Yet 2012 also saw Detwiler perform really well in the pen. It's something I actually spoke up about a few times, but before finishing that horn toot, I'll note I brought it up to explain why he wasn't as good a starter as you'd think, not because I thought he should be moved to the pen. The Nats needed another dependable lefty in there and they could use another solid long relief option. Moving Detwiler to the pen solves both issues. As Matt Williams said
"We're a better team with him coming out of the bullpen"Except that's a half-truth. They are a better team with Detwiler coming out of the bullpen... if their other options at 5th starter can pitch as well as Detwiler did. Can they? He went over this in a cursory manner a few weeks ago, let's dive in now.
Taylor Jordan is 25** His minor league career doesn't exactly inspire confidence. He was very good in rookie ball in 2009, struggled in A ball in 2010, did better in A ball in 2011, had Tommy John, then struggled again in A ball during his comeback in 2012. Not an auspicious beginning, but in 2013 though he looked like a different pitcher, mastering his control and breezing through High A and AA.
That's the type of pitcher Jordan is, a fantastic control pitcher who keeps his walks down (2.1 BB/9 in his minor league career) and is nearly impossible to homer off of (14 homers in 339 minor league innings). He's not a strikeout threat (ignore what you see this spring) putting up mild K numbers in the minors. This is exactly what we saw in his major league stint. No walks, no homers, but no Ks. He's not a guy that's going to dominate. You'll get your hits but they won't be homers and I'll get out of the inning before anything bad happens.
The worst thing you can say about him is he lacks experience and thus 2013 could just be a fluke. That might have been true about the domination in the minors. abnormally low BABIPs and high LOB% suggest ERAs that were well under what they should have been. But in the major leagues we saw a .322 BABIP and a 66.9 LOB%. Those aren't lucky breaks. They seem more than reasonable. I think 2013 MLB Jordan is a fine guess at what he'll be going forward.
Roark is 27. One of the whatevers dealt to the Nats for Cristian Guzman, he slowly moved up the minor league ladder by attrition. He was mostly mediocre but never flat out terrible, and when the Nats had need of organizational depth, they kicked him from AA to AAA. After another blah year in AA though it looked like he "got it" in 2013. Although his surface stats didn't look any better than Jordan's in the minors (more homers, every slightly more walks, same strikeouts) he didn't suffer the same drop in stats when he moved up to the majors. Everything remained the same, if not better and he put up that great 1.51 ERA line.
Roark has morphed into something a lot like Jordan, after being more of a wild strikeout type guy in his early years. 2008 and 2009 showed a guy striking out a batter an inning, but walking too many and giving up too many homers. The 2010-2012 Tanner gave up some K's for some better control (around 0.8 HR/9, 2.8 BB/9, 7.3 K/9). Until finally arriving at that 2013 that was a lot like Jordan's. I don't think the endpoint was fluky. I think this is the pitcher Roark is now.
If Roark is Jordan then why the big discrepency in major league results? Part of it is Roark adjusting better, but part of it is things going his way. Roark had spent the minors with a BABIP in the .280-.320 range. Last year he had a .258 BABIP in the minors, a .243 in the majors. His LOB% was on the high side (though not crazy) in the majors as well at 79.8%. And while Roark doesn't give up many homers a 2.6% HR/FB rate is something that no one keeps up for an entire year.
To put it another way, in 2013 we saw this
Lucky Jordan Minors: 1.00 ERA
Jordan Majors: 3.66 ERA
Roark Minors: 3.15 ERA
Lucky Roark Majors: 1.51 ERA
Very similar results, very similar pitchers (at least in 2013). There's a good sense of how either of these guys will pitch in the majors. An ERA aropund 3.50, maybe up to 4.00 as the league gets comfortable against them, feels about right. Basically Detwiler, so the "gamble" that either of these two will pitch like Ross is probably a fair one. Ross offers more security for reaching the above numbers, but injury history and age suggest his time has passed.
The question then becomes who to choose and to me the answer is obvious and is why I started the analysis of each player with a statement of ages. Jordan is 25. Roark is 27. Jordan is 2 years and 3 months younger than Roark. Jordan is more likely to continue pitching at this level for more years than Roark making him a more useful piece in the rotation, or a more useful piece in a deal. Jordan also holds out more hope for improvement.
At this point the choice is simple - Taylor Jordan should be the #5.
*just under 5 2/3 a game. For reference ZNN has been around 6.5 innings the past 2 years, Gio under 6 1/3 and Strasburg just under 6, though he was given a short leash in 2012 and in 2013 he was at the same level as Gio).
**By the way 6 months younger than Strasburg, so when you consider Jordan a "prospect" think about that.