Stacking the Nats' new rotation against history
With Max Scherzer apparently on board, the Nationals have added to an already stacked starting rotation.
Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister in what is arguably baseball's best collection of starters, and a group that compares favorably to some of the best rotations in recent memory.
To get a sense of just how good the Nationals' rotation is, we decided to compare it to the best starting rotations of the Wild Card era as ranked by Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs.com. Before we can even talk about how the Nats' group stacks up against the all-time best, it has to exceed its modern peers.
We also have to remember that last year's Nationals rotation posted a combined WAR of 17.6, which was the best in the NL, and Scherzer will presumably be replacing Tanner Roark, a pitcher who posted a 2.85 ERA in nearly 200 innings. In other words, it's going to be hard for the rotation -- but not impossible -- to get much better than it was in 2014.
But let's assume the Nats' starting five with Scherzer can all repeat their 2014 performances. That would give them a combined WAR of 19.8, and the club would presumably get some added value from the various fill-ins along the way. Let's see how that compares to the best starting rotations of the Wild Card era.
1. 1997 Braves: 25.4 WAR
This rotation featured three future Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. But don't forget Denny Neagle, who performed just as well as his more decorated teammates. They each pitched at least 232 innings -- only four pitchers in 2014 threw more -- and Smoltz's 3.02 ERA was the highest of the quartet.
2. 2013 Tigers: 25.2 WAR
Scherzer and new Nationals teammate Fister joined Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello to form this dominant rotation; Detroit's starters combined for 981 strikeouts that year, which was 102 more than any other group. Scherzer went 21-3 on his way to winning the American League Cy Young Award.
3. 2011 Phillies: 24.7 WAR
Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley made up this rotation, which featured four hurlers who won at least 60 percent of their starts. Lee tossed six shutouts and Halladay worked eight complete games.
4. 2003 Yankees: 24.2 WAR
Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens were the top end of this rotation, with each pitching at least 200 innings. Clemens went 20-3 with 213 strikeouts on his way to winning his sixth Cy Young Award.
5. 1996 Braves: 23.9 WAR
The mid-'90s Braves appear twice on this list, thanks again to their trio of Hall of Famers. This rotation featured left-hander Steve Avery in place of Neagle. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz each posted an ERA below 2.99 and pitched at least 235 innings.
The Nationals appear to have the best rotation in baseball and could easily be considered favorites in the NL East, but they are going to need career years from a few of their starters if the starting rotation is to make its mark against history.
Consider it added motivation.