Have Nats reached a crossroads with erratic Fedde?


Age on opening day 2022: 29

How acquired: First-round pick, 2014 draft

MLB service time: 3 years, 99 days

2021 salary: $575,000

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2025

2021 stats: 7-9, 5.47 ERA, 29 G, 27 GS, 0 CG, 133 1/3 IP, 144 H, 90 R, 81 ER, 23 HR, 48 BB, 128 SO, 4 HBP, 1.440 WHIP, 74 ERA+, 4.66 FIP, 1.2 fWAR, minus-1.0 bWAR

Quotable: "Especially the last three or four starts, I thought my stuff has been great. And then I just haven't really had the success, or I'll give up a two-run home run or something late in games. I think (if I) just continue that process of thinking my stuff is good - especially at the moment - and keep being aggressive, these outings will come. I know these outings definitely help the mindset, and knowing you can do well at this level." - Erick Fedde, following a 10-strikeout outing in Miami, Aug. 24

Thumbnail image for Fedde-Fires-Blue-NYM-Sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: When the Nationals broke camp at the end of March, Erick Fedde looked like the odd man out of the rotation yet again. Then the club's end-of-spring COVID-19 outbreak, delaying opening day, created an opening and suddenly the right-hander found himself starting the season's second game.

That one didn't go so well, but Fedde responded with the first sustained stretch of success in his career. Ten starts in, he sported a 3.33 ERA and 1.149 WHIP and looked like he was poised to finally establish himself as a quality big league pitcher.

A big reason for Fedde's success was his ability to use four pitches effectively, most notably a cutter that became his go-to pitch in big spots. That led to a huge increase in his strikeout rate, from 12.4 percent in 2019-20 to 21.7 percent this year.

But then came a series of misfortunes. A positive COVID-19 test, despite being vaccinated, sidelined Fedde for a month. A strained oblique sent him back to the injured list for several weeks in early summer. And by the time he returned healthy, he struggled to recapture his earlier form. Over his final 19 appearances (including two relief outings during the season's final week), he produced a 6.80 ERA and 1.622 WHIP, and suddenly questions abound again about his long-term prospects.

2022 outlook: Fedde presents quite a conundrum for the Nationals at this point. They know he still has the ability to be an effective big league starter. He allowed zero or one earned run in one-third of his starts this season (nine of 27). And, as stated earlier, he showed an ability to get swings and misses like never before in his career. All of that is evidence there's still something in there worth holding onto.

At the same time, Fedde continues not to be able to produce any consistency from start to start, week to week, month to month. And the pattern is telling. When he gets in trouble, he can't finish off hitters, turning 0-2 counts into full counts, giving up big hits and seeing his pitch count skyrocket. It's also telling how he fades over the course of a start. Opponents produced a .740 OPS off his first 25 pitches of a game, .771 off pitches 26-50, .834 off pitches 51-75 and .889 off pitches 76-100.

So where does that leave the Nationals heading into next year? They're awfully thin on quality pitching, and there remain huge questions about the health of Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross following injury-plagued seasons. It would seem like there should be a spot for Fedde at the back end of their rotation.

But here's the problem: He's already out of options, so he can't be sent to the minors anymore. And he's going to be arbitration-eligible for the first time, which means his salary will go up no matter what (perhaps to $2 million). That would seem to make Fedde a candidate to be non-tendered this winter, making him a free agent. Or, even if they tender him a contract, the Nats could theoretically bring him to spring training, see how he and others pitch, then decide whether to keep him for opening day or release him and be on the hook for only a portion of his salary.

It's a tricky spot. The Nationals probably want to believe they're going to have five starters better than Fedde heading into next season. But it's really tough for them to know for sure they do until everyone gathers in West Palm Beach.

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