It feels like the debate as to who should be in the Nats playoff rotation goes all the way back to when they first grabbed a share of first place on June 8. Doug Fister and Tanner Roark the presumed fourth and fifth starters of the Nats rotation have exceeded all expectations and most believe should be firmly entrenched in the playoff rotation. Doug Fister has at times been the Nats’ best pitcher and has done nothing but go out and gets outs while going deep into games. Tanner Roark has the second lowest ERA on the staff at 2.91 behind only Doug Fister and has looked just as effective and efficient at times. So if the two perceived back of the rotation starters are the two best by ERA then it stands to reason that one of the front three then has to be doing terrible and should be left off the playoff roster.
The debate has wavered between Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, mostly dependent on who did what in their last outing. This was also around the time that James O’Hara mentioned something on the podcast. Something that I’d never noticed before but once it was pointed out I couldn’t ignore it. FP Santangelo controls the thoughts of a large portion of the Nats fan base. When Gio Gonzalez gave up a first inning two run homer to Matt Kemp last evening it wasn’t because Matt Kemp is hitting .281/.346/.475 and has been one of the better power hitters in the NL this season. It was because Gio Gonzalez was under some sort of emotional distress caused by his walk of the previous batter. Tanner Roark the day before had given up a home run after Austin Jackson reached base on weak contact and this was because Dustin Ackley is a hot hitter. Dustin Ackley is nowhere close to being the hitter that Matt Kemp is but Roark had no mental breakdown where Gio Gonzalez did.
So if you watch the Nats’ broadcast and then look at the ERA’s of the staff you’d be under the impression that Tanner Roark and Doug Fister are this masters of grit who do more with less talent than Gio Gonzalez or Stephen Strasburg have in their little fingers and that those two just aren’t right between the ears. That is how FP Santangelo paints them in his commentary during games, and the traditional stats show that Fister and Roark are better, but if you’re a believer in advanced stats, mainly FIP, then you’d look at that line in their stat sheets and see that Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg are the second and third best pitchers on the Nationals.
Even more is Gio Gonzalez is pitching exactly like Gio Gonzalez. At least since coming off the DL. Before heading to the DL on May 17 Gio Gonzalez had a 4.26 ERA in 50 2/3 innings pitched with a 9.1 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9. Since coming off the DL Gio Gonzalez has a 3.43 ERA in 81 1/3 innings pitched with a 9.1 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Now you should notice that the K/9 and the BB/9 are consistent while the ERA fluctuated. Some of that has to do with the fact that Gio Gonzalez gave up five home runs in 50 2/3 innings before hitting the DL and has given up five home runs in his 81 1/3 since coming off of it. The other part is ERA is a stat dependent on the defense behind a pitcher.
As a member of the Washington Nationals Gio Gonzalez has a 3.31 ERA with a 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 matching almost exactly to his 2014 numbers with the ERA very close to his post DL 2014 ERA. The Nationals are going to have a very tough decision when it comes to whom to leave off the playoff rotation. Gio Gonzalez might still have some lingering effects from his early season shoulder soreness and that would make the decision very easy, but Tanner Roark has experience pitching out of the bullpen and has never pitched more than 200 innings in his career. There is an entire month of the season left and the decision should come down to who is the hottest in the final month. Tanner Roark has already pitched more innings than he ever has before and if he looks fatigued putting him in the bullpen isn’t the worst decision, because while it might seem a cut and dry case between Roark and Gonzalez do not discount the fact that the Gio Gonzalez of the 2014 Nats is the same Gio Gonzalez of 2012 and 2013.