns, and A.J. Cole might also be ready for a look by the middle of next season with Robbie Ray not far behind him.


    9 Sep 13 at 10:12 am

  2. I am a fan of the Roark story. Still a skeptic on his ability to be a quality starter in a big league rotation, though. He has had a great run this year, no doubt, but I find myself not really believing that it will be repeatable. It just feels like one of those flashes that you get every season from multiple players across baseball, and then guys regress into the background again. In Roark’s case, I’d point to a .240 BABIP and 84% LOB rate as at least some data suggesting it won’t last.

    I think that they need to add a quality starter next year. I think most of you won’t agree, but I am not sure what to make of Gio and JZimm: good, but how good? Will Det hold up? I like Jordan a lot. But I think if they go only with internal options, and JZimm is the 2d half guy and Gio has another up and down year, the rotation no longer is a strength.

    I would like to see one more quality guy (I agree with Todd; not a Haren-type but a better pitcher) then let Det and Jordan fight it out for the 5th slot, with the loser, plus Karns, Roark, Ray and Cole as potential fill ins.


    9 Sep 13 at 11:47 am

  3. Hmm. I still think Gio is a #2 starter in this league; capable of potting together dominant outings, sprinkled with occasional lapses. Same with Zimmermann really; good but not an Ace.

    But if you have a league-wide Ace, two #2s, a league wide 3 and then a 5th starter whos slightly better than a league wide 5th starter, thats still pretty durn good. Plenty of teams don’t even have someone of the quality of Strasburg to lead the line, let alone guys with #2 capabilities.

    Roark; maybe he competes for 5th starter, maybe he sticks in the pen as a long man who gets all the spare starts. Or maybe he’s next year’s version of Zach Duke; a guy who does well in AAA, sparkles in September, then falls apart after getting a mlb deal the following spring.

    Todd Boss

    9 Sep 13 at 2:24 pm

  4. Not sure I agree on Gio – this year makes last year look like the outlier,and if that is true, he looks like a #3 to me, albeit a better one. JZimm looks like what he has been, basically a 3 WAR pitcher. I’d say that changes it to a #1, two #3s at the top. Who was the ‘league wide #3’ – Det? If yes, I’d agree that his rate stats suggest that, but he has never put up the innings to grant it to him, so I’d put him more as a 4/5 right now until he shows some durability. Then add a rookie, Jordan or one of the others, but I don’t think you can pencil them in as more than a #5 until they do it over a whole season. At that point, the rotation looks top 10-12, not top 5. So if they could add another #3 type, it looks a lot stronger. Always a question of cost, of course. Might not be worth it.


    9 Sep 13 at 2:56 pm

  5. Its too bad Detwiler got hurt; maybe his best option is to get traded. A better detwiler question; do you tender him? (probably yes of course … but he’s gotta earn it in 2014).

    Of course that being said … there’s more than one scout who thinks Detwiler has the best stuff on the staff. Hard to believe to this person but you can kind of see it when he’s healthy and “on.” And lefties who throw 94 don’t grow on trees. So I think you stick with him.

    Todd Boss

    9 Sep 13 at 3:03 pm

  6. Look at Gio’s ERA+ values for last 4 seasons; both this season and last season are outliers on either side of what he probably is; a 120 ERA+ guy. That’s solid, #2 stuff. Detwiler when healthy absolutely throws like a league-wide #3. But that’s the rub; he’s rarely healthy.

    I realize its all subjective, talk about league wide this or that. What is Cole Hamels? A guy who for 3 solid years was pitching like a complete ace and inexplicably he bottoms out in 2013. How much do you factor in the latest year? Is it an anomoly or a trend? Justin Verlander: bad season or the bottom falling out? Jon Lester? How about John Lackey in 2013? His record is’t great but his ERA+ says he’s doing great and he’s in line to be a 3WAR guy.

    Todd Boss

    9 Sep 13 at 3:10 pm

  7. Detwiler – I would definitely keep him through his arb years. His absolute floor is a top notch lefty in the pen throwing 85 innings. That is a 1-2WAR pitcher. If Sean Marshall could get 3/$13m or so, Det is worth what arbitration gives him, especially since you don’t have to make the guarantee. And his upside is a #3 SP, so it seems like a no brainer. And I think that we agree that his stuff and performance imply #3 but as you said, at this point, he has to throw the innings before he gets that status (to me). But there is no way I think he has better stuff than Stras. I think some Nats fans get a little jaded by the hype and don’t quite realize how good Stras is.

    As for the guys that you mention, for Hamels and Verlander I think it is an off year. For Lackey, I think it is unlikely to be repeated. But I have no real basis for either statement.

    Here is a batter Q for you: do you really think Rendon is a stud? I am not sure. I think if he could be the package for a young controllable #2 type, I think I’d sell. I kind of see more of a 2.5 WAR guy than a 5WAR guy.


    9 Sep 13 at 9:17 pm

  8. I think you pay Detwiler for 2014 and then maybe think about cutting him loose in 2015 if he has another subpar season. I’ll always hold Bowden in contempt for his ridiculously short-sighted callup of Detwiler in 2007; that decision continues to haunt us til today. Because he was out of options early, we have had to do roster manipulations for years to cover for him. And we still do; if he loses out on the 5th starter spot he can’t be sent down. Grr.

    Agree on the “stuff” … that comment was from a scout not a fan, just can’t remember the exact context.

    Gonzalez; I think last night is a great example of why I think he’s a #2. He does have no-hit stuff, just not very consistently. He can be a 20-game winner when things go right, but normally sits just a notch below.

    Rendon: I would say that Rendon’s ceiling for me is lower than I thought it would be coming out of college; he’s really undersized; there’s no way he’s 6’0″. I do like his approach at the plate; very patient, very mature. It just hasn’t ended up with the results we want yet. His numbers aren’t *bad* necessarily, they’re just not rookie of the year type stuff. I’m also thinking that he may very well stay at 2b long term; he looks natural there, he’s the right size and he profiles as the right kind of hitter. Maybe he can build on his current just-about-mlb-average hitter profile with more MLB experience.

    Todd Boss

    10 Sep 13 at 8:22 am

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