After sixteen games into the 2012 season there have been some great stories in major league baseball. Everything from Matt Kemp and the Dodger's stellar start, to Bartolo Colon's impressive start. Depending on where you stand as a baseball fan, none may be better than the start that the Washington Nationals' pitching staff is off to. As of this morning they rank number one in FIP, xFIP and WAR. In terms of FIP and xFIP no team is very close. The Rangers aren't too far off in terms of WAR though.
Through 25 innings Stephen Strasburg has been nothing short of sensational. He's continuing to show that he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and looks like the Strasburg from 2010. His FIP- is 49, and his xFIP- is 81, meaning his FIP should expect an increase. He's striking out over 25% of the batters that he's faced, while walking less than 7%. He's stranding batters at an uncanny 87% of the time, that's something that will eventually regress, it's likely it'll eventually be closer to the 70-73% range. His average fastball velocity is still around 95 MPH, so Tommy John doesn't look like it affected his velocity. His swing strike percentage is 9.3%, meaning that's the total amount of pitches that batters are swinging and missing on. His BABIP is a little low, so he probably isn't as good as he's doing, but he's darn close. As long as Strasburg continues to get batters to strikeout, and remains healthy he should finish the season as one of the games best pitchers, if not the best pitcher.
Like Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann is off to a strong start. He's not nearly the strikeout pitcher that Strasburg is, he's only struck out 12.8% of the batters he's faced, but has walked less than 3%. He's yet to have given up a home run this year. In total he has a 67 FIP-, and 96 xFIP-. He's stranding batters at a 75% clip, which is right around league average. He's inducing groundballs 51% of the time, it's still early, but if he can keep that trend going he'll be in good shape. At the end of the season his FIP will probably be closer to the 3.20-3.30 range, but that's still a really good pitcher.
Gio Gonzalez, one of the newer additions to the Nationals has adjusted very nicely so far to the National League. He's always been a strikeout pitcher, and so far he's struck out over 30% of the batters that he's faced. Walks have always been a problem for Gonzalez, but so far he's walking less than 10% of the batters that he's faced for the first time in his career. Like Zimmermann he's getting a ton of groundballs, and is stranding runners at a 75% rate. A lot of his success is coming from the fact that his SwStr% is above 10%. With everything taken into consideration Gonzalez has a FIP- of 39, and an xFIP- of 58. If Gonzalez can keep the walks under control, he could be in line for the best season of his career.
Like his counterparts, Edwin Jackson has also done a really good job getting strikeouts, and limiting walks. He's striking out over 27% of the batters that he's faced, while walking less than 5%. One interesting thing though is that he's only stranding 51.3% of the batters that he's faced, which is certainly a factor in his high 121 ERA-. He has a SwStr% of 14.3%, so he's getting batters to swing at a lot of pitches, that might not be entirely sustainable, but it's nice to see. He does have a low BABIP, but he has a 60 FIP-, to go with a 81 xFIP-. Eventually his ERA should correct itself, and he should be a very nice fourth pitcher for the Nationals.
Ross Detwiler rounds out the Nationals' starting five, and so far he's looked really impressive. He strikes out over 24% of the batters he faces, and walks less than 7%. His groundball percentage is an uncanny 64%, as the season goes on that should decrease by a good amount. He's getting pretty lucky with his .238 BABIP, so his success is probably short lived, but right now he has a 60 FIP-, and a 81 xFIP-. He's probably not as good as he's been right now, but the Nationals will obviously take it.
After taking a deeper look at the numbers, it's not unreasonable to say the Nationals could have the best rotation during the whole year. Strasburg does have a 160 innings limit, so it will be interesting to see how they are after he gets shut down. Until then the Nationals are no joke, and shouldn't be treated as such.