When the Nationals chose Ross Detwiler over sinkerballer John Lannan to complete their starting five, they assembled the rare rotation with nothing but flamethrowers. Stephen Strasburg’s fastball this year averages 95.1 mph, according to FanGraphs. Detwiler averages 91.4. Edwin Jackson (93.8), Jordan Zimmermann (93.5) and Gio Gonzalez (93.3) land somewhere in between. Together, while posting an MLB-best ERA that dropped to 1.69 with Tuesday’s 1-0 win over the Houston Astros, they have formed the hardest-throwing rotation in recent memory, maybe ever.
“Against these guys, it’s like you don’t get a chance to catch your breath,” Cincinnati Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs said. “You get done with one, it’s just on to the next one. We were here for four days. All four guys, and we missed Strasburg, can hit the mid-90s. That’s tough. It’s very rare. Usually, you only have one guy in the rotation who throws like that.”
By stacking their rotation with power arms, the Nationals have formed the first starting five in at least 11 seasons to surpass 93 mph with its collective fastball. The 2010 Tampa Bay Rays rotation, which averaged 92.8 mph, had been the previous standard.
This year, the Nationals have separated themselves from the rest of the league by nearly a full mile per hour — the Rays rank second at 92.7. The Nationals have assembled the kind of lightning-armed rotation typically used in the American League to fend off lineups that include a designated hitter. Seven AL teams separate the Nationals from the next-hardest throwing National League rotation, the San Diego Padres, whose starters have thrown fastballs an average of 91.5 mph.
‘Always part of our plan’
“It does go along with my philosophy,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “The radar readings, per se, there’s no philosophy there. But power arms with swing-and-miss stuff, that’s how you build strong rotations. Big, physical pitchers with stuff and command. That was always part of our plan.”
The Nationals’ rotation can grind down opposing hitters, leaving them begging for a soft-tossing pitcher by the end of a series. But facing hard thrower after hard thrower also allows hitters a chance to adjust to them. Essentially, 95 mph starts to become normal.