Nationals Arm Race

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

Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?



Joe Ross has been a revalation at the MLB level.  Photo Getty Images via

Joe Ross has been a revelation at the MLB level. Photo Getty Images via

Joe Ross, who it is fair to say was in some respects the “other guy” in the Tampa/San Diego 3-way trade that netted the Nats presumed future shortstop Trea Turner but cost them Steven Souza and prospect Travis Ott, got a somewhat surprising call-up after the starters covering for Doug Fister didn’t quite give the Nats the performance they were looking for.

Three starts later, two of which were easily defined as “dominant,” is it too soon to think that perhaps Ross is a bigger part of the Nats future than the trio of starter prospects we have stashed in Syracuse?

He looked *really good* last night against a team on an 8-game winning streak.  He was making professional hitters look very, very ordinary with his slider.  His slider was so good, he threw it nearly 50% of the time last night and got an astounding 38% whiff rate.  Average fastball of 93.1, max of 96.8 on the night.  Wow.

Small Sample Sizes, of course.  And maybe you could ignore the 11-K performance against the god-awful Brewers.  But Pittsburgh is was hottest team in the league and was mowed down like little leaguers.

At the beginning of this season, if you asked me what the Nats’ rotation was going to look like in the next three transitionary years, I might have said something like this:

  • 2015: Scherzer, Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez, Fister with Roark as #1 replacement option
  • 2016: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Roark and a battle between Treinen, Cole, Jordan and Hill (in that order) for 5th and 6th spots.
  • 2017: Scherzer, Giolito, Gonzalez, Roark, and a question mark.  Maybe Treinen/Cole, maybe a veteran acquired via FA or trade.  Maybe Lopez if he moves up at the same pace as Giolito.  Who knows.

Now?  I think you have to think Ross has jumped to the top of the list in that 2016 rotational battle, maybe even solidifying his spot.   Does a rotation of Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez and Roark sound good?  Keep Treinen in the bullpen.  Flip spare depth (Cole, Jordan, Hill) for whatever you can get for them, and make room for the next wave of guys (Giolito, Voth, Lopez, Pivetta).

Wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  We love dreaming on pitching prospects here, but give me  your thoughts.


13 Responses to 'Is Ross making the Nats re-think their future rotation strategy?'

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  1. I’ll admit that at the time of the trade, I thought of Ross as a stalled former first-rounder who might be headed for the ‘pen and/or a AAAA career. Law was about the only one who was really high on him. Some lists, including the first I saw, didn’t even have him in the top 10 of Padre prospects. I guess that just goes to show how meaningless those lists are!

    I’m less intrigued right now about 2016-17 than I am about 2015. The Nats need to start the best five – period. Will that happen? Would the Nats dare push Gio or Fister to the ‘pen, or (gasp) Stras? Right now, Roark and Ross are showing better than those three, much better in some cases.

    I don’t mean to come across as hating on Stras. When he’s healthy, physically and mentally, he’s nearly unhittable. But I have little confidence that he’ll come back 100% from just one or two rehab starts.

    I have also been quick to jump into chats over the years and declare Gio off the market, as a proven starter signed for a reasonable amount. But now is he? I’d say he probably still is, with the Nats having to replace two starters in 2016 and likely another in 2017, and with them having no lefties on the horizon, but as shaky as Gio has been at times, I’m no longer so sure.

    We all thought the transition would start after 2015, but between injuries and poor play, there are a lot of tough questions *right now.* Kudos to Matt W. for benching Desi, and RZim for a few games before he went on the DL. Think about where we are, though – the long-time team leaders have been Desi, RZim, Werth among the hitters, with Stras as the ace and JZim and Gio close behind. All of those have had rocky seasons, JZim less than the others, but certainly no where close to the “contract year” we expected. Let’s put it in stark terms: Clint Robinson and Joe Ross (after only three games!) have higher bWARs than all of those players except JZim.

    If the Nats were 12+ games over .500 and cruising in the division, they could afford to take egos into account. Now, they can’t. They’ve got to play their best guys. I also think they need to go out and get a hitter who can give Harper some protection (Todd Frazier, anyone?), but that’s another debate for another day. Right now, Ross is in my rotation until and unless he gets banged around a few times.


    20 Jun 15 at 1:33 pm

  2. I don’t think that Ross’s emergence has substantially changed the “plan” of the Nats, because I think that Rizzo was angling for Ross all along. It wasn’t just Law that like Ross; Baseball America, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs and others also had Ross in or near their top 100 prospects. Even at the time the consensus that I read was that, by getting Ross and Turner for Souza Rizzo either had incriminating photos of someone or should have worn a mask and carried a gun. And that was true even for McDaniel, who was very high on Souza. Ross was overshadowed in the press and fan awareness because of the weirdness around Turner’s “PTBNL” status (and MLB’s subsequent rules change). But the idea that Ross was simply “the other guy” or a “throw in” (which I’ve also seen bandied about) is simply wrong.

    For 2015, I’m in the camp that three good starts do not a spot in the rotation guarantee; you simply can’t ignore 3+ years of solid production from the other five guys (make it 2+ of solid production and you can make that six, with Roark) based on three starts. No problem with telling Strasburg to take another rehab start, sure. But when everyone’s ready, Roark to stabilize the bullpen and Ross back to AA (AAA Syracuse doesn’t sound like a great situation; that team is terrible) to be stretched out and ready in case he’s called upon again.

    If he finishes the season strong then he’s absolutely in the mix for the rotation in 2016, probably first in line for the #5 spot.

    John C.

    20 Jun 15 at 2:26 pm

  3. Todd, you’re right, he was the ‘other guy’ in the trade.
    It’s not even close that Ross & Roark have been better than Strasburg & Gio this year but there seems an air of inevitability of everything reverting back to the start of the season.
    The next month will sure be interesting!

    Mark L

    20 Jun 15 at 3:20 pm

  4. Todd, looks like it’s time to update the greatest games list. I’d put Max’s at #2, ahead of JZim’s. I might have put a perfecto at #1. If Tabata really wants a HBP, he deserves a few more that he actually earns. What a bush-league play. If it was a one-run game in a pennant race, sure, do whatever you can. Otherwise, be a player and earn it. I’m glad that Max was still thrilled to get the no-hitter.

    I wonder what the fewest number of batters faced in consecutive games is. Max is at 57. Amazing.


    20 Jun 15 at 7:22 pm

  5. Back to the other stuff. Let me say up front that I’m not advocating for long-term benching, or trading, or things like that. I don’t want this to degenerate into “let’s trade Stras”! I think it will be very difficult for the Nats to go deep into the postseason without Strasburg and Desmond getting their mojos back.

    That said, right now, the team has to be realistic about who is going well. Roark is the third-best starter the Nats have at the moment, and he actually has slightly better numbers than JZim. Not counting Ross, I’m not even sure who would be #4. Roark is a run and a half better on ERA than Fister and Gio, and of course Stras has veered off the charts.

    Yes, the league will get a read on Ross, and smart teams will hunt fastballs and see if he can get that nasty slider called consistently for strikes. We’ll have to see he responds. But we know Roark is legit.

    It’s a difficult situation. Matt has to do what’s best for the team. I don’t know what that is. It’s easy to say “go with your best guys,” but much harder to actually figure out how to make that work. At least the Nats have options.

    As for Ross, here’s the first thing I saw after the trade:

    Sickels had him as the #16 Padres prospect, with a C+ grade. Obviously I was pleased to see that others thought more highly of him.


    20 Jun 15 at 7:44 pm

  6. KW, don’t understate Sickels’s appreciation of Joe Ross – the C+ grade that you list is before the 2014 season. After a solid season in 2014 Ross had moved up to a “B” ranking. The Nats only had one other “B” in the system: Trea Turner.


    He had Giolito as an “A” (one of only a handful across baseball), Taylor as a B+ and Cole as a borderline B+/B. Below Cole he ranked Difo, Fedde, Lopez and Drew Ward as B- prospects. B-, btw, is pretty high praise from Sickels.

    John C.

    20 Jun 15 at 9:57 pm

  7. I meant “below Ross” for the B- prospects, of course. My kingdom for an edit function!

    John C.

    20 Jun 15 at 9:58 pm

  8. Ross is off a great start, but fits the ‘keep showing me’ category before he gets counted on to displace a starter. Right now, to me, the question may start to be ‘does Roark bump Fister’. Stras and Gio are there to stay, they should be imo.

    Fister needs some time to see if he is back to last years levels, but if not, I’d swap him. And I probably give Joe time back in AA, meaning Roark takes his place.


    21 Jun 15 at 9:37 am

  9. I have been thinking for awhile that maybe they should send Strasburg to the bullpen where he could just crank up his fastball for one inning each time out. Maybe then they would not need to send half of their top prospects to the Reds for Chapman.

    That said (and maybe being at the park yesterday is clouding my judgement), Scherzer REALLY seems to like pitching on 6 days rest, as he has the last two times out. Maybe a 6-man rotation is the way to go.

    Side note: I waited 49 years to see my first no-hitter in person. Now I have seen two in less than a year. Fun stuff indeed. 🙂

    Karl Kolchak

    21 Jun 15 at 9:37 am

  10. Congrats on your second no-hitter in nine months, Karl! Well done 🙂

    I see a lot of “send Stras to the bullpen” and it doesn’t make much sense to me. He’s never done it as a professional, we don’t know how long it takes him to warm up, and (most problematic) his first inning or two are often his worst. Why make all of his innings his first one or two?

    John C.

    21 Jun 15 at 7:47 pm

  11. KW: on the “greatest list” yeah i’ll have to re-visit. I’ll put in in draft mode awaiting another game down the line. But its going to be hard to beat either of his last two starts: Game Score of 100 (6th best ever 9-inning game score in history) and then the “Elbow Perfect Game.”

    Todd Boss

    21 Jun 15 at 8:39 pm

  12. KW and Strasburg to the bullpen: ridiculousness. Just look no further than his Babip and the delta between his ERA and FIP. He’s been unlucky as hell and his “traditional” stats have taken a beating. I have him in fantasy and i’ve fielded numerous trade offers for him by vultures in the league who must think i’m an idiot to possibly sell low. Much like Kershaw (who struggled early), Strasburg will pull off a couple of his classic 7ip 4 hit zero runs 10 K starts soon.

    Todd Boss

    21 Jun 15 at 8:42 pm

  13. KW: updating the “greatest games list.” I have a “best pitching performance” post in draft mode that I meant to re-publish last fall after Zimmermann’s no hitter. But with Zuckerman’s post today, I’m not goign to bother b/c he basically wrote what I would have written.

    Well, from a top 5 perspective anyway.

    Todd Boss

    22 Jun 15 at 1:25 pm

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