It's clear that Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo puts a premium on quality pitching, and the Nats are becoming a team that's increasingly difficult to ignore because of it. The Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels have incredible pitching rotations, but what about the entirety of their pitching staffs? Can anyone compare to the Nats?
It hasn't taken long for the Nats pitching staff to shape itself into something pretty remarkable. On Opening Day 2011, the Nationals starting rotation was Livan Hernandez (36), John Lannan (26), Jordan Zimmermann (25), Jason Marquis (32), and Tom Gorzelanny (29). The average age of that rotation was 30 years old. Livan won't be tendered a contract with the Nats this season, Marquis was traded, and Gorzelanny flopped as a starter. On Opening Day 2012, the starting rotation will likely be some combination of Stephen Strasburg (23), Gio Gonzalez (26), Jordan Zimmerman (26), Chien-Ming Wang (32), and either John Lannan (27) or Ross Detwiler (26). This rotation's average age would be just under 27 years old. The youth movement is in full swing.
Stephen Strasburg is widely regarded as the best young pitcher in baseball, and he is surrounded by incredibly talented pitchers that are all slotted at or below their projected rotation spots because of Strasburg's solidified ace status. Zimmermann could easily be a #2, but he'll be facing #3 talent, Wang could be a #2 or #3 if healthy, but he projects to face #4 talent, and both Lannan and Detwiler would look great in the #4 and #5 slots. This is certainly the type of rotation that you can feel good on a day in, day out basis.
Somewhat quietly, though, the Nationals bullpen has become a force to be reckoned with and bolstered the quality of the Nats pitching staff. Drew Storen is one of the most talented closers in baseball, and earned 43 saves last year while blowing just 5 in his first full season as the team's lockdown guy. He has a devastating slider, and a fastball with serious late giddy up. Tyler Clippard is the best setup man in baseball, which earned him an All-Star spot (and win) while posting a 1.83 ERA and a knee buckling change up. Henry Rodriguez is the Nats very own Wild Thing, but he reigned in his control issues at the end of last year and can regularly light up the gun in the triple-digits. Sean Burnett struggled early last year, but got his 2010 swagger back toward the end of the season. He has the unique ability to be a lefty specialist and a set up guy who can pitch a whole inning. Adding Brad Lidge to the mix will add veteran presence and proven success to the bullpen.
Lidge has been injury prone in recent years, but he won't be subject to the same high pressure situations that were required of him as the Phillies closer. He will be a set up guy, and Clippard and Storen have a lock on the 8th and 9th innings, respectively, for the majority of games when the Nats have the lead. Further, Lidge's friendly $1 million, one-year deal means that if he has a good first half and the Nats aren't competitive, he could be traded. It would be similar to the deal the Nats made with Matt Capps for Wilson Ramos in 2010, though they probably can't expect such a generous reward for the trade.
All in all, there are no gaping holes that should cause concern from NatsTown faithful. The team has quality young starters and a good mix of veterans and up-and-comers in the bullpen. The combination of Storen, Clippard, Lidge, Rodriguez, and Burnett allows the workload to be more evenly distributed throughout the season, which will keep the right guys fresh for those long summer months. It's certainly a good time for pitching coach Steve McCatty and Nats fans everywhere.