Doug Fister trade gives Nationals the best rotation in baseball

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+
1 Clayton Kershaw 166 697.0 23-25 99 51 23 508 191 171 169 709 2.21 42 59
2 Kris Medlen 160 337.1 25-27 84 25 13 298 103 92 70 279 2.45 24 76
3 Johnny Cueto 154 433.2 25-27 68 33 16 374 144 126 114 325 2.61 30 74
4 Justin Verlander 149 707.2 28-30 101 54 25 578 248 221 192 706 2.81 62 66
5 Chris Sale 142 477.1 22-24 118 30 24 403 169 160 124 497 3.02 48 72
6 Cliff Lee 139 666.1 32-34 93 37 25 597 222 207 102 667 2.80 66 78
7 Jered Weaver 137 578.2 28-30 87 49 21 468 186 178 138 457 2.77 57 75
8 Hisashi Iwakuma 131 345.0 31-32 63 23 11 296 118 109 85 286 2.84 42 88
9 Stephen Strasburg 130 366.1 22-24 63 24 16 287 138 121 106 412 2.97 31 69
10 Alexi Ogando 129 339.1 27-29 112 22 12 285 137 126 101 264 3.34 36 74
11 Yu Darvish 127 401.0 25-26 61 29 18 301 157 149 169 498 3.34 40 71
12 Matt Harrison 127 409.2 25-27 65 32 22 404 172 158 123 271 3.47 37 87
13 Gio Gonzalez 126 597.0 25-27 96 48 28 493 229 207 243 596 3.12 43 77
14 Doug Fister 124 586.2 27-29 91 35 32 578 240 215 118 442 3.30 40 83
15 James Shields 124 705.2 29-31 100 44 31 618 268 247 191 644 3.15 71 83
16 Cole Hamels 124 651.1 27-29 96 39 29 564 242 228 146 612 3.15 64 81
17 Jordan Zimmermann 123 570.1 25-27 90 39 28 532 212 198 114 438 3.12 49 86
18 Jhoulys Chacin 123 460.1 23-25 76 28 29 436 204 188 180 321 3.68 41 88
19 Hiroki Kuroda 123 623.0 36-38 97 40 40 592 242 224 143 478 3.24 69 92
20 David Price 122 622.0 25-27 92 42 26 543 234 216 149 574 3.13 54 80
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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