A preliminary look at the free agent pitching market

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Though there’s been a bit of movement on the free agent market elsewhere, we’re still in the preliminary stages of the offseason around here. The Nationals have yet to add anybody to the fold, focusing instead on which players to add to their 40-man roster and which players to remove from the equation.

But now that they’ve completed those tasks, it’s fair to wonder when they’ll start moving onto free agency and addressing a handful of significant needs. (It’s also fair to wonder if they’ll be able to address any of those needs while the club is still for sale, but we’ve already raised that question and there’s not much more to say about that for now.)

So let’s proceed as if Mark Lerner has given Mike Rizzo the green light to spend some money this winter. Not gobs of money, but enough money to fill roster holes with actual free agents, not just bargain-basement pickups.

The Nationals have multiple needs. We’ll focus today on a particularly important one: starting pitching.

The 2022 rotation ranked dead-last in the majors in ERA (5.97) by a longshot, last in WHIP (1.563), last in walks per nine innings (3.76), last in strikeouts per walk (1.97), last in homers allowed (161). It’s hard to believe they finished with the majors’ worst record as well, isn’t it?

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Starters' woes leave Nats facing some big questions

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CHICAGO – There’s plenty for Davey Martinez to be concerned about these days, amid a five-game losing streak that has seen his Nationals get blown out multiple times, all while fielding a roster that looks nothing like the one he was used to only a year ago.

But nothing stands out more to Martinez right now, and rightfully so, than a rotation that hasn’t come close to holding its own during this stretch.

Entering tonight’s series opener against the Cubs, Nationals starters have averaged a scant 3.3 innings over the last five games. They haven’t had anybody complete five innings since Cory Abbott tossed five scoreless frames Aug. 2 against the Mets, hours after Juan Soto and Josh Bell were traded to the Padres.

The domino effect on the bullpen has been dramatic, with several relievers unavailable on a given night because they pitched too much the previous one.

“It’s been tough,” Martinez said. “Trying to space these guys out, trying not to use them too much. Keeping guys fresh as much as we can. Hopefully today, Aníbal’s pitching and he can give us a good 5-6 innings and then we can go from there.”

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Was Adon's 6 1/3-inning start a sign of things to come?

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Davey Martinez’s last season as a big league player came in 2001, when he hit .287 for the Braves. Atlanta’s rotation, the backbone of a team that won 88 games to capture a division title, averaged 6.2 innings per start, tops in the National League. Even the worst rotation in the league that year, the Reds, averaged 5.4 innings per start.

On Tuesday night, Martinez watched Joan Adon become the first member of the Nationals rotation to complete six innings this season, then even record an out in the seventh before he was pulled. Not that they were alone in that regard: Ten other major league clubs had yet to get a six-inning start in 2022 as of Tuesday.

“The game has definitely changed,” Martinez said. “I look around at what’s going around the league. There’s only been like 10 or 11 games where starters have gone six innings. For someone that’s been doing this for three decades, the game has changed a lot.”

There are valid reasons for this. The condensed, three-week spring training is chief among them. Pitchers simply didn’t have the usual amount of time to build their arms up like they would during a camp that normally would’ve been twice as long.

But this is also a reflection of Major League Baseball in 2022, where length from starters simply isn’t viewed as the priority it once was. With teams having seen the data on starters facing a lineup three times a night, and with most bullpens featuring a bounty of big arms, front offices and field managers simply don’t believe it’s prudent to push most starters the way they used to.

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Who's in Nats rotation at this point?

Who's in Nats rotation at this point?
We haven't talked much about the Nationals roster in the last two months, because the roster hasn't changed at all in the last two months. So it might be time for a refresher on the current state of things, because it's easy to forget what this team currently has in place for 2022 and what it still needs to address once everyone's allowed to address needs again. Obviously, there will be an opportunity to add players as soon as the lockout ends, though it could be quite a mad rush by all 30...
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Nats' rebuild starts with rebuild of once-dominant rotation

Nats' rebuild starts with rebuild of once-dominant rotation
For the better part of a decade, the Nationals built a consistent contender around one critical part of their roster more than any other: the rotation. From 2012-19, the Nats rotation produced a 3.56 ERA. Only the Dodgers (3.32) were better across the majors during that extended span. Only once during those eight years did the rotation's ERA exceed 4.00 or rank worse than seventh in the big leagues (2018, when it checked in at 4.03). That's what made the last two seasons so jarring for anyone...
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Resurgent rotation trying to lead the way again

Resurgent rotation trying to lead the way again
If you're looking for reasons to remain optimistic about the Nationals' chances of climbing out of last place and back into the thick of the National League East race, look no further than the club's longstanding biggest strength: the rotation. Despite some notable April blowups, Nats starters have found their way again and are now leading the way, as they were expected to all along. Overall, the Nationals rotation owns a 4.27 ERA, which ranks only 17th in the majors, and 1.215 WHIP, which...
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Hellickson lands on IL with shoulder strain (updated)

Hellickson lands on IL with shoulder strain (updated)
NEW YORK - Just as their lineup is returning to health, the Nationals rotation is losing pitchers to injury. Jeremy Hellickson became the latest Nats starter to land on the 10-day injured list this afternoon, sidelined with a strained right shoulder in a transaction that opens up a roster spot for newly acquired reliever Javy Guerra. Hellickson had not previously revealed any arm trouble to reporters, but the veteran right-hander said today he has been dealing with minor discomfort for several...
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Martinez may give Scherzer, Strasburg extra rest in April

Martinez may give Scherzer, Strasburg extra rest in April
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Don't just assume you're going to get that blockbuster Max Scherzer vs. Bryce Harper matchup in the latter's return to Washington as a visiting player. Tempting as it may be to send Scherzer (and then Stephen Strasburg) to the mound for the Nationals' April 2-3 games against Harper and the Phillies, manager Davey Martinez might decide to take advantage of the plethora of early April off-days on the schedule and give his top two starters some extra rest. When...
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Martinez on rotation depth, Doolittle, Miller (Nats lose 9-8)

Martinez on rotation depth, Doolittle, Miller (Nats lose 9-8)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Everyone knows the Nationals have a powerful starting rotation - so long as the top five starting pitchers remain healthy. But what about the rotation depth? Manager Davey Martinez likes what he sees so far, and thinks there are enough pitchers to form a decent starting five at Triple-A Fresno plus back up the rotation in D.C. "I like where we're at right now," Martinez said Monday morning before departing for the Grapefruit League game in Jupiter against the Marlins....
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Martinez on rotation, plus other notes (Nats win 4-2)

Martinez on rotation, plus other notes (Nats win 4-2)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - It's only spring, but Aníbal Sánchez will be trying to keep up a most impressive streak by the Nationals rotation in today's game against the Astros. The Nats' presumed five starters - right-handers Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson, and left-hander Patrick Corbin - have allowed just one earned run in 16 innings covering seven starts. Nats starters have yielded nine hits and two runs, walked three and fanned 16, posting a...
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Revamped rotation will need to return to elite form this year

Revamped rotation will need to return to elite form this year
As spring training fast approaches, it's time to break down the state of the Nationals roster, position by position. The series begins today with the starting rotation ... It's no secret how the Nationals have attempted to build a championship-caliber roster over the last seven seasons: with a dominant rotation leading the way. Trouble is, the 2018 version of that rotation didn't come close to holding up its end of the bargain and proved to be perhaps the No. 1 reason this team...
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Nationals rotation once again built to lead the way in 2018

Nationals rotation once again built to lead the way in 2018
As the start of spring training fast approaches, we're breaking down the state of the Nationals roster, position by position. The series begins today with the starting rotation ... If asked to point to the one most significant reason for the Nationals' sustained, six-year run of success, the answer is simple: a dominant rotation. In every one of those six seasons, the Nationals have ranked no worse than seventh in the majors in starters' ERA. Three times, the unit has ranked first or second...
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What free agent starters might the Nats consider this winter?

What free agent starters might the Nats consider this winter?
The Nationals' No. 1 need this winter, arguably, is a starting pitcher. They've got four well-established guys set to return next season in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark, but they have no obvious choice to be the fifth starter. Joe Ross, who held that job for most of the first half of the 2017 season, had Tommy John surgery and won't be back until July at the earliest. Edwin Jackson, who held that job for most of the second half of the 2017 season, is a free...
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Looking at how Nats rotation lines up for the next week

Looking at how Nats rotation lines up for the next week
SAN DIEGO - It seems like right now the focus for the Nationals is less on what's happening today and more on what could happen tomorrow and in the next week and the weeks to come after that. Such is life when you're 14 games up with 41 games to play and have a host of injured players attempting to return in advance of a likely postseason run. So let's take a moment this morning and look at where the Nationals pitching staff stands heading into this new week. Max Scherzer's unexpected trip...
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After strong Triple-A start, Ross on track to join Nats next week

After strong Triple-A start, Ross on track to join Nats next week
The Nationals should finally have their regular No. 5 starter pitching for them next week. And, barring some unforeseen complication, for many weeks to come. After a strong start for Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday, Joe Ross is now lined up to join the Nationals rotation next week and make his major league season debut Wednesday in Atlanta. Ross tossed seven innings of one-run ball Thursday afternoon at Pawtucket, scattering six hits and striking out six without walking a batter. He threw 85...
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Nationals add veteran Guthrie on minor league deal

Nationals add veteran Guthrie on minor league deal
In need of some experienced rotation depth, the Nationals have signed veteran Jeremy Guthrie to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp this spring. Guthrie hasn't pitched in the majors since 2015 with the Royals, but the Nats are willing to take a low-risk chance on the 37-year-old, a highly popular member of rotations in Baltimore and Kansas City over the last decade. Owner of a 91-108 record and 4.37 ERA in 305 career major league appearances (272 starts), Guthrie...
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Nats rotation is stacked again, but does have question marks

Nats rotation is stacked again, but does have question marks
As the start of spring training fast approaches, we're breaking down the state of the Nationals roster, position by position. The series begins today with the starting rotation ... In each of the last five seasons, the Nationals have boasted one of baseball's best rotations. But it's notable that in the three seasons in which that rotation ranked among the top two in the sport, the Nationals proceeded to win a division title. In the two seasons in which the rotation dropped to seventh-best...
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