We whiffed on Taylor Jordan vs. Tanner Roark

In the run up to the 2014 season there was a two-man race between Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark for the fifth spot in the rotation. Nearly everyone thought it would go to Jordan. A Doug Fister injury allowed both to audition longer and Roark took the job easily. But why did we miss so badly on who was the favorite?

Last night, right before Taylor Jordan took the mound for a rather forgettable 2015 debut start, David Huzzard tweeted out something that got a lot less attention that it should have.

Dave definitely wasn’t alone in this opinion. I thought the same thing and nearly every Nats blogger and writer thought he would be the one to take over the fifth spot in the Nats rotation in 2014, not Roark. That has obviously turned out not to be the case, not only has Roark been better than Jordan, he has been significantly so.

So why did we all miss so badly on this? Well first and foremost, Jordan was never really quite right in 2014. In his five starts with the big league club his average fastball velocity dipped down to 90.0 miles per hour from 92.3 miles per hour in 2013. Such a sizeable difference would affect performance and is a lagging sign of an injury. So it was no surprise when after being sent to the minors Jordan hit the 60 day DL with elbow soreness, missing the rest of the season.

But while that explains Jordan’s 2014 struggles, it doesn’t explain why Roark has been so good, or why Jordan is still on the fringes of the roster this year after recovering from his injury issues. Overall, this is still a gigantic whiff on my and other writers’ part, so I’m going to briefly breakdown a couple reasons why I was led astray.

1) Performance in 2013

In 2013 Jordan pitched 51.2 innings and had a 3.66 ERA and a 3.49 FIP, while Roark threw 53.2 innings to the tune of a 1.51 ERA and 2.41 FIP. Normally, when comparing these two performances most would say that Roark is clearly the superior pitcher. But here’s where we run into trouble with more statistically bent thought. A little over 50 innings is way too small a sample size for these numbers to stabilize, so one can’t make a true talent level judgement based just on 2013 alone.

The problem is that in my head and likely others, Roark stood out as someone who would clearly regress. He obviously wasn’t going to be a historically great pitcher, as those numbers would have made him. Jordan, with significantly more “reasonable” and about league average numbers didn’t stand out so much, even though his numbers also came in an extremely limited sample and are also likely not representative of his true talent. Since Roark’s case was so obvious, I discounted his performance significantly more than I did Jordan’s. This isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last time it will happen. But it’s good to try to remember that a 50 inning sample is too small to make a value judgement regardless of how impressive or average said 50 innings are.

2) Performance in the minors

Tanner Roark in the minors prior to 2014:

Season

Team

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

2008

Rangers (R)

7

0

12.1

8.03

2.19

0

0.273

83.30%

0.73

3.06

2008

Rangers (A+)

12

2

30

11.1

3.9

1.5

0.301

70.60%

3.60

4.88

2009

Rangers (A+)

29

9

86.2

9.45

2.8

0.52

0.281

79.00%

2.70

3.60

2009

Rangers (AA)

5

4

17.2

4.58

3.57

0.51

0.281

67.80%

4.58

4.35

2010

Nationals (AA)

6

6

36

8.25

2.25

1.25

0.297

83.80%

2.50

4.09

2010

Rangers (AA)

22

17

105

6.43

2.83

0.69

0.318

66.50%

4.20

3.78

2011

Nationals (AA)

21

21

117

7.08

3

0.77

0.322

67.50%

4.69

4.06

2012

Nationals (AAA)

28

26

147.2

7.92

2.86

0.85

0.332

65.20%

4.39

3.81

2013

Nationals (AAA)

33

11

105.2

7.15

1.7

0.51

0.258

65.30%

3.15

3.01

Taylor Jordan in the minors prior to 2014:

Season

Team

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

2009

Nationals (R)

10

6

34.2

8.57

2.34

1.04

0.228

60.50%

3.63

3.90

2010

Nationals (A-)

13

13

62

7.84

2.47

0.87

0.347

63.50%

4.94

4.06

2010

Nationals (A)

1

0

3.1

13.5

8.1

0

0.444

37.50%

13.50

4.12

2011

Nationals (A)

18

17

94.1

6.01

2.19

0.1

0.291

68.90%

2.48

3.25

2012

Nationals (A-)

6

6

14.1

10.67

1.26

0

0.404

40.00%

8.16

2.21

2012

Nationals (A)

9

9

40

6.3

2.03

0.45

0.376

70.10%

4.05

3.96

2013

Nationals (A+)

6

6

36.1

7.18

1.49

0.25

0.280

78.70%

1.24

2.61

2013

Nationals (AA)

9

8

54

7.17

1.5

0

0.243

88.20%

0.83

2.51

This is where a heavy recency bias came into play. Jordan was superb in 14 starts between Potomac and Harrisburg before being called up to the big league team. Roark was OK in 11 starts in Syracuse, but he was also making a lot of relief appearances for a AAA team. At the time it seemed obvious that Jordan was rocketing through the minors, while Roark had done little in his time there, but on second look that isn’t so obvious.

For starters Jordan, despite being two years younger, was in the minor leagues only one less season than Roark, so it’s not like either pitcher moved quickly through the organization. On top of that, despite Jordan’s great 2013, he didn’t have all that better a track record than Roark did, putting up equally lousy ERAs and FIPs prior to 2013. Both struggled to strike out many batters, while Jordan did hold a slight advantage in walk rate until 2013. All together Jordan doesn’t appear to have done any better in the minors than Roark did.

And in fact he might have done worse. What might be the most important, and overlooked difference is their batting averages on balls in play. For the seasons presented above Roark had an average BABIP of .296, Jordan .327. This suggests that while their strikeout numbers were similar, Roark was doing a much better job locating pitches and reducing hard contact than Jordan was. Not surprisingly, Roark has made his name in the majors by having great command and control of his pitches to the tune of a career .262 BABIP. Taylor on the other hand has a career .324 BABIP in the majors.

3) Age

I put age last because it likely fueled the biases that led to me, and others, missing the stuff I noted above. In 2014 Taylor Jordan was a 25 year old who seemingly shot out of nowhere to become a valued part of the Nationals organizational depth. Roark was a 27 year old journeyman who had been acquired for Christian Guzman and had just strung together the best two months of his pitching life.

See how easy those age narratives are to slip into? A two year difference is all that separates Jordan and Roark, but that feels like a lifetime in baseball. Players under 25 are still years from their supposed “peak” with plenty of time to adjust and grow, while players around 27 are entering their peak, with not much more room for growth. Age curves are important, on average they’re generally right. A 22 year old player is much more likely to improve than a 33 year old.

But sometimes I find myself and others to beholden to the age curve. Every player is still unique and different. Most players don’t play in the Major Leagues at 19 and excel, but Bryce Harper did. Most players don’t suddenly become MLB regulars and MVP vote getters at 29, but Michael Morse did.

In general we should be skeptical of guys struggling to do well in AAA at 26, because most of them won’t even sniff the Major Leagues. But the minute that player makes the Majors the calculus should be changed a bit. The Nationals didn’t just call Tanner Roark up for the hell of it, they specifically saw something different and better than they had in previous years that warranted time with the big club.

I let age color my opinions of Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan and because of that I missed the boat badly in the run up to the 2014 season.


Capitol Dugout Top Stories

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Dave definitely wasn’t alone in this opinion. I thought the same thing and nearly every Nats blogger and writer thought he would be the one to take over the fifth spot in the Nats rotation in 2014, not Roark. That has obviously turned out not to be the case, not only has Roark been better than Jordan, he has been significantly so.

\r\n\r\n

So why did we all miss so badly on this? Well first and foremost, Jordan was never really quite right in 2014. In his five starts with the big league club his average fastball velocity dipped down to 90.0 miles per hour from 92.3 miles per hour in 2013. Such a sizeable difference would affect performance and is a lagging sign of an injury. So it was no surprise when after being sent to the minors Jordan hit the 60 day DL with elbow soreness, missing the rest of the season.

\r\n\r\n

But while that explains Jordan’s 2014 struggles, it doesn’t explain why Roark has been so good, or why Jordan is still on the fringes of the roster this year after recovering from his injury issues. Overall, this is still a gigantic whiff on my and other writers’ part, so I’m going to briefly breakdown a couple reasons why I was led astray.

\r\n\r\n

1) Performance in 2013

\r\n\r\n

In 2013 Jordan pitched 51.2 innings and had a 3.66 ERA and a 3.49 FIP, while Roark threw 53.2 innings to the tune of a 1.51 ERA and 2.41 FIP. Normally, when comparing these two performances most would say that Roark is clearly the superior pitcher. But here’s where we run into trouble with more statistically bent thought. A little over 50 innings is way too small a sample size for these numbers to stabilize, so one can’t make a true talent level judgement based just on 2013 alone.

\r\n\r\n

The problem is that in my head and likely others, Roark stood out as someone who would clearly regress. He obviously wasn’t going to be a historically great pitcher, as those numbers would have made him. Jordan, with significantly more “reasonable” and about league average numbers didn’t stand out so much, even though his numbers also came in an extremely limited sample and are also likely not representative of his true talent. Since Roark’s case was so obvious, I discounted his performance significantly more than I did Jordan’s. This isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last time it will happen. But it’s good to try to remember that a 50 inning sample is too small to make a value judgement regardless of how impressive or average said 50 innings are.

\r\n\r\n

2) Performance in the minors

\r\n\r\n

Tanner Roark in the minors prior to 2014:

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

Season

Team

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

2008

Rangers (R)

7

0

12.1

8.03

2.19

0

0.273

83.30%

0.73

3.06

2008

Rangers (A+)

12

2

30

11.1

3.9

1.5

0.301

70.60%

3.60

4.88

2009

Rangers (A+)

29

9

86.2

9.45

2.8

0.52

0.281

79.00%

2.70

3.60

2009

Rangers (AA)

5

4

17.2

4.58

3.57

0.51

0.281

67.80%

4.58

4.35

2010

Nationals (AA)

6

6

36

8.25

2.25

1.25

0.297

83.80%

2.50

4.09

2010

Rangers (AA)

22

17

105

6.43

2.83

0.69

0.318

66.50%

4.20

3.78

2011

Nationals (AA)

21

21

117

7.08

3

0.77

0.322

67.50%

4.69

4.06

2012

Nationals (AAA)

28

26

147.2

7.92

2.86

0.85

0.332

65.20%

4.39

3.81

2013

Nationals (AAA)

33

11

105.2

7.15

1.7

0.51

0.258

65.30%

3.15

3.01

\r\n\r\n

Taylor Jordan in the minors prior to 2014:

\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n

Season

Team

G

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

ERA

FIP

2009

Nationals (R)

10

6

34.2

8.57

2.34

1.04

0.228

60.50%

3.63

3.90

2010

Nationals (A-)

13

13

62

7.84

2.47

0.87

0.347

63.50%

4.94

4.06

2010

Nationals (A)

1

0

3.1

13.5

8.1

0

0.444

37.50%

13.50

4.12

2011

Nationals (A)

18

17

94.1

6.01

2.19

0.1

0.291

68.90%

2.48

3.25

2012

Nationals (A-)

6

6

14.1

10.67

1.26

0

0.404

40.00%

8.16

2.21

2012

Nationals (A)

9

9

40

6.3

2.03

0.45

0.376

70.10%

4.05

3.96

2013

Nationals (A+)

6

6

36.1

7.18

1.49

0.25

0.280

78.70%

1.24

2.61

2013

Nationals (AA)

9

8

54

7.17

1.5

0

0.243

88.20%

0.83

2.51

\r\n\r\n

This is where a heavy recency bias came into play. Jordan was superb in 14 starts between Potomac and Harrisburg before being called up to the big league team. Roark was OK in 11 starts in Syracuse, but he was also making a lot of relief appearances for a AAA team. At the time it seemed obvious that Jordan was rocketing through the minors, while Roark had done little in his time there, but on second look that isn’t so obvious.

\r\n\r\n

For starters Jordan, despite being two years younger, was in the minor leagues only one less season than Roark, so it’s not like either pitcher moved quickly through the organization. On top of that, despite Jordan’s great 2013, he didn’t have all that better a track record than Roark did, putting up equally lousy ERAs and FIPs prior to 2013. Both struggled to strike out many batters, while Jordan did hold a slight advantage in walk rate until 2013. All together Jordan doesn’t appear to have done any better in the minors than Roark did.

\r\n\r\n

And in fact he might have done worse. What might be the most important, and overlooked difference is their batting averages on balls in play. For the seasons presented above Roark had an average BABIP of .296, Jordan .327. This suggests that while their strikeout numbers were similar, Roark was doing a much better job locating pitches and reducing hard contact than Jordan was. Not surprisingly, Roark has made his name in the majors by having great command and control of his pitches to the tune of a career .262 BABIP. Taylor on the other hand has a career .324 BABIP in the majors.

\r\n\r\n

3) Age

\r\n\r\n

I put age last because it likely fueled the biases that led to me, and others, missing the stuff I noted above. In 2014 Taylor Jordan was a 25 year old who seemingly shot out of nowhere to become a valued part of the Nationals organizational depth. Roark was a 27 year old journeyman who had been acquired for Christian Guzman and had just strung together the best two months of his pitching life.

\r\n\r\n

See how easy those age narratives are to slip into? A two year difference is all that separates Jordan and Roark, but that feels like a lifetime in baseball. Players under 25 are still years from their supposed “peak” with plenty of time to adjust and grow, while players around 27 are entering their peak, with not much more room for growth. Age curves are important, on average they’re generally right. A 22 year old player is much more likely to improve than a 33 year old.

\r\n\r\n

But sometimes I find myself and others to beholden to the age curve. Every player is still unique and different. Most players don’t play in the Major Leagues at 19 and excel, but Bryce Harper did. Most players don’t suddenly become MLB regulars and MVP vote getters at 29, but Michael Morse did.

\r\n\r\n

In general we should be skeptical of guys struggling to do well in AAA at 26, because most of them won’t even sniff the Major Leagues. But the minute that player makes the Majors the calculus should be changed a bit. The Nationals didn’t just call Tanner Roark up for the hell of it, they specifically saw something different and better than they had in previous years that warranted time with the big club.

\r\n\r\n

I let age color my opinions of Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan and because of that I missed the boat badly in the run up to the 2014 season.

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