Bringing Back the Pitcher’s Win

July 24, 2012

Most baseball fans know that the pitcher’s W doesn’t mean as much these days (as opposed to the team W, which means everything). At least, logically, we all understand that a pitcher getting a W is dependent on too many things outside of his control to be a good indicator of his ability. But there is something ingrained in our psyche, perhaps, that makes us appreciate the numbers. Yes, most people were ok with Felix Hernandez winning the Cy Young in 2010 with a paltry 13-12 record. But the W still holds a special place in our hearts, and Nats fans get to appreciate them, despite their obsolescence, this year more than ever.

Yes the pitcher’s W is a dated measurement, but it’s not completely useless. You can glean some very important information by looking at it. It does give you at least a general idea of the health and productivity of your starting pitching staff. Take a look at the list of Nats pitchers with 10 Ws or more since they’ve been in town:

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The Next Dilemma – #5 Starter

May 16, 2012

When the season started, it seemed like the Nats had 6 or 7 starting pitchers. Thanks to injury Chien-Ming Wang wasn’t quite ready yet, and thanks to Ross Detwiler‘s strong spring training, John Lannan was shipped down to AAA. Lannan’s name hasn’t been mentioned much around these parts, and that’s probably because Detwiler’s been pitching so well. The Nats can leave Lannan down there, and pitch Detwiler until they decide to do otherwise.

But with Wang, things aren’t so simple. Now that he’s healthy, they need to decide what to do with him by the end of May, when his rehab time is up. If they don’t bring him up to the major league squad, he can’t just go down to the minors. And since he doesn’t play 3B, C, 1B, LF or RF (yup, all those places have seen injury), they don’t have a spot to plug him in. Meanwhile, the guy who he’d presumably replace has pitched great. Detwiler’s last start was poor, but even with that he’s got a 2.75 ERA with 28 Ks and 10 BBs in 39 1/3 IP. The team has also said they won’t use Wang out of the bullpen, and they aren’t doing a 6 man rotation. But they have a few options when he comes to the Nats.

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A Praiseworthy Start for the Starters

April 18, 2012

The Nats pitching staff has started out very strong this year. They lead the majors in ERA with 1.91, the #2 team is Texas at 2.36. While their bullpen has been excellent, it is the starters that have really impressed. Their starters’ ERA is 1.69, and in that Texas is in a more distant second place at 2.43. As a testament to how well they’ve pitched, they are #2 in IP with 74 2/3 (Oakland’s in first with 75 1/3). But more importantly, they lead the majors in Ks with 70 as a starting staff, with several teams tied for the #2 slot at 64.

After 12 games, you don’t worry too much about the stats. This shouldn’t be thought of as a pattern that will hold up for the year, it still is a pretty remarkable start. So yes, that 1.69 ERA is nice to look at, but it will go away. However, this can be thought of as a very impressive two week run. Even if this occurred in July, while we might not notice the incredible ERA, it would still be thought of as a very impressive two week run. It’s something that could repeat itself, and it is a good indicator of how strong this staff can be.

Here’s a look at these twelve games, start by start, to see just how good they’ve been, with the only starts allowed more than 2 ER highlighted:

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Nats Get a Pitcher, Maybe Give Up an Ace

December 22, 2011

Well, the Nats went ahead and pulled the trigger on a big trade today, and it was a doozy. They got their #3 pitcher, and he’s a pretty good one, so let’s start with that. They got Gio Gonzalez from the A’s, a lefty starter that can strike people out. He is also under control for 4 more years, and will be 26 years old next season. That’s a pretty strong add for the rotation – here are some numbers.

What They’re Getting

He’s been a full time starter for two full seasons now with the A’s, and he’s compiled some interesting stats. The first thing that probably stands out are the Ks – he’s compiled 368 in the last two seasons over 402 2/3 IP for a K/9 of 8.2. That is pretty damn good, and it should go up with the move to the NL. His ERA+ has been 129, also very good, and keep in mind that even though its a pitchers park, ERA+ factors that in, so he’s doing very well with respect to the rest of league. His ERA over this period is a 3.17, and he helps out with more than just numbers. He fits the Nats need for a lefty in the rotation, and he also has good stuff, with a very strong breaking ball. This may help him out in the NL, as he gets to face not only a weaker number 9 hitter in the pitcher, but often a weak #8 hitter in the NL as well.

On the negative side is first and foremost the walks. He led the league last year with 91, had 92 the prior year, and has had a BB/9 of 4.1 the last two seasons. That puts his K/BB at a pretty pedestrian 2.01. He also has played in front of very good defense which has probably inflated his numbers somewhat. And he’s a fly ball pitcher that was helped out by his home park, so his home/road splits are pretty pronounced. In 2011 his ERA was 2.70 at home and 3.62 on the road. His Ks were higher at home, his walks were lower. But he wasn’t a BAD pitcher away, just mediocre away and GREAT at home. I’m not saying he’ll be bad, but he’s probably not more than a #3 starter. Still, that gives the Nats a solid rotation top to bottom now, with a solid back end and a strong front end.

What They’re Giving Up

In exchange, they gave a slew of prospects to Oakland – right away, you see they got Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, two guys you probably recognize since they played on the Nats last year. Both started, but I think both aren’t destined to be major league starters. Milone had spectacular numbers in the minors, but major league hitters didn’t seem to have that much trouble with him. Although his ERA wasn’t terrible, he didn’t strike anyone out, and probably won’t last several times through a lineup. Peacock has a good fastball, and had a great season in the minors, but has an issue with his curve – it really curves. After they’ve seen it once or twice, hitters at the major league level seem to be able to lay off it and sit on the fastball. He might have a strong future as a setup man, but I have serious doubts in his ability to start. So I don’t mind losing either one of those guys.

They also gave up Derek Norris who, on the other hand, could be somebody. He’s had his issue with batting average for sure, but he walks a ton and hits for power. At almost any other position you’d worry that he might not hit enough once people come at him more, but for a catcher, the power and the eye are probably enough. If he develops, he could be a very good starting catcher. Still, I expected he’d be the price that the Nats would have to pay to make a move. After all, they have a great young catcher already, so Norris really is a trade chip. And they used him appropriately, so good for them.

But there is one more piece that made my shoulder’s slump a bit when I read it. In addition to those three guys, the gave up A.J. Cole. Cole’s name hasn’t been as prevalent for Nats fans, because he’s young and he’s pitching in the low minors, but he’s a talent. But last year, at age 19, he managed 108 Ks and 24 BBs in 89 IP. Striking out more than a guy per inning at that age and level is real nice. He’s got ace potential, and I think the A’s are probably more excited about him than anyone else. He alone would have been a big price to pay.

The Verdict

Well, the Nats have a rotation now, right? Over the next few seasons, they’ll have a better #1 in Strasburg and a better #2 in Zimmermann than most teams. If Gonzalez can succeed outside of Oakland, without that A’s defense in front of him, than the 200+ Ks means they’ll have a good #3 pitcher. John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang and maybe Ross Detwiler round out a rotation that looks pretty damn good. And next year, if they went out and bought a free agent front line pitcher, it’d be downright scary. This is a move for now, not years down the road, but Gonzalez is young enough that its not necessarily for NOW now. It works for 2013 and 2014 as well, which is good, because nobody knows how much Harper we’re getting this year, and we know Strasburg will be limited.

Still, I can’t help but thinking Cole was alot to give up. In 3 years or so, when he’s pitching effectively in the majors, that’s just when I expect the Nats to be contending for championships, and really needing a guy like him. What kind of pitcher will Gio Gonzalez be then? Hopefully someone that can make us forget AJ Cole was once part of the future here. Meanwhile, forgetting about AJ Cole for a minute – the rest of what they gave up was probably a long shot to add much to this team. And Gonzalez definitely gives them something right now, and for the next 4 years at least. The bottom line is, whatever they gave up isn’t helping now, and the rotation just got alot stronger.


2011 Ends, So Does Rebuilding

September 29, 2011

Last night, while many baseball fans were watching an incredible end to the regular season with the excitement of the playoffs starting 2 days early, the Nats were finishing up their season. They had a good game, winning 3-1, and a promising one in that Stephen Strasburg pitched very well – 6 IP, 10 K, 1 H, 2 BB and 0 ER. They not only finished the 2011 regular season, but they should have finished their final season of true “rebuild”.

Look who they already have written in the lineup next year, and some of their stats:

C – Wilson Ramos, 23 years old, .779 OPS , rookie
2B – Danny Espinosa, 24 years old, .737 OPS, 21 HR, rookie
3B – Ryan Zimmerman, 26 years old, .798 OPS (.846 after July 2)
SS – Ian Desmond, 25 years old, .294/.342/.422 after July 5
1B/LF – Michael Morse, 29 years old, .910 OPS
RF – Jayson Werth, 32 years old, 20 HR, .264/.349/.445 after July 18
SP – Stephen Strasburg, 22 years old, 24 IP, 4 ER, 24 K, 2 BB, returned from TJ
SP – Jordan Zimmermann, 25 years old, 3.18 ERA, 4.0 K/BB
SP – John Lannan, 26 years old, 3.70 ERA
RP – Tyler Clippard, 26 years old, 1.83 ERA, 88 1/3 IP, 104 K, 26 BB
RP – Drew Storen, 23 years old, 2.75 ERA, 75 1/3 IP, 74 K, 20 BB

Werth’s track record of success, couple with his 2nd half, suggests he’ll be fine next year.The only real question mark in that group is Ian Desmond. Everyone else seems to be ready to produce and win games.  Ross Detwiler, only 25 years old, is a lefty who at times looked unhittable, and finished the year with a 3.00 ERA in 10 starts and 5 relief appearances. Throw in potentially Chien-Ming Wang, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, and the pitching looks very strong. This is no longer a rebuild, this is a young team with strong players at almost every position. They aren’t “potential” guys, they are guys who have produced in the majors.

The biggest hole to fill is in center field. They also might invest in another starting pitcher, but they’d probably have to go after a true front line guy to make it worth shoving one of the younger guys aside. First base is a question, too - Chris Marrero and Adam LaRoche could produce at first base, but neither is one you’d count on. I could see them finishing 2012 with Morse as their first baseman, and leave the other corner outfield spot for Bryce Harper.

Nobody expects them to win 100 games next season. Bryce Harper probably won’t start the year with the team, and may not see action until September, if that. But this team is no longer looking to fill dozens of holes. Next seasons results cannot be written off to another year of rebuilding, they have to win games, and they should start being a serious contender for the playoffs within the next 2 seasons.


15 Games Left in the Best Season Yet

September 14, 2011

Tonight, the Nats will get a chance to beat their win total from last season. They are at 69 wins right now, already besting their 2008 and 2009 marks, 70 gets them over their 2010 spot. If they win 4 more after that, and since they have a total of 15 games remaining it certainly is possible, they’ll have more wins than 2007 (73-89) and their best record since that first year of 81-81. So, with 15 games left, go 5-10 or better, and you have your best season since your first year.

And while the record probably won’t be .500 (although it’s still possible!), this season has to be thought of as better than 2005. The pitching staff in 2005 had two young quality players that showed real promise – John Patterson and Chad Cordero. The rest were aging vets that had good years. The lineup was mostly under 30, but there weren’t too many young sensations on the squad, Nick Johnson was probably the closest.

In other words, 2005 didn’t show a ton of promise for the future but this 2011 team, on the other hand, does. They have a young catcher, at least one young middle infielder (maybe as many as 3), a potential MVP third baseman who is only 26, and 3 or 4 young quality starting pitchers including an almost surefire ace. Throw in Mike Morse and Jayson Werth, who aren’t quite as young, and Bryce Harper on the way, that’s a strong future. Savor it and enjoy it, it isn’t anything that you’ll remember years down the road, and it doesn’t compare to making the playoffs or winning a pennant, but regardless of record, this is the best year this team has had. And next year should be even better.


Blogger Day, Awesome Again

September 10, 2011

I’m sitting here in the press box again at Nats Park as the game is about to start. Thanks to Chad Kurz and the Washington Nationals, they once again invited the Nats blogger nation out to the park for a day of activities. It was a great time, and I’ll have lots of pictures to post later. Here’s a run down of what we did and what I learned.

After we arrived we were taking out to the field to meet with a few people. What they do is allow media and others to walk around, basically between 3B and 1B in foul territory, during batting practice. The fair territory is roped off, and the players are taking BP, so you have to be cognizant of that and try not to get in the way of professionals walking back and forth trying to get ready to do their jobs. We watched BP for a while – Wilson Ramos was absolutely crushing pitches. Then the starting pitchers came out en mass – Zimmermann, Wang, Milone, Detwiler, and Strasburg, among others – to take BP. Lots of bunting practice, with some good rips as well. Former high school third baseman turned pitched Brad Peacock hit a bomb.

At the end of BP, we got a chance to talk to Stephen Lombardozzi. Since the blogger night crowd was sparse, we just huddled around him and asked him a few questions. No revelations here, but he did say that he has a great relationship with the two guys he’s competing with for a job – Desmond and Espinosa. He said that even though they aren’t really vets, he looks to them for advice because they just went through things very similar to what he’s going through now, in terms of coming up to the majors and learning to play up here.

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