After watching a beautiful snow-filled NHL Winter Classic game yesterday that dramatically ended in a shootout, count me among those who are pumped about next year's Winter Classic in D.C.
The Capitals will host the NHL's signature event next year, and according to multiple reports, the Winter Classic will be held at Nationals Park, which is viewed as the best option in the D.C. area because of the uncertainty involving the Redskins' schedule.
I think it's fairly safe to say the snow won't be nearly as much of a part of next year's Winter Classic as it was in Michigan yesterday, but the atmosphere at Nats Park should be terrific nonetheless.
While I was recovering yesterday from, uh, a late night on New Year's Eve, I stumbled across a month-old entry from ESPN.com's SweetSpot blog in which the author chooses new Nationals right-hander Doug Fister as his "sleeper pick" to win the National League Cy Young Award.
I found this interesting for a couple reasons, but mainly because I realized that the Nats now legitimately have four starters who could find themselves in the Cy Young conversation this season.
Yeah, some people might view Fister as a bit of a stretch, given that he's posted ERAs of 3.67 and 3.45 the last two seasons, but as we've talked about before in this space (and as is mentioned in the ESPN.com blog post linked above), Fister has some factors that might be working in his favor now that he's in the National League.
He gets to face the pitcher's spot in the order multiple times a game and will largely avoid the power-packed lineups that are more prevalent in the American League. (The top five teams in OPS last season all reside in the AL.) Fister will play in front of an improved defensive infield, replacing Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the corners with Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. Many opposing hitters will be facing Fister for the first time now that he's in the NL. And outside of the Braves, the other three teams in the NL East appear to be fairly weak at the moment.
So let's say for the sake of discussion that Fister is indeed a legitimate Cy Young hopeful, which many would say that he is, given where he ranks in some advanced statistics over the last three seasons.
Gonzalez has gotten the closest of that group, finishing third in the Cy Young voting in 2012 after going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings. The lefty took a minor step back last season, posting a 3.36 ERA with 192 strikeouts in 195 2/3 innings, going along with an 11-8 record, but he's shown that he can pitch at a high level and has had a good bit of success in his two years in the NL.
Zimmermann was the Nats' most consistent starter last season, going 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA. He threw a team-high 213 1/3 innings, had a 1.088 WHIP and finished seventh in the NL Cy Young voting. This comes after Zimmermann put up a 2.94 ERA in a very strong 2012 campaign.
Strasburg is obviously the most hyped of the Nats' starters, and despite a somewhat rocky 2013 season that saw him finish with an 8-9 record, he really pitched well in stretches. He posted a 3.00 ERA with 191 strikeouts to just 56 walks over 183 innings and had a lowly 1.049 WHIP. Strasburg will be coming off offseason surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow and dealt with a couple other injury issues in 2013, but he is expected to be fully healthy when spring training rolls around.
Over the last three years, Strasburg has the eighth-lowest ERA in the major leagues at 2.97, but he's thrown just 366 1/3 innings in that span. Gonzalez and Zimmermann are right behind; Gonzalez ranks 11th with a 3.12 ERA (over 597 innings) while Zimmermann's ERA since 2011 is just fractions of a point higher, ranking him 12th in the majors (over 570 1/3 innings). Fister ranks 20th, at 3.30.
Those are just some of the many statistics that we use to evaluate pitchers in this day and age, of course, and there are other factors (durability, groundball rate, effectiveness at holding runners, home run rate, etc.) that we can look at, as well.
You can use statistics, the eye test or any other evidence you feel will support your argument. My question to you all is, which Nationals starter you think has the best chance to win the NL Cy Young in 2014?