Can Joe Ross Break Out for the Nationals in 2016?

Joe Ross, brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross, appears to be poised for a breakout this season in Washington. Can he do it?

Joe Ross, younger brother of Padres pitcher Tyson Ross, should step into the Washington Nationals' starting rotation this spring and be an immediate impact in all fantasy league formats.

Ross should also be a viable cheap option in daily fantasy baseball formats when facing a heavily right-handed hitting team.

In his 2015 debut, Ross struck out 69 batters in just over 76 innings for the Nationals, good for a 22% strikeout rate. Ross’s overall swinging strike percentage was 11.9%, which suggests his strikeout rate has staying power for 2016.

Perhaps equally as important for he and fantasy owners is that he was able to control the zone in 2015 and limit his walk rate to only 6.7%. It would be a relief for the Nationals and fantasy owners if his first pitch strike rate would tip over the 60% mark (his 2015 rate was 58%), as he was crushed by hitters in 2015 when he started down in the count.

Even still, there are plenty of reasons to believe in the younger Ross' potential entering the 2016 season.

The Arsenal

Ross’ arsenal features a nasty slider like his brother's, but his repertoire is currently limited to only two pitches, the aforementioned slider and the sinker.

The development of the changeup will be paramount to his long term success. Here's his uneven breakdown from last year, per  Brooks Baseball.

Pitch Pitch% Foul/Sw Whiff/Sw GB/BIP LD/BIP FB/BIP PU/BIP HR/(FB+LD)
Sinker 57% 47.13% 10.73% 51.72% 22.41% 20.69% 5.17% 6.00%
Change 7% 32.43% 13.51% 40.00% 30.00% 30.00% 0.00% 8.33%
Slider 36% 27.56% 43.56% 53.03% 22.73% 13.64% 10.61% 12.50%

The sinker generated about a league average amount of swings and misses, but more importantly it induced a high amount of ground balls (51%) and set up the elite slider.

Like Tyson's, Joe’s slider is an elite offering.

For reference, the league average whiff per swing rate in 2015 was 32%; Joe’s percentage was 10 percentage points higher than that mark. Ross’ 43.56% whiff per swing rate was  eighth best in the baseball among pitchers who threw at least 200 sliders in 2015 (Tyson finished third).

Ross’s last pitch is a poor show-me changeup that will need improvement in the future for Ross to remain in a Major League rotation. Ross used the pitch mostly against right-handed hitters in 2015, and hitters crushed the pitch to a .588 average and a 1.000 slugging percentage (64 pitches).

It is very challenging to survive as a starter with only two pitches, even if one of those pitches is elite. Ross will need to develop an offspeed pitch to complement the sinker and the changeup this offseason. 

Platoon Split 

Ross also will need to find a way to minimize the damage that left-handed hitters inflict on him in 2016.

Left-handed hitters against Ross last season slashed .275/.353/.456. While that line looks pretty bad, you could say Ross was pretty fortunate to post those numbers considering the table below, which shows how hard left-handed hitters stung the ball when making contact with Ross’s pitches, per  Fangraphs.

Soft% Med% Hard%
11.7 % 49.6 % 38.7 %


Joe Ross should be a fantasy target heading into drafts this season -- even with these questionmarks and shortcomings.

While Ross certainly has weaknesses in his game, he should dominate lineups at times this season and be a strong source of strikeouts, wins, and possibly ERA and WHIP if his control remains intact from 2015.

However, if he is able to develop an appreciable change-up in spring training, fantasy owners could be looking at a major breakout in 2016.

Ross is currently the 58th pitcher off the board at  NFBC (211 overall), which looks to be a potential bargain considering the 2015 results, prospect pedigree, and division.

The National League East does not have many great left handed hitters and is home to many pitcher-friendly ballparks; Ross could devour hitters this season in DC.