The Nationals do not necessarily have a “sleeper” of a fantasy rotation, but it definitely can be sneaky good by the time the calendar hits October. Who will occupy the fifth rotation spot is still being determined, but one-through-four in the rotation all have value when drafted properly.
Starting at the top, Stephen Strasburg will have the opportunity this year to pitch in the major leagues in the month of April. After missing most of the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the San Diego State standout (say that five times fast) has looked very sharp in his first few spring training outings. The one aspect of owning Strasburg that should worry fantasy owners is his innings limit. If you have a reliable starter like Strasburg , then lose him for the stretch run while in a close race, it will be impossible to replace his production without giving up a great amount of talent in a trade. The best possible strategy for a Strasburg owner could perhaps be trading him at the All-Star Break after banking a majority of his season in your stat column.
The most costly acquisition for the Nationals this offseason was lefty Gio Gonzalez. Coming from the spacious park in Oakland, in an overall weak offensive AL West, it will be interesting how the southpaw performs in his first year in the senior circuit. The 26 year-old starter is coming off of back-to-back 200-plus inning seasons, with an ERA in the low 3.00’s, and a K/9 rate average around 8.00. The two concerns with Gio repeating those numbers are his high strand rates (78.1% in 2010 and 77.1% in 2011) as well as his walk rate that has been 4.0 or better his entire career. If the strand rate normalizes while the walk rate doesn’t improve, his low 3.00 ERA could end up closer to 4.00 by season’s end.
Jordan Zimmerman and Edwin Jackson, the next two pitchers in the Nats rotation, are both great fantasy options if appropriate performance expectations are in place.
Zimmermann has yet to eclipse 161 innings in a season, and it should not be too much of a concern because he is 25 years-old, but it is information to consider. Also, in his return last year his K/9 sat at 6.92, well below the 9.07 mark he enjoyed in almost 100 pre-surgery innings in 2009. Still there is a lot of upside, and with a healthy arm he could rebound to his very nice 2009 numbers.
Edwin Jackson has pitched for 7 major league teams before he throws his first official pitch for the Washington Nationals, but he is still only 28 years-old, and he didn’t start pitching until after the Dodgers drafted him in the sixth round of the 2001 draft. Over the last three seasons he has been a workhorse, throwing 214, 209.1, and 199.2 innings from 2009-2011 respectively. Jackson is renowned for high pitch counts, high walk rates, with an ERA in the 4.00 range. Because of his age and minimal years of pitching experience, there is potential for improvement in the right situation. Even if there is no improvement, you can count on a lot of innings with a little risk to your ERA but a substantial negative effect to most fantasy staff’s WHIP.
The competition for the fifth spot in the rotation is currently between John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, and Chien-Ming Wang. It is rumored that the Nationals are pursuing trade options for one of these pitchers, and it appears Lannan is currently drawing the most interest from teams. Lannan is a lesser version of Edwin Jackson, without the upside, strikeout rate, or dependability of close to 200 innings. Ross Detwiler has the most upside out of the three pitchers, posting a respectable ERA and WHIP over 60-plus innings last season and has been impressive so far this spring, striking out nine in his first 7.2 innings of work, while allowing only one home run. The last option, once hyped Yankees signing, is Chein-Ming Wang. Wang pitched 62.1 innings in 2011 after missing time recovering from shoulder surgery. When he was healthy, his value was limited because of his low strike out rate, but was an effective ground ball pitcher. Whichever pitcher is named the fifth starter should be looked at as an NL-Only end of the staff filler until their in-season performance warrants otherwise.
Written by Nate Springfield exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com. Check back weekly for Nate's NL-Only expertise, and follow him on his journey for a title of the State House League in 2012.
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