The Nationals have signed right-hander Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal worth more than $180 million, which now gives them a rotation that could be historically great. Even before the addition of Scherzer, it was already going to be tough to deal with, just as it was last season. Now with Scherzer in the fold, Tanner Roark, who had a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts this past season, likely moves to the bullpen until (if) the Nationals trade one of their starters.
Here’s a look at how each pitcher has performed over the past three seasons:
(Data courtesy FanGraphs)
With Zimmermann set to hit free agency after the season, he appears to be the most likely to be traded. Fister could also be moved, but as he is about three years older than Zimmermann, he wouldn’t bring a comparable return in a trade. Strasburg is reportedly available in a trade, but the Nationals have him under team control through 2016.
Since 1969 — when the pitcher’s mound was lowered — only 23 pitching staffs have finished a season with a combined ERA below 3.00, per Baseball Reference. If you exclude the strike-shortened season of 1981, that number falls to 21. The 1972 Orioles, with the four-headed beast of Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, and Dave McNally have the record for the lowest aggregate ERA for a pitching staff at 2.58. That same year, the Athletics set the second-best rotation ERA at 2.64 behind Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman, Blue Moon Odom, Vida Blue, and Dave Hamilton.
The most recent threat to the title for best rotation occurred in 2011 with the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels), but their aggregate 2.86 ERA ranks 10th. Adjusted for park factors and league strength, however, they do move up a few notches. The 1992 Braves are the only other rotation on the list since 1990.
The Nationals last year led the league in rotation ERA at 3.04 ahead of the Dodgers’ 3.20 mark. Take out Roark, who was a prime regression candidate (his 2.85 ERA beat his xFIP by nearly a full run), with Scherzer, and you have a rotation that could challenge the Phillies as the best modern starting rotation. If the Nationals decide to keep Zimmermann, Fister, and Strasburg, and they enjoy good fortune — both in terms of on-the-field results and pitcher health — they could climb the ranks as one of the best starting rotations in the era of the lowered mound.