In adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson, and having Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann both starting the season healthy, one would think the Nationals should be significantly better in the pitching department. It seems pretty obvious, lose basically nobody and add two guys who would be starters on almost any team in baseball. Well, no matter how obvious it seems, one guy doesnt see the Nats pitching as that much better.
Tony DeMarco of NBCSports.com ranks the Nationals as the 14th best pitching staff as teams enter Spring Training. He has them fourth in their division behind the Phillies, Marlins, and Braves.
Yea, the Marlins.
DeMarco actually has the Marlins ahead of Atlanta. This is the Miami Marlins with serious questions surrounding the most important body part on their roster in determining their success: Josh Johnsons shoulder. Without Johnson the Marlins are a completely different story, Mark Buehrle is reliable but this ranking suggests Carlos Zambrano will have a huge year. Zambrano had a 4.82 ERA last season in one of the best years ever for pitching statistics.
DeMarco says this about the Nationals:
Stephen Strasburg's health is paramount here. But the additions of Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson are big, and Jordan Zimmermann is emerging.
It seems pretty positive and Strasburgs health is an obvious factor, so why are the Nationals ranked so low? The Nats were ninth in all of baseball last season with just 3.99 runs allowed per game. How can they drop five spots after adding a left-handed All-Star and the fourth starter on the last World Series champs? Pitching is about preventing runs after all.
Baseball-Reference.com lists the league average for team runs allowed per game as 4.28 for the 2011 season. The Marlins ranked just behind that number with an average of 4.33 runs allowed. In fact, DeMarco slots the Nationals behind seven teams they allowed less runs than last season. Some make sense, teams that added pieces like the Yankees and Angels. But some are really quite confusing.
The Boston Red Sox for instance allowed 4.55 runs per game last year and did little to improve their starting rotation this winter. They did add closer Andrew Bailey, but Jonathan Papelbon saved 31 games for them last season.
The Texas Rangers allowed 4.18 runs per game, 13th in the majors, and lost their ace this season. Yu Darvish was added, but how much better he can be than C.J. Wilson has not been proven.
The Detroit Tigers allowed 4.39 runs per game in 2011 and didnt add anybody, unless Collin Balester is considered a huge upgrade. DeMarco has the Tigers with the seventh best rotation in the league.
Why are the Nationals ranked so low? One can only wonder as DeMarco didnt go into a full explanation of why he put them there. Either way, it looks like the Nationals pitching staff has some proving to do before they get the respect some think they deserve.