When analyzing the Washington Nationals’ team needs for 2018, most fans and journalists wouldn’t put starting pitching at the top of the list. After all, the Nats starters ranked top 10 in the majors in ERA, K/9, BB/9, FIP, and WAR in 2017. Their rotation is headlined by three-time and current Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the prodigious Stephen Strasburg. It’s safe to say that Washington is set in the pitching department.
Apparently, they want to add more, as the Nats are reportedly eyeing another former Cy Young winner in Jake Arrieta. The former Chicago Cubs hurler can certainly boost any rotation. But would his presence in D.C. help them win that elusive playoff series?
If Washington, or any other team, signs Arrieta, they probably won’t get the guy that won the National League’s top pitching prize in 2015. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t terrible in 2017, he just wasn’t as light out dominant as he’s been in the past. Arrieta pitched to a 3.53 ERA last year, but his advanced numbers weren’t as kind–he finished 2017 with a 4.16 FIP and 4.11 xFIP. Another issue was his tendency to surrender the long ball. Arrieta’s HR/9 ticked up once again last year, jumping from 0.73 to 1.23 (it was 0.39 in 2015). Some of that can be chalked up to some bad luck–Arrieta had a 14% HR/FB ratio in 2017, lower than his career 10.9% rate.
Arrieta’s splits are also concerning; his ERA jumped from 2.90 to 3.87 when he pitched outside of Wrigley Field while his FIP skyrocketed from 3.41 to 4.56. I’m sure the Nats will take those numbers into consideration while pursuing Arrieta.
Fortunately for Washington, Arrieta won’t fill the number one spot in the rotation. Like I said earlier, the Nats are stacked with starting pitching. Aside from Scherzer and Strasburg, Washington got another quality year out to veteran Gio Gonzalez (15-9 2.96 ERA). Adding Arrieta would give Washington one of the better starting quartets in the National League.
But will that be enough to get the Nationals to the NCLS and beyond? That’s always the question when it comes to Washington. They finished with the second-best record in the NL last year but, once again, lost in the Division Series. In that series against the Cubs, pitching wasn’t the problem for the Nats–they had a 2.66 ERA in the best-of-five set. The true culprit was their paltry .186/.302/.335 slash line. Granted, playoff sample sizes are much smaller than the regular season (they ranked fifth in MLB in runs scored) but, Washington bats cost them that series, not their pitching. Arrieta gives the Nats another quality arm, but they need a little more offense to overcome the other National League powerhouses.
Frankly, the Nationals don’t need to improve that much. They’re almost a lock to win the NL East again this year. They’re toughest competition in the division, the Mets, are projected to win 82 games while the Marlins, Phillies, and Braves are still tanking. Their possible postseason opponents, the Dodgers and the Cubs, aren’t expected to look much different than they did last year.
For a team that came within a game of the NLCS, the Nationals don’t need to make too many wholesale changes, just a couple of tweaks. While I still think those small changes should happen on offense, Arrieta could also be the necessary piece to take Washington to the World Series, should they decide to sign him.