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Roster review: Tanner Roark

Oct 28, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT

USA Today Sports Images

Age on Opening Day 2016: 29

How acquired: Trade with RHP Ryan Tatusko from Rangers for SS Cristian Guzman, July 2010

MLB service time: 2 year, 55 days

2015 salary+bonuses: $529,600

Contract status: Under team control in 2016, arbitration-eligible in 2017, free agent in 2020

2015 stats: 40 G, 12 GS, 111 IP, 119 H, 55 R, 54 ER, 17 HR, 26 BB, 70 K, 1.306 WHIP, 4-7, 4.38 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 0.7 WAR

Quotable: “I know I have the stuff. It’s just one of those wild years, coming out of the bullpen and spot starting. It’s been a roller coaster, but it’s definitely a learning, big mental part of what makes me who I am today.” — Tanner Roark

2015 analysis: Based on what he did in 2014 (going 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA), Tanner Roark had every reason to believe he’d be right back in the Nationals rotation in 2015, trying to duplicate or even surpass those numbers. But when the club shocked everyone by signing Max Scherzer to a $210 million contract, Roark became the odd man out, left to pitch out of the bullpen to begin the season, with perhaps an opportunity to start at some point if a spot opened up.

The undefined, ever-changing role wound up haunting Roark all season. At times, he was the long man in the bullpen. At times, he was a 1-inning setup man. And at times, he was a starter again. Throughout it all, the right-hander never fully found a groove.

Among Roark’s biggest problems: A penchant for giving up home runs. Opponents hit 17 of them in only 111 innings of work. The previous year, he surrendered only 16 homers in 198 2/3 innings.

2016 outlook: Club officials acknowledged at season’s end that Roark would be best served in one consistent role next year. The question is whether he’ll be guaranteed a starting job or not. At worst, Roark figures to be given a fair shot at winning a spot in the rotation next spring, and he would probably have the leg up on others given his experience.

Wherever he pitches, Roark will have to get back to what worked so well for him in 2014: Command and movement. Too often this season he tried to overpower hitters, recognizing he could jack up his fastball to 95 mph while pitching in shorter spurts out of the bullpen. Increased velocity, though, didn’t produce better results, and Roark admitted he is more effective when he takes a bit off his fastball (throwing it more in the 90-92 mph range) and relying on pinpoint command and good movement on his 2-seamer.

If he can rediscover himself in that regard, Roark can once again be a quality starting pitcher for the Nationals.

  1. tcostant - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    Fill the rotation with Ross and Roark, then if someone gets hurt Giolito is there to fill in. All three can start in 2017, if Strasburg leaves…

    • natsguy - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:25 AM

      I think you are being a little optimistic on Giolito’s time schedule.

      • tcostant - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:30 AM

        He finished pitching in Double A last year, he can’t fill in for some starts if someone gets hurt? Top prospects don’t spend much time in Triple A.

      • natsguy - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:49 AM

        I agree about AAA. It is for cannon fodder. However, he probably needs all of 2016 in AA.

    • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:27 AM

      natsguy,

      Ii think you will find out that Giolito is on the same approximate schedule as Ross was last year. Come up May or June, perhaps go back for a bit and then come up for good but with an innings limit.

      I don’t want to trust Roark implicitly. That’s why I would give Fister a QO. If he accepts it he can be insurance for Ross and Roark and a bridge to Giolito.

      • unkyd59 - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:49 AM

        I’m not sure how Fister fits as “insurance”… It’s not like he can be sent down until we need him, and he’ll want to start, somewhere. Max, Stras, Gio, Ross and Roark. Taylor, Cole and Giolito, are your insurance.

      • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:41 AM

        unkyd59,

        I think you never have enough pitching. Unlike you I am not 100% sure that Ross will be great (I think he will), that Roark will bounce back that Taylor and Cole take a step forward and that Giolito can graduate.

        There is a good chance that some of these things will work out as expected or better but what 2015 should have thought us is that you should never assume that the worst case scenario won’t happen.

        I think Fister is primed for a nice bounce back year, last year was the 1st time he experienced a serious drop in productivity. I can almost guarantee you that he won’t accept the QO in any event and that he will find someone who will sign him for 3 years.

      • Doc - Oct 28, 2015 at 1:54 PM

        natsguy,

        If you knew anything about pitching you’d see that Fister was a bridge to nowhere.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:08 PM

        Excuse me but Fister had one bad year. What pitcher or player doesn’t! No he’s not Kershaw but who is. Gosh give the guy a chance. Did you forget his record the year before? Well maybe you should look it up.

  2. alexva6 - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    I’ll give Roark credit for being the good soldier and not complaining. but he was hit hard in spring training and never seemed to regain the magic of 2014.

    unless the roster changes I’d see him competing with AJ Cole and Taylor Jordan for the fifth starter spot and if he loses he’s a long man in the bullpen.

    or he continues to struggle and he’s traded, a year too late.

    • natsguy - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:11 AM

      Taylor Jordan’s had his chances. Don’t think so.

      • jeffreycbullock - Oct 28, 2015 at 1:16 PM

        Agreed – I’ve seen enuff of him – no arm speed – low strikeout rate when you’re young is not a good sign.

      • jeffreycbullock - Oct 28, 2015 at 1:18 PM

        Agreed – I’ve seen enough of him – he looks like he has a hitch in his delivery which slows down his arm speed – a low SO/9 is not a good sign for a young pitcher.

    • unkyd59 - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:41 AM

      I’m hoping Stammen is your long guy…and all is right with the world. The most impactful injury of ’15.

  3. Mrsb loves the Nats - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    If Rizzo can add another starter, I hope he does (like a 3 pitcher since we have Gio and Ross – 4 and 5) as I wonder if C Stammen will be ready and Tanner can continue to be the long innings man.

    • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

      Who are you gonna spend free agent money on? Samardja? Look at the list of available pitchers. There is nothing there which is better than what we have unless you consider Price and Greinke.

  4. tcostant - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    Random thoughts about last night.
    1. Bullpens are key to winning
    2. Harvey handed a lead late and blows it, that is no ace.
    3. I liked when they had the internationals announcers better than Buck and the crew.
    Thoughts?

    • natsfan1a - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      I don’t mind Verducci, but Buck and Reynolds are, ehhhh. That said, I’m not a fan of Vasgersian, either. I’d definitely rather hear Smoltz analyze a pitcher’s approach than Reynolds.

    • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:39 AM

      Harvey was off a bit yesterday but don’t kid yourself he is 100% an ace and every team in the majors would love to have him at the top of their rotation.

    • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:41 AM

      tcostant,

      Famillia blew a save in the 9th. Does that make him a bum?

      • tcostant - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:14 PM

        ha ha

      • adcwonk - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:19 PM

        Famillia blew a save in the 9th. Does that make him a bum?

        Yes. And also it makes his manager a dummy.

    • thewerthwhisperer - Oct 28, 2015 at 6:22 PM

      I listened to the Mets radio announcers, who I found to be engaging and knowledgeable – pretty funny at times as well – not unlistenable “homers”

  5. ArVAFan - Oct 28, 2015 at 8:35 AM

    “Roark admitted he was more effective . . . ” Shouldn’t a pitching coach have been able to realize that, and coach him on that during the season? He doesn’t seem like the type of pitcher who wouldn’t take advice.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:58 AM

      Maybe they should fire the pitching coach?

      • ArVAFan - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:11 AM

        They did.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:50 PM

        I know.

  6. Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:01 AM

    Tanner is a keeper. Dependable.

  7. veejh - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    I think Roark is a key piece to this team being competitive next season. We really need a bounceback year out of him.

    • sunshinebobby - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:48 AM

      Totally agree, veejh. Tanner was far and away the winner of the “I Got Jerked Around Needlessly” award, co-sponsored by MW and Steve McCatty. They treated this guy like he was some 20-year-old rookie instead of a veteran 15-game winner who pitched his best under pressure. Leave the guy alone, pencil him in as your No. 4 starter and watch him go 6-7 innings for 25 or 30 starts a year.

      Long relief, short relief, spot starter, demotion to AAA Syracuse, throw batting practice, drive the team bus. Nobody got abused under MW’s reign of error more than this guy.

      When they simply let him start, he was fine. And he’ll be fine in 2016.

      I hope.

      • veejh - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:02 AM

        Yup, all this. Just keep the ball down, Tanner, and all will be ok.

      • npb99 - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:03 AM

        Agreed. In 2015 they absolutely abused thr guy, treated him like he was disposable.

      • ArVAFan - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:10 AM

        I don’t know if they considered him disposable, but they certainly treated him like an interchangeable part. And as has been mentioned above, he did everything he was asked to do. I expect a good bounceback year out of him–as a starter (unless he really looks bad in Spring Training for some unknown reason).

        “Solid” is the first word that comes to mind. Not spectacular: I don’t expect him to throw a no-hitter. But a solid, affordable, piece of the rotation.

  8. veejh - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    The Scherzer signing was a bit of a double edged sword. We gained an ace to fill in the JZimm hole, but Roark ended up spiraling out of control and his season was lost. Net gain in 2015….zero.

    • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:54 PM

      Scherzer was a 6.4 WAR player in 2015, Roark was a 3.1 WAR player in 2014. Double edged sword? Yes. But not a net gain of zero.

  9. jfmii - Oct 28, 2015 at 11:44 AM

    Agreed he got yanked around. Disagree that is an excuse for too many home runs. He had a lousy year. His superb performance in 2014 gives him the leeway to get another chance in 2016. But really, everyone should stop making excuses for his poor performance in 2015.

    • jeffreycbullock - Oct 28, 2015 at 1:23 PM

      When you leave the ball up, you give up too many home runs – that’s a pitching coach problem. McCatty was just cashing paychecks, pissed off because Billy Martin blew out his arm.

  10. Doc - Oct 28, 2015 at 1:57 PM

    Roark tried to do things from the pen that he couldn’t really do. He realized this, as noted in an interview late in the season.

    I think that he will continue to get back to his basics in the coming season.

    • dryw4nats - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:09 PM

      And his role was changed so many times, I could see where it would be harder for him to figure out what he was doing wrong. What’s wrong for a single-inning reliever may not be wrong for a long guy or a starter. As soon as he had a chance to start figuring it out, he was doing something else! I’ll be glad to see him back (and in a defined role) next year.

    • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:40 PM

      Here’s an interesting phenomenon:

      1) Roark had a completely nondescript and mediocre minor league career until he suddenly burst out on the major league scene and had an excellent 2014 followed by a return to mediocrity in 2015 and yet fans consider it a sure thing that he will bounce back in 2016.

      2) Fister has had a stellar major league career including a great 2014 with our very own Nationals followed by 1 poor season in 2015 yet fans consider him to be a lost cause.

      I wonder how that works?

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:46 PM

        How it works is that Roark will make under $600,000 next year, while Fister will make over $16 milion if he takes that Q.O. you and susanfaulkner want to give him. That’s the difference. More about risk/reward than any certainty about results.

      • jd - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:58 PM

        Deuces,

        The question isn’t if we should have Roark or Fister in which case the salary difference would be a relevant point. Roark is ours in 2016 regardless. The question is simply do you make Fister a QO (which I am almost certain he will turn down) or not?

        In my opinion it’s potentially a win/win. If he rejects you get a draft choice, if he accepts you pay him $16 mil and hope he can produce a 3 WAR season which he has done (and exceeded several times). The risk is that he is in full age regression and last year was his new norm. I think it’s worth the risk.

      • unkyd59 - Oct 28, 2015 at 3:00 PM

        Interesting, JD… Only thing that comes to mind is, Fister’s routine remained basically unchanged, from ’14 to ’15. He should have been able to prepare in the offseason, through spring, and throughout the season, yet IIRC, suffered a drop in velocity, and a diminution in command, right? I don’t recall any talk of injury, and while he’s not old, he’s not young, either. I’m not big on excuses, but Roark certainly was juggling a few different situations, through out the seasons, admittedly throwing harder, in the relief role… A little different than a regular long guy making an occasional spot start, IMHO…

        I think it’s a reasonable position…?

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 3:00 PM

        Thanks jd!! I don’t turn my back on people because they have a hard time. People are to hard on these ballplayers sometimes.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 3:12 PM

        Sorry if you’re offended by my cold dead heart susan, but it’s a performance-based business. Believe me, I’m not being hard on Fister out of animus. I’ve said before he seems like a great teammate and team player, and he handled his demotion with grace and professionalism unlike another formerly promising player who some fans think got a raw deal. But Fister was awful last year, and I didn’t see anything that would explain it or lead to any confidence that he’ll regain his form. It’s different if a player is injured, but he was healthy except for that one stretch in May when he went on the DL.

        jd, I guess where you and I differ is the willingness to place a $16 million bet on Fister. That’s a big hunk of change for the hope that he finds himself again. And it’s kind of cruel to him if he’s not going to take it because that draft pick is like an albatross for the player trying to sign with another team.

        By the way, his bWAR in 2014 was 4.5 fWAR was 1.2. That’s kind of ridiculous, no?

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 3:44 PM

        Hey section 222 as I have said before I have certain people on the Nats (Werth and Fister) that I will take up for. I’m just saying that it has happened before (Lincecum) and it turned out fine. I don’t know about Tanner down the stretch. I saw good and bad last season.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 4:43 PM

        One other thing, jd. My point was not that I prefer Roark to Fister or think we should keep Roark over Fister because of their relative salaries. We have Tanner under team control for awhile still. Lucky us. I was responding to your question about how people could have such different views of their likely future performance. I think that’s influenced by the cost (i.e., the expectations that people feel justified having.) Fister pretty much has to be a 3 WAR player to justify his cost. Roark doesn’t. I joked at one point that Fister should give the Nats a discount next season for having taken $11.4 million of their money for his lousy 2015. If he were willing to re-sign with the Nats for $8 million next year, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Not Q.O. money though. We can do better things with that much cash.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 4:51 PM

        Y’all don’t know what Fister is asking yet. Let’s wait to comment on that.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 4:55 PM

        susanf, you keep saying that we don’t know what Fister is asking. But the Q.O. is $15.8 million. That’s the first step. jd says we should offer him that, I say we shoudn’t. Assuming we do, and he rejects it, or we don’t and he becomes a FA, then the Nats and any other team can try to sign him. Someone may offer him a multi-year deal. Would you do that? I definitely wouldn’t after what happened with him last year.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 4:58 PM

        Didn’t know he had an offer. I asked someone the other day and didn’t get a response
        My bad.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:40 PM

        No no. No offer yet. Under the CBA with the Players’ Association, the teams decide within 5 days after the World Series ends whether to make a “qualifying offer.” That offer is a one year deal for $15.8 million. (The amount is re-calculated each year as salaries go up.) Free agents who get a Q.O. have one week to decide whether to take it. Since this process started three years ago, no player has accepted a qualifying offer and stayed with his team. They’ve all decided to become free agents. When they do that, the team that signs them has to give up a draft pick and the original team gets a draft pick as “compensation.” (Which draft picks are given and received is a little complicated.)

        So the (friendly) disagreement btw jd and me is whether to make a Q.O. to Fister.

        Here’s an interesting take on the players that might get Q.O.’s from their teams. So right now, no one can make any of these players (and those not mentioned, like Fister) an offer. But soon we’ll know whether they are free agents or going to re-sign with their teams.
        http://www.mlbdailydish.com/2015/10/18/9563977/impending-free-agents-qualifying-offers-offseason-moves

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:43 PM

        Thanks for the link.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 4:52 PM

        susanfaulkner, your support for your guys is heartwarming even for my cold dead heart. But not convincing. And I hardly think Lincecum supports your case. He’s made $77 million over the last four years and has barely been a replacement level pitcher. I’m pretty sure only the Giants’ opponents think that turned out fine.

        But jd is only suggesting offering Fister a one year deal for $15.8 million, not a multi-year contract. Even if Fister totally crashes that wouldn’t be as bad as what happened to the Giants with Lincecum. But it’s still too big a risk in my book. It’s not a matter of turning my back on the player, but turning the page when that seems like the right thing to do for the team’s future. As far as I’m concerned, and this may be at base where we differ, these guys make way too much money for sentiment to enter into the decision.

  11. Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 2:42 PM

    It’s easy to bash Rizzo or MW for “jerking Roark around,” but I’m trying figure out what they should have done. Not acquire Scherzer? Put Roark in the rotation instead of Fister or Gio? Neither would have made any sense. Would it really have been better to give him the assigned role of long reliever (since Stammen was out) instead of using him for high leverage short relief and spot starts? Maybe, but that’s far from certain. And given how well he pitched in 2013 and 2014, I for one really wanted them to find him a role to take advantage of his skills — not turn him into Tom Gorzelanny.

    Unfortunately, Roark never seemed to excel back in the bullpen, which seemed to lead MW to forget about him. I remember back in April when he got eight days off after pitching 3.2 innings of garbage time against the Red Sox. And after his first brief stint in the rotation when Fister was hurt, he had a total of 13 appearances in the 52 days in July and August before he was sent down to stretch his arm out to start in September. (Scherzer and JZnn each started 11 times in that stretch).

    Of course, when he get the chance to start he wasn’t that great either. Certainly, he wasn’t the revelation that he was in 2014. I truly hope that he regains his 2014 form as a starter, and I very much expect he’ll get a chance to do so. But in the end, he bears most of the responsibility for his disappointing season.

    • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:38 PM

      I just looked up Lincecums stats and contract. His performance was a little shaky but he wasn’t stuck in a contract they gave him a 2yr extension with a no trade clause. 35million for 2 yrs. Not worth it. I’m not saying to give that to Fister either.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:49 PM

        Right. Considering how poorly Lincecum pitched in 2012 and 2013, it’s beyond me why they signed him for another two years for about the same amount of money they had paid him for those two years. Bu I guess they thought he’d turn it around. I mean, he had once been a fantastic pitcher. And he seems like a super nice guy, accepted his demotion to the bullpen for the postseason in 2012 really well and pitched well.

        Unfortunately for the Giants, none of that matters and he was the same lousy pitcher in 2014-15 that he was in 2012-13, without the sometimes valuable innings eating. A cautionary tale.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 5:51 PM

        What I don’t understand is they gave him that extension and the numbers didn’t match the offer.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 6:02 PM

        Right, the Q.O. before the 2014 season was $14.1 million. At the time, the contract seemed crazy:
        http://www.si.com/mlb/strike-zone/2013/10/22/giants-tim-lincecum-contract-extension

        And certainly in retrospect it does too:
        http://blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2015/07/20/tim-lincecums-long-giants-goodbye-if-he-never-starts-another-game-for-this-team-hes-done-more-than-enough/

        At a certain point, you have to put sentiment aside. Of course, the expensive Tim Lincecum, one of the worst starting in baseball, didn’t stop the Giants from winning it all again last year.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 6:06 PM

        Yea and their ace blew it against Kershaw this year.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 6:15 PM

        Bumgarner gets a career long pass after what he did in 2014.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 6:31 PM

        I didn’t like how he jumped to comment on what Scherzer said about pitchers batting. I know what Max meant. He shouldn’t have jump to judgement so quickly.

      • Section 222 - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:42 PM

        Wow, you really hold grudges. That was ages ago. I can’t even remember what Bumgarner said. Whatever it was, I can’t imagine it would overcome his historic World Series performance.

        Besides, I think even Max would say his comments early in the season about hitting in the NL were kind of dumb. He ended up loving hitting — even got to PH that one time.

      • Susanfaulkner - Oct 28, 2015 at 10:47 PM

        I just really don’t like the Giants. Plus I’m a woman we forgive but don’t forget!

    • tcostant - Oct 29, 2015 at 2:18 PM

      Either don’t aquire Scherzer or trade JZimm if you do.

      • Section 222 - Oct 29, 2015 at 3:54 PM

        Really? In order to keep Roark in rotation, you would have passed on the opportunity to sign Scherzer or traded JZnn? If that’s your approach, I’m glad you’re not the GM is all I can say.

  12. unkyd59 - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:25 PM

    Wapo reporting it’s Bud Black… I’m a little excited…!

    • ArVAFan - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:45 PM

      World Series or not, it’s just impossible to keep something like that secret for long. Sort of like last time.

  13. natsguy - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:29 PM

    You just beat me to the punch.

  14. raleighnat - Oct 28, 2015 at 9:45 PM

    I think they need another solid pitcher to fill in the three slot. I don’t like Gio or Roark or Ross as a #3 if we are going to contend against the Mets. Maybe a trade? A Fister bounce back would be perfect on a 1 year deal but it’s risky.

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