For all the big-money, big-name starters in the Nationals’ rotation–Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister–the team leader in both wins and ERA is a little-known 27-year-old sophomore named Tanner Roark.
Roark was drafted in the 25th round by the Rangers in 2008 and came to the Nationals in the mid-2010 trade for Cristian Guzman. He never cracked anyone’s top-100 prospect list and didn’t even debut in the majors until age 26 last season after posting an underwhelming 4.04 ERA in the minors.
And then he went 7-1 with a 1.96 ERA as a rookie and has followed it up by winning a team-high nine games with a 2.91 ERA in 19 starts this season.
Roark doesn’t have overpowering raw stuff with a fastball that averages 91 miles per hour and he’s managed just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings, but among the 149 pitchers with at least 150 innings since the beginning of last season he ranks 19th in walk rate at 1.9 per nine innings and fifth in home run rate at 0.46 per nine innings. Throwing strikes, keeping the ball in the ballpark, and letting the defense do its job can definitely be a recipe for success.
Chase Hughes of CSNWashington.com has a good article about how Roark went from non-prospect to standout starter, with lots of quotes from his Nationals teammates. It’s a helluva story.