Going into the 2017 MLB season, the Washington Nationals are viewed as a legitimate World Series threat. That’s reliant on a few factors though, one being their starting rotation. The Nationals rotation, while top tier, is injury prone. With the exception of ace and two-time CY Young award winner Max Scherzer, the Nationals rotation has been plagued by injuries in years past. Righties Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross are victims of this. Both Strasburg and Ross haven’t been able to pitch near a full season the last two years. Strasburg hasn’t pitched over 24 games the past two years, and Ross is yet to reach 20 starts in a season. One guy who has been a combination of durable and consistent though is righty Tanner Roark.
Tanner Roark’s Consistency Has Gone Unnoticed
When he came on the scene in 2013, Nationals righty Tanner Roark pitched mostly out of the bullpen. Recording a 1.51 ERA, Roark appeared to find his niche in the majors, but then the Nationals found an even better role for him in 2014.
In a year where the Nationals were already heading into the year with righties Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, as well as lefty Gio Gonzalez and the acquired Doug Fister, it appeared that Roark probably wouldn’t get the chance to crack the rotation; however, in a turn of events early in the year, he was able to do just that.
Roark Cracks The Rotation
Going into the third game of a three game series versus the New York Mets in the early stages of the 2014 MLB season, the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann was set to get the start. Then, Zimmermann was scratched due to excessive vomiting and a fever. Manager Matt Williams then gave Tanner Roark the nod. Roark then made a good showing for himself.
By getting through six innings and surrendering just two runs, Roark made up for the loss of Zimmermann and helped the Nationals finish off a three-game sweep of the Mets. Then, after Roark’s solid showing versus the Mets, lefty Ross Detwiler began to struggle on the mound, and his struggles led to the Nationals throwing Roark in the rotation permanently. It ended up being a move for the better.
After he was thrown into the rotation, Roark never turned back as he stayed in the role for the remainder of the year. In the 31 games he ended up starting, Roark posted a 2.85 ERA in just under 200 innings pitched; however, despite his breakout 2014 season, the Nationals opted to go out on the free agent market and bring in Detroit Tigers ace Max Scherzer.
In the offseason, the Nationals agreed to a sevenyear/$210 million deal with former CY Young winner Max Scherzer. While a late boomer, Scherzer had become one of the best pitchers in all of baseball at the time. His arrival though forced manager Matt Williams to put Tanner Roark in the bullpen, a move which ruined Roark’s progression.
Roark’s Downward Spiral That Was 2015
Coming out of the bullpen, Roark struggled. Although he did get some time in the rotation when injuries hit the Nationals, Roark had a lackluster and inconsistent 2015 season. Recording a 4.38 ERA in 40 appearances, Roark struggled in 2015, to say the least. The Nationals inability to get back to the postseason only worsened his woes. 2016, though, was a redemption year for Roark.
Roark’s 2016 Revival
After their 2015 struggles, the Nationals went into the offseason determined to shake things up a bit. They did so by bringing in second baseman Daniel Murphy, reliever Shawn Kelley and also outfielder Ben Revere. They also shaked up their roster by not making certain moves to retain some arms.
The Nationals let longtime arm Jordan Zimmermann walk to the Tigers in free agency. They also let righty Doug Fister walk to the Houston Astros after his brief stint in the nation’s capital. Their departures opened the door for Roark to slip back in the rotation, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
In 33 starts, Roark posted a 2.83 ERA in 210 innings pitched. His 2.83 ERA was also the best in the Nationals rotation.
In two of the last three years, Tanner Roark has been a force on the mound for the Nationals. In both 2014 and 2016 (the two years Roark has started) he has recorded ERAs of 2.85 or below. His ability to pitch with such consistency makes him so valuable, as does his ability to remain healthy; however, he’s never gotten the credit he deserves for it.
Roark Has Never Gotten The Attention He Deserves
Whether it’s that he’s not a big name, or the fact that he’s pitching for a team that’s not broadcast nationwide, Tanner Roark has been underappreciated by the baseball world. It’s unfair that he doesn’t receive the credit he does deserves. Roark’s ability to record a low ERA on the mound, while also remaining durable throughout the course of the year, make him more than an asset for the Washington Nationals. That consistency has gone under the radar and has been unnoticed throughout the league.