During his breakout 2016 season, Tanner Roark compensated for shaky command with a high rate of soft contact. In fact, he ranked third among starting pitchers in soft contact percentage (23.1). That number tumbled to 16.7 percent in 2017, and in turn his BABIP returned to league average and his ERA climbed nearly two full runs. Roark also lost confidence in putting away batters early in the season, perhaps due to his spring preparation being corrupted by the World Baseball Classic. Deeper into 2017, the right-hander gradually regained trust in his two-seam fastball, which led to a return of the weak batted balls that carry his game and allowed him to post a career-best 10.1 swinging-strike rate and 9.6 second-half K/9. The 31-year-old has five useful-to-great pitches, hurls for one of the National League's best teams and will probably be discounted a little more than he should coming off the disappointing year, so this a decent buying opportunity.
Roark allowed three runs on four hits and three walks over three innings while striking out two in Saturday's Grapefruit League game against the Mets. After beginning the spring with eight scoreless innings, Roark has now coughed up six runs in his last seven frames, heading in the wrong direction with Opening Day rapidly approaching. The 31-year-old is still locked into the No. 4 spot in the Nats' rotation, though, and his overall 12:6 K:BB through 15 Grapefruit League innings isn't bad, so don't overreact to a couple of shaky spring outings.
Roark has simplified his windup, which has resulted in eight scoreless innings to begin his spring, Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post reports. While he hasn't abandoned pitching from the windup entirely the way Stephen Strasburg has, Roark streamlined his mechanics after he posted a career-worst 4.67 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 2017. The 31-year-old now has an 8:1 K:BB through those eight Grapefruit League innings, and a rebound to something closer to the 2.83 ERA and 1.17 WHIP he produced in 2016 isn't out of the question.
Roark agreed to a one-year, $6.475 million deal with the Nationals on Friday, avoiding arbitration, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports. He receives a raise over the $4.315 million he made in his age-30 season. Roark is coming off his worst MLB season in which he logged a 4.67 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 166 strikeouts in 181.1 innings. Positive regression should be forthcoming, but he is still more of a back-of-the-rotation arm to fill a final spot on a fantasy staff.
Roark will not take the hill for Game 4 of the NLDS against Chicago on Wednesday, as manager Dusty Baker elected to go with Stephen Strasburg for the contest, Jesse Rogers of ESPNChicago/com reports. Although Strasburg was initially slated for Game 5 while batting an illness, Baker decided to give him the ball for Game 4 following Tuesday's postponed affair. This likely leaves Roark available out of the bullpen if needed, especially if Strasburg is still feeling relatively under the weather. On the flip side, Roark could start Thursday's Game 5, if it's needed, but it seems more likely that Baker would turn to Gio Gonzalez for the decisive tilt.
Roark will start Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cubs on Wednesday, Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reports. It was thought that Stephen Strasburg might step in to start Game 4 after Tuesday's contest was postponed, but Strasburg is apparently feeling a little under the weather and wasn't able to get his usual prep work in, so the Nationals will stick with Roark as their starter. If Roark and the Nationals are able to win Wednesday, Strasburg would get the ball for the decisive Game 5.