How Good Is the Washington Nationals' Rotation With Max Scherzer?
The Washington Nationals apparently don't believe in number-three starters.
The Nats have reportedly agreed on a seven-year, $210 million deal with free agent pitcher Max Scherzer, to be the new ace of their staff. He will join a rotation that was already ridiculously good, led by Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister, and Tanner Roark.
Last year, that rotation (without Scherzer) was second in all of baseball with 17.6 Fangraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) and an MLB-best ERA of 3.04, far better than the team right behind them, the Dodgers, with a 3.20 starters' ERA. That rotation helped the Nats win 96 games and the NL East.
So adding Scherzer to this rotation undoubtedly stacks the odds of winning the NL East for a second straight season in their favor. Last year, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner went went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, a Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 2.85, and an fWAR of 5.6 in a career-high 220.1 innings pitched. As of Monday, here's what the 2015 Washington Nationals rotation would look like.
That is an embarrassment of riches and sets the Nats up for a Super Rotation in 2015 that rivals what their division rivals, the Phillies, put together in 2011.
Those six pitchers were worth a combined 24.7 fWAR in 2011. That's slightly higher than the combined fWAR of the 2015 Nats rotation, if we use last year's numbers. The projected six Nats starting pitchers were worth 22.5 fWAR last season.
Of course, as the 2011 Phillies showed everyone, having a Super Rotation doesn't guarantee postseason success. Even with all those talented arms, an inconsistent offense doomed that 102-win squad to a five-game NLDS loss to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
It's also important to remember that the Nationals rotation last year was pretty stacked without Scherzer, and they still lost in the NLDS to the San Francisco Giants, thanks mainly to an inconsistent offense. In addition, the Giants and Kansas City Royals both made it to the World Series with essentially one decent starting pitcher each last year.
And someone remind me how many World Series titles the Greg Maddux-Tom Glavine-John Smoltz trio won together in Atlanta.
Nevertheless, a Super Rotation of Scherzer, Zimmerman, Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Fister/Roark, certainly would give Washington a leg up for the 162-game regular season.
As for Scherzer's contract, it's a monster. Scherzer and the Nats agreed to a deferred contract that will pay him $15 million a season for the next 14 seasons. That means half of the $210 million Washington will be paying Scherzer will be doled out after he is presumably no longer pitching for the team. It is the second-largest contract ever given to a starting pitcher, and is the longest deferred deal since Bobby Bonilla's contract with the New York Mets that continued to pay him $1 million a year for 25 years after his last game with the club.
Signing a 30-year-old pitcher to a seven year contract is generally not a good idea. Signing that 30-year-old pitcher to what is essentially a 14-year, $210 million contract is sheer lunacy.
As for the baseball aspect of the signing, does adding Scherzer to the Nats even make them the best rotation in the National League? The Los Angeles Dodgers may have something to say about that.
This year's projected starting rotation for the Dodgers was worth 18.7 fWAR last season, but much of that was because Brett Anderson started onlyeight games for the Rockies. If he stays healthy for the Dodgers, you can expect he'll put up more than the 1.1 fWAR he did last year. But while Clayton Kershaw is without doubt the best starting pitcher on either team, the Nationals have more depth in the last three spots in their rotation.
At the end of the day, the Nationals probably didn't need to make this move. They were the odds-on favorites to win the National League East and were already among the best teams in the National League. The deal is too long and too expensive for a 30-year-old starting pitcher. Deferring all that money is a huge risk. And as recent history has shown, a Super Rotation doesn't usually lead to a world championship.
That being said, it should be a fun 162-game regular season for the Washington Nationals and their fans in 2015.