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Doug Fister trade gives Nationals the best rotation in baseball

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Doug Fister went from being baseball's best fourth starter to being ... baseball's best fourth starter.
Doug Fister went from being baseball's best No. 4 starter to being ... baseball's best No. 4 starter. (USATSI)

On Monday night, the Nationals acquired right-hander Doug Fister from the Tigers for two spare part big leaguers (Steve Lombardozzi and Ian Krol) and a really good left-handed pitching prospect (Robbie Ray). It's a done deal, not a rumor.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference, here are baseball's 20 best pitchers over the last three seasons (min. 300 innings) in terms of ERA+, which is adjusted for ballpark and league:

RkPlayerERA+IPAgeGWLHRERBBSOERAHROPS+
1Clayton Kershaw166697.023-259951235081911711697092.214259
2Kris Medlen160337.125-2784251329810392702792.452476
3Johnny Cueto154433.225-276833163741441261143252.613074
4Justin Verlander149707.228-3010154255782482211927062.816266
5Chris Sale142477.122-2411830244031691601244973.024872
6Cliff Lee139666.132-349337255972222071026672.806678
7Jered Weaver137578.228-308749214681861781384572.775775
8Hisashi Iwakuma131345.031-32632311296118109852862.844288
9Stephen Strasburg130366.122-246324162871381211064122.973169
10Alexi Ogando129339.127-2911222122851371261012643.343674
11Yu Darvish127401.025-266129183011571491694983.344071
12Matt Harrison127409.225-276532224041721581232713.473787
13Gio Gonzalez126597.025-279648284932292072435963.124377
14Doug Fister124586.227-299135325782402151184423.304083
15James Shields124705.229-3110044316182682471916443.157183
16Cole Hamels124651.127-299639295642422281466123.156481
17Jordan Zimmermann123570.125-279039285322121981144383.124986
18Jhoulys Chacin123460.123-257628294362041881803213.684188
19Hiroki Kuroda123623.036-389740405922422241434783.246992
20David Price122622.025-279242265432342161495743.135480
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/2/2013.

Four of the top 20 (top 17, really) are now employed by the Nationals: Stephen Strasburg (No. 9), Gio Gonzalez (No. 13), Fister (No. 14) and Jordan Zimmermann (No. 17). If you prefer something more sophisticated like WAR, then the Nationals still have three of the top 18 and four of the top 42 starters* in baseball.

* Strasburg ranks 42nd in WAR only because he was returning from Tommy John surgery in 2011 and barely pitched (24 innings). He would have ranked much higher with a full, healthy season.

Either way, ERA+ or WAR, the Nationals now boast baseball's best rotation foursome, a title that used to belong to the Tigers, Fister's former team. Washington could use a potted plant as their fifth starter (not really) and they'd still have the best rotation in baseball, at least on paper. Credit GM Mike Rizzo for being aggressive and not being afraid to swap prospects for Gonzalez and Fister.

Obviously any talk about baseball's best rotation in December refers how to how each team looks on paper. Who knows what will happen once the season gets underway? Players (especially pitchers) have a tendency to get hurt and underperform for no apparent reason. For what it's worth, the Steamer projections at FanGraphs expect all four of these guys to post at least 2.5 WAR next season and that's really, really good.

The Nationals failed to live up to expectations in 2013 and most of that had to do with their disappointing offense (team 94 OPS+). The pitching staff wasn't a huge concern (team 106 ERA+) but Rizzo opted to turn a strength into a super strength -- the upgrade from 2012 Dan Haren (81 ERA+) to Fister figures to be enormous -- while hoping his offense improves with full seasons of Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper in addition to a rebound from Adam LaRoche. There isn't a team in the league with a better collection of four starters and that alone is enough to make the Nats very dangerous in 2014.

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