Is the league adjusting to Tanner Roark?

Can Tanner Roark avoid a sophomore slump? (USATSI)
Can Tanner Roark avoid a sophomore slump? (USATSI)

Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark impressed in his season debut. After a rough first inning, Roark settled in, tossing six innings and giving up two hits. It was enough to earn him the win against the Mets.

Roark likely entered the year as a solid sleeper based on his strong 1.51 ERA in limited work last year. Roark tossed just 53 2/3 innings last season, so his impressive numbers came with a small sample caveat. Still, he was an intriguing late-round Fantasy option if he won a job in the rotation with the Nationals.

One of the things Roark did well in his debut season deals with smoke and mirrors. Opposing hitters only swung at 55.9 percent of pitches Roark threw for strikes, according to The Washington Post. That was the lowest figure in the majors among pitchers who tossed at least 50 innings. That means Roark enticed a lot of called strikes by umpires last year. 

This implies a few things. Roark doesn't exactly have wipeout stuff, so he probably benefited from hitters being unfamiliar with his repertoire last year. It also implies, whether or not this is true, that he may have received more help from the umps than most pitchers. Both of those factors were part of the reason Roark should have been seen as a regression candidate this season.

It won't be as easy to fool hitters this time around. In his start against the Mets, hitters swung at 62.8 pitches in the strike zone. This was just one start, of course, so it's important that we don't overreact to small sample. But if the Mets game is any indication it looks like hitters are going to be more aggresive with Roark this season. Maybe that's a result of having a more accurate scouting report on Roark, or maybe he won't get as many calls this time around.

The positive is that Roark still pitched fairly well despite the increased swing rates. If there's one area to be concerned about, it could be his strikeout rate. If he's not getting as many calls, Roark may not get as many looking strikeouts. At the same time, that wasn't an issue Thursday, as he rung up five hitters. 

Again, this is totally premature. Though we only have a one game sample, Roark's probably not going to repeat last year's swing rates. As with any pitcher who posts a sub-2.00 ERA, there's going to be regression. But if Roark can succeed despite some of the changes, he can prove to be a useful Fantasy asset. That's the biggest question going forward. Can Roark continue to excel despite teams now owning a more accurate scouting report? His first start offered some mild reason for optimism.

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