The Top 10 Greatest Pitchers in Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos History

Two of the greatest starting pitchers from the past 30 years highlight this list of the top arms in Nationals/Expos history.

Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals pitches during a baseball game the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park.
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 18: Max Scherzer #31 of the Washington Nationals pitches during a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Nationals Park on July 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The Montreal Expos joined Major League Baseball as an expansion franchise in 1969. While their iconic logo has stood the test of time, the Expos made the playoffs just once (1981) in 35 years of play, getting robbed of a potential World Series run in 1994 because of the strike-shortened season.

Prior to the 2005 season, the Expos relocated to Washington, D.C., taking on the nickname of the Nationals. While their early days as the Washington Nationals were bleak (and times are pretty lean currently), Washington had some star-studded rosters between 2012 and 2019.

Using the combined histories of the Expos and Nationals, we’ve created a list of the 10 greatest pitchers in the history of the franchise.

10. Liván Hernández (2003-2006; 2009-2011)

Best Season as an Expo/National: 2003 – 15-10 with a 3.20 ERA, 141 ERA+, 3.87 FIP, 1.209 WHIP, 178 strikeouts, eight complete games and a 4.4 fWAR

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Career Stats as an Expo/National: 70-72 with a 3.98 ERA, 106 ERA+, 4.13 FIP, 1.349 WHIP, 840 strikeouts, 23 complete games and 17.0 fWAR

You can definitely make the case that either Jeff Fassero or Bill Gullickson should have claimed this spot, but Hernández was such a workhorse over two stints with the franchise that he got the nod.

The only player on this list to play for both the Expos and Nationals, Hernández led baseball in innings pitched in both 2004 and 2005, making All-Star Game appearances in each of those seasons.

In total, Hernández logged more than 210 innings pitched on four occasions (2003-2005; 2010) with the Expos/Nationals franchise. He also led the NL in complete games in 2003 and 2004.

Hernández’s greatest career moments came with the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins, but the parts of seven seasons he spent with the Expos/Nationals represent the largest chunk of his 17-year career. The Cuban-born righty is in the top seven in franchise history in games started (197), innings pitched (1,317) and complete games (23).

9. Gio González (2012-2018)

Best Season as a National: 2012 – 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA, 138 ERA+, 2.82 FIP, 1.129 WHIP, 207 strikeouts, two complete games and a 5.0 fWAR

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Career Stats as a National: 86-65 with a 3.62 ERA, 112 ERA+, 3.45 FIP, 1.283 WHIP, 1,215 strikeouts, three complete games and 23.5 fWAR

Acquired in a trade from the Oakland Athletics prior to the 2012 season, González hit the ground running in D.C., leading baseball in wins (21), FIP (2.82) and HR/9 (0.4) in his first season with the Nationals, en route to a third-place finish in NL Cy Young Award voting.

Between 2012 and 2017 — the six full seasons that González spent with the Nationals — he was in the top 15 among all starters in wins (79), HR/9 (0.68) and fWAR (21.8).

An All-Star in 2012, González is fourth in Expos/Nationals franchise history with 1,215 strikeouts.

8. Bryn Smith (1981-1989)

Best Season as an Expo: 1985 – 18-5 with a 2.91 ERA, 118 ERA+, 2.81 FIP, 1.052 WHIP, 127 strikeouts, four complete games and a 5.1 fWAR

Career Stats as an Expo: 81-71 with a 3.28 ERA, 111 ERA+, 3.36 FIP, 1.179 WHIP, 838 strikeouts, 20 complete games and 20.7 fWAR

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Smith was never an All-Star but was steady for the Expos during a nine-season stint to begin his career.

While he doesn’t hold any franchise records, Smith is in the top 10 in franchise history in the following major categories: wins (81), FIP (3.36), WHIP (1.179), innings pitched (1,400 1/3), strikeouts (838) and complete-game shutouts (eight).

Smith finished the 1988 season with just 32 walks across 198 innings pitched. His 1.5 BB/9 mark that season was the best of any pitcher in the sport.

7. Javier Vázquez (1998-2003)

Best Season as an Expo: 2001 – 16-11 with a 3.42 ERA, 130 ERA+, 3.21 FIP, 1.077 WHIP, 208 strikeouts, five complete games and a 6.1 fWAR

Career Stats as an Expo: 64-68 with a 4.16 ERA, 107 ERA+, 3.84 FIP, 1.274 WHIP, 1,076 strikeouts, 16 complete games and 24.5 fWAR

Vázquez’s overall numbers on the Expos probably undersell how good of a pitcher he was, and that’s because his time in Montreal came at the height of the Steroid Era.

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The Puerto Rican righty was a horse for the Expos, logging four consecutive seasons of more than 215 innings pitched from 2000-2003. Over that four-year stretch, Vázquez was third in innings pitched (902 1/3) and fifth in fWAR (21.9) among all starters in baseball.

Among all pitchers in Expos/Nationals history, Vázquez is fifth in both career strikeouts (1,076) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.25).

6. Jordan Zimmerman (2009-2015)

Best Season as a National: 2014 – 14-5 with a 2.66 ERA, 141 ERA+, 2.68 FIP, 1.072 WHIP, 182 strikeouts, three complete games and a 5.4 fWAR

Career Stats as a National: 70-50 with a 3.32 ERA, 118 ERA+, 3.40 FIP, 1.159 WHIP, 903 strikeouts, eight complete games and 20.5 fWAR

While Zimmerman was less heralded than No. 1 overall picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ fortunes started to change with a slew of great picks in the late 2000s and early 2010s, one of which was landing Zimmerman in the second round of the 2007 draft.

Zimmerman would spend the first seven seasons of his career with the Nationals, leading the NL with 19 wins in 2013, the first of consecutive All-Star Game appearances. Zimmerman also finished in the top seven in NL Cy Young Award voting in both 2013 and 2014, peaking with a fifth-place finish in the second of those seasons.

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The defining performance of Zimmerman’s career came on Sept. 28, 2014, when he pitched the first no-hitter since the franchise relocated to D.C. and became the Nationals.

5. Pedro Martínez (1994-1997)

Best Season as an Expo: 1997 – 17-8 with a 1.90 ERA, 219 ERA+, 2.39 FIP, 0.932 WHIP, 305 strikeouts, 13 complete games and an 8.5 fWAR

Career Stats as an Expo: 55-33 with a 3.06 ERA, 139 ERA+, 3.17 FIP, 1.089 WHIP, 843 strikeouts, 20 complete games and 20.1 fWAR

This list doesn’t take into account the entirety of Martínez’s Hall of Fame career, or else he would be at the No. 1 spot. Still, for him to be this high gives you an idea of how dominant he was over his four seasons with the Expos.

Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade prior to the 1994 season, Martínez came of age in Montreal, making All-Star Game appearances in 1996 and 1997.

He won the NL Cy Young Award in 1997, the first of three times in his career he would win a Cy Young. During what proved to be his final season in Montreal, Martínez led baseball in ERA (1.90), WHIP (0.932), H/9 (5.9) and complete games (13), while having to settle for only the top marks in the NL in ERA+ (219), FIP (2.39), SO/9 (11.4) and fWAR (8.5).

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Ahead of his free agent walk year, the Expos traded Martínez to the Boston Red Sox, where he would cement his Hall of Fame status. But while the bulk of arguably the most dominant six-year stretch in MLB history came with the Red Sox, the first of those seasons came in Montreal, making it the origin of his legend.

4. Dennis Martínez (1986-1993)

Best Season as an Expo: 1991 – 14-11 with a 2.39 ERA, 153 ERA+, 3.17 FIP, 1.122 WHIP, 123 strikeouts, nine complete games and a 4.2 fWAR

Career Stats as an Expo: 100-72 with a 3.06 ERA, 122 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 1.147 WHIP, 973 strikeouts, 41 complete games and 23.6 fWAR

“El Presidente” spent parts of 11 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, before being traded to the Expos during the 1986 season. In Montreal, Martínez would have a tremendous second act to his career.

Across seven and a half seasons with the Expos, Martínez made three straight All-Star Game appearances from 1990-1992, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting in the second of those campaigns. During his career year of 1991, Martínez pitched a staggering nine complete games, including a perfect game on July 28.

As an Expo, Martínez pitched more than 220 innings in six different seasons, making it unsurprising that he’s second in franchise history in innings pitched at 1,609. He also ranks among the top five pitchers in franchise history in fWAR (23.6), wins (100), ERA (3.06), complete games (41) and complete-game shutouts.

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3. Stephen Strasburg (2010-2022)

Best Season as a National: 2017 – 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA, 178 ERA+, 2.72 FIP, 1.015 WHIP, 204 strikeouts, one complete game and a 5.9 fWAR

Career Stats as a National: 113-62 with a 3.24 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3.02 FIP, 1.096 WHIP, 1,723 strikeouts, two complete games and 36.6 fWAR

Injuries likely prevented Strasburg from being a Hall of Famer, but it feels like the “What could have been?” discussion often overshadows how productive the 2009 No. 1 overall pick was when he took the mound for the Nationals.

During a 13-year career spent exclusively with the Nationals, Strasburg made three All-Star Game appearances, won a Silver Slugger Award in 2012 and finished in the top five in NL Cy Young voting in both 2017 and 2018. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in strikeouts (1,723) and second in both games started (247) and FIP (3.02).

Strasburg’s 2019 season essentially proved to be his final act, and he went out with a bang. He logged a career-high 209 innings during the regular season, the most among senior circuit starters that year. He then went 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 36 1/3 postseason innings, helping the Nationals win their first title and capturing World Series MVP honors in the process.

2. Steve Rogers (1973-1985)

Best Season as an Expo: 1982 – 19-8 with a 2.40 ERA, 152 ERA+, 2.76 FIP, 1.119 WHIP, 179 strikeouts, 14 complete games and a 6.4 fWAR

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Career Stats as an Expo: 158-152 with a 3.17 ERA, 116 ERA+, 3.20 FIP, 1.232 WHIP, 1,621 strikeouts, 129 complete games and 49.8 fWAR

Rogers spent the entirety of his 13-year career with the Expos, becoming the greatest pitcher in Montreal history.

After finishing runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1973, Rogers finished in the top five in NL Cy Young Award voting on three occasions, including a second-place finish to Hall of Famer Steve Carlton in 1982.

A five-time All-Star, Rogers is the Expos/Nationals franchise leader among pitchers in games started (393), fWAR (49.8), wins (158), innings pitched (2,837 2/3), complete games (129) and complete-game shutouts (37).

1. Max Scherzer (2015-2021)

Best Season as a National: 2017 – 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA, 178 ERA+, 2.90 FIP, 0.902 WHIP, 268 strikeouts, two complete games and a 6.4 fWAR

Career Stats as a National: 92-47 with a 2.80 ERA, 152 ERA+, 2.92 FIP, 0.962 WHIP, 1,610 strikeouts, 11 complete games and 36.8 fWAR

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Scherzer won the AL Cy Young Award with the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and a second World Series title with the Texas Rangers in 2023. But when he’s ultimately inducted into Cooperstown, his Hall of Fame plaque will feature him wearing a curly “W” on his cap.

Signed to a seven-year, $210 million free-agent contract prior to the 2015 season, Scherzer won consecutive NL Cy Young Awards (2016 and 2017) as a National, finishing in the top five in voting for the honor six times (the final time was in 2021, a season split between the Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers).

Scherzer represented the Nationals six times in the All-Star Game. Here are a few of his other most notable accomplishments with the Nats:

  • NL strikeout leader every season from 2016-2018
  • Tossed two no-hitters during the 2015 season
  • Struck out 20 batters against the Tigers on May 11, 2016, tying a nine-inning record that only Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood have matched.

Additionally, Scherzer was at the forefront of the first World Series title in franchise history in 2019. He’s the greatest player in franchise history, and his No. 31 will no doubt be retired by the Nationals one day.