The Nats have a crowded pitching staff right now, and Ross Detwiler is one of those guys that doesn’t have a truly defined role. He is a lefty, and has been a starter most of his career, but is currently coming out of the bullpen (occasionally). He has looked pretty good in limited time in the majors this year, and his fastball is still hitting the mid-90s. Make no mistake, a mid-90s fastball from a lefty is rarity even at this level. But he hasn’t yet dominated in a way to convince this organization that he absolutely needs to start.
I’m wondering what Nats fans see with this guy. Should he be back in the rotation (perhaps, in a way, as a lefty replacing Tom Gorzelanny), or should he move to the bullpen (Long or Short relief)? He’s young enough that you may feel he needs more time in the minors to develop. Or, since he’s a hard throwing lefty, you may want the Nats to cash in their chips on his now and get some real value in a trade for him. I’ve got my vote locked in, what do you think?
Maybe it’s because we’re too shocked that Jason Marquis is 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA. Or maybe it’s because we’ve been so busy lamenting the disappearance of offense, both from the entire team, and from individuals we were hoping would improve this year like Morse, Desmond and Espinosa. Whatever the reason, one person that hasn’t gotten alot of credit so far this year is Tom Gorzellany.
Gorzelanny is a little different than the other starters. He’s not an older vet trade bait like Livo or Marquis. He’s not as young as JZimm or Lannan, who might be considered prospects (ok, that’s probably a stretch for Lannan). He’s somewhere in the middle – a relatively young pitcher at 28, that the Nats are hoping they can use as a starter for the next few years (I believe they can control him through 2013). As an in between guy, most fans aren’t holding their breath for him to be great, but the indifference that some may feel for the vets (other than eyeing some trade potentials) should be there either. Gorzelanny has looked quite good in his first 1/4 of the season, and looks like the kind of pitcher that could be very helpful.
He is currently leading the Nats starting pitchers in ERA, K/9, H/9 and WHIP. Despite giving up some walks, he still has allowed fewer base runners than the other starters while striking out more. He’s always been good at striking hitters out, but he often has control issues that limit his effectiveness. This year, while he’s walked a few, the K/BB of 2.50 is good enough to make him a strong starter. It’s also quite a bit above his career K/BB of 1.65. If he can sustain that, he’ll continue to be strong.
Last night, the Nats got a great start out of Tom Gorzelanny, 8 innings of shutout ball to go with a complete game shutout pitched by Jason Marquis on Friday night. The starting pitching has probably been the biggest surprise of this early Nationals’ season, and it’s not just good, it’s been great. The Nats starting rotation has a 3.38 ERA, good for 3rd best in the National League, and 5th best in all of baseball. All this while possibly the pitcher with the best stuff, Jordan Zimmermann, has an ERA below league average (ERA+ of 91). Zimmermann hasn’t even been awful, he’s had 1 bad start, 1 hard luck start with bad results, and 4 good games.
Here are the starters, in order of best ERA to worst
Looking at the ERA, you might figure that Marquis is the luckiest, but looking at the ratios, you realize he’s also been the best. Sure, those numbers won’t hold up, but when you strike out close to 5 times as many people than you walk, you’re in great shape. Gorzelanny has looked very good, but didn’t look great – until last night’s game. He’s showing he can strike guys out, and he hasn’t walked too many either.
After bring out of the country for a week, I’m back and ready to take a look at what is going on with the Nats.
First of all, Ryan Zimmerman got hurt right after I left, and it appears that his injury isn’t that serious. To call it completely minor would be to ignore the fact that he was put on the DL, but it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. Abdominal strains can be tricky, as they often look to be healed then pop back up. But, if given the time to heal, he should be no worse for the wear.
Meanwhile, the Nats managed to go 5-2 in those games where Zimmerman hasn’t played, not that anyone would say they’re better off without him. The offense has been a big part of this run – they scored 7 runs on Sunday, 7 on Tuesday, 8 on Sunday and 5 on the 2nd Sunday game. You’re gonna win most of your games where you score 5 or more runs.
But Seriously, the Starting Pitching
Let’s not forget about what the pitching has done over this period. It hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s been quite good. Tom Gorzelanny debuted as the fifth starter on Saturday, and didn’t look very good. But he redeemed himself Friday, going 6 IP with 2 ER. At this point we can be hopeful that the first game was from lack of game time pitching this year, and we’ll see more of the second start types than the first. Livan had a very good game against the Phillies on Tuesday, going 6 2/3 IP and giving up only 1 ER. He then went 7 with 1 ER on Sunday to bring his ERA down to 2.88.
Before comparing the pitchers I have to caveat it even more than the position players. Most teams make it evident who their “ace” is early on in the year, and most teams have an obvious one anyway. Most teams make it evident who their #5 starter is early on in the year, by not playing him until about May. Of course, the number 5 starter is often 3 or 4 guys. And many teams don’t make it all that evident who starters 2-4 are. This normally isn’t important, but since we’re trying to compare guys head to head, it is extremely important. So I’ll do this the best I can, but it should be taken with a handful of salt. I’ve tried to use Baseball Prospectus as my guide to order.
Spring Training is in full swing, and while we must take every performance with a grain of salt and a handfull of small sample size, it’s important not to ignore what’s happened so far. Here are a few highlights after the first few weeks:
The Position Players
The middle infield – Danny Espinosa is batting .324/.378/.559 and Ian Desmond is batting .314/.351/.400 while having the two highest AB totals on the team. They’re not walking much, which is troubling, but at least they are hitting the ball. Without walking, they will have to sit lower in the lineup, they just won’t get on base enough, but hopefully some of that will come.
Left Field – It would be hard to deny Mike Morse the starting job at this point. He’s hitting .469, he’s slugging 1.000, and he’s got 5 HRs in only 32 ABs. This compares with Rick Ankiel‘s .194/.219/.548. Ankiel has shown enough power that you’d think he’d make the team, but he doesn’t look like the starter yet.
Center field – Nyjer Morgan is now batting .212/.242/.261, while Roger Bernadina is hitting .281/.324/.438. Bernadina is putting together a strong case to be the 4th outfielder, since Morse is hitting so well. But if Morgan continues to slump this way, Bernie’s got a chance to be the starting centerfielder.
The rotation keeps on spinning, and will continue to do so throughout the spring. I think it’s a bit premature to name anyone as a definite starter, except for probably Livan and Zimmermann. Let’s take a look at how everyone’s done so far.
John Lannan – Alright, if there’s another guy already in the rotation, he’s it. He’s only started one game this spring, he looked good early on but did surrender a few runs in the third and final inning. He only struck out 1 guy, which is low compared to what he was able to do last year. It’ll be interesting to see if those K numbers do come up.
Jason Marquis – People have him as an “already in” guy, thanks to experience and salary. In two starts so far, he hasn’t let up a run only gave up 3 hits and 1 BB, while striking out 4 in 7 IP. It’s early, but that’s at least a promising sign of a recovery to the league average type pitcher they were expecting last year. He’s been quoted as saying that he likes how his sinker feels, and that’s real important for him.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus came out with their PECOTA predictions for the Nationals, and it wasn’t pretty. This week, they came out with their depth charts. This is basically their predictions, with playing time adjusted for what the lineup situation looks like right now. They also changed some of the underlying numbers to get their totals. I said I’d be shocked if they put the Nats at more than 60 wins, but they are actually predicted to get to 70 (Joy!). So there must be something positive out of this. There is, here’s a rundown of some of their adjustments, and a few other notes.
Let’s begin with the starting pitching
Jordan Zimmermann got better. He went from an 86 IP, 4.27 ERA guy to a 172 IP, 4.19 ERA guy. That puts him as the most valuable starter on the team, with 149 Ks and a 1.4 WARP.
Tom Gorzelanny joined the group, and got better. He was still listed on the Cubs, and maybe it was the ballpark, but his ERA was predicted to be 4.73. Now, on the Nats, he is predicted to be their 2nd best of the 5 main starters, with a 4.34 ERA, 105 Ks, and a 0.7 WARP, all ranked #2 behind JZimm. Perhaps because of injury history, they have him ranked #5 in IP.
Livan, Marquis and Lannan fill out the rotation, each with about a 0.10 ERA drop from last weeks predictions.
Lannan’s predictions still seem a little off. His PECOTA suggested 4.76 ERA would be his career low
Chien-Ming Wang does come back and pitch, according to them, and his 4.24 ERA is the best in the rotation after JZimm, but they only have him going 65 innings.
Rob Neyer has been all about the surnacronym game this week, but I have noticed a serious lack of Washington players. So, as a response, I tried to go through much of the starting lineup and create one, using last names, and descriptions that are actually fitting of the players. Here goes:
Desmond: Dumb Errors, Supposedly Maturity Often Nourishes Defense
Zimmerman: Zippers Infield Marvelously, Mashes Everything, Remains Most Awesome National
Morgan: Must Overtly Restrict Getting Always Nabbed
LaRoche: Late At Reaching Offensive Crest, Hacks Early
Yesterday I wrote a chronicle of the major league life of Tom Gorzelanny, new Nats starter(?) just acquired from the Cubs. What I didn’t know at the time was who he was traded for, so I couldn’t make an assessment of whether or not I liked the trade. Let’s again look at what the Nats got in Gorzelanny.
They got a relatively young lefty, under control for 3 more seasons, who profiles as a starter. He has been a strong pitcher at times, but when his control disappears so does his ability to get people out. Last year, as a starter, he was pretty successful. He was very good until he got nailed with a liner in the finger, that’s when he got shifted to the bullpen and barely appeared. Coming back on June 30, the rest of his season wasn’t as good, and he had a few really rough outings to go with the good ones. Despite all that, his numbers, in terms of ERA and WAR, would have made him the 3rd best starter on the Nats last year, behind Livan and Strasburg.
In exchange, the biggest NAME the Nats gave up was Michael Burgess. Burgess hits the ball very far, and has a very good arm out in right field. When he hits the ball, he shows 30 homer potential. He also did well in limited time in AA this year, and is only 22. Those are his positives. Negatives are that he is a below average outfielder, and he doesn’t hit the ball very much. Keith Law’s take on him is interesting. Here’s what he said: