Can the Bullpen Success Last?

August 20, 2012

Everyone knows how good the Nationals’ starting pitching has been – they’ve had the best ERA in the league on the backs of those starters for almost the entire season, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to change that. But quietly, the bullpen has been very successful, too. They rank 6th in the NL among bullpens, which, considering how good the starters have done, makes for quite an effective pitching staff. Here’s how they stack up:

This is all well and good, and they actually rank 6th in strikeouts as well. As I said, this team has such dominant starting pitching, that a slightly above average bullpen, which is what this indicates, is going to make them pretty impossible to beat. Except for the unfortunate fact that it might be pretty tough to sustain.

On to the Bad News

Now, we often talk about pitchers or hitters regressing to the mean – being successful (or unsuccessful) in relatively short amount of time despite their career numbers showing them to be a different player. And non-traditional statistics indicate that they will eventually go back to what they were, and they almost always do. Well, that’s not what I’m talking about here at all. I’m talking about something much less complicated than that. Let’s look at this bullpen sorted by a different, very traditional statistic:

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What Does One Game Mean?

August 14, 2012

Its amazing what one night can do for a team. The 14-2 win might not end up meaning much in the grand scheme of things, there are, after all, 161 other games to be played. And the games versus Atlanta might be more important just because of what it does to the NL East standings. But still, a drubbing like that… alot of things happened in one night that are simultaneously completely meaningless and totally consequential, depending on how you look at the world. But it certainly showed that the Nats, a team built on pitching and known mostly for it, can score with the best of them.

The Offense 

This team, the Washington Nationals, have scored the most runs since the All Star break. Think about that for a minute. This is a team that was winning thanks almost entirely to their pitching staff early in the season, with late game heroics allowing them to take 2-1 leads in the 8th, and plenty of anectodal stories just like that. But here they are, scoring the most runs in baseball since mid-July. And take a gander on the right side of the screen. That’s right, they’re now 6th in the NL in runs per game. Murderer’s Row it aint, but that’s till a pretty good place to be. And keep in mind that offensive explosion was at one of the best, if not the best, pitcher’s park in baseball.

The Cy Young Race

That they did it against Ryan Vogelsong was also significant. Going in to the game, he might not have been the leading Cy Young candidate, but he was certainly leading the NL in ERA. Now if you look at that list, you see Jordan Zimmermann right at the top. Now Vogelsong has one more win that JZimm, but the same number of Ks and a half a run more on the ERA. Is Jordan the leader for the award? Probably not – voters are still hung up on wins, and he doesn’t strike a ton of guys out. Dickey’s got the Ks, the ERA and the Ws, as does Cueto (who gets bonus points for pitching in a hitter’s park), but that is probably you’re top 3 right now. So Zimmermann certainly has a chance, and the Nats knocking the guy who’s season who most like his down on the ERA list helped his case quite a bit.

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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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Nats First Pick in 2012 Draft – Luc Giolito

June 4, 2012

The Nationals surprised everyone by taking Luc Giolito, a high school pitcher with ace upside. He’s a 6’6″ righty who can hit 100 mph, but he had to shut it down in March due to an elbow injury. Perhaps the Nats history with Strasburg and Zimmermann makes them believe even if he needs a year off for surgery, they’ll still get their money’s worth, although hopefully it won’t come to that.

He impressed everyone until the injury, thanks to has mid to high-90s fastball and a strong curveball. His command is good as well, and as a total package he does project as a potential ace. Keith Law said of Giolito

Had he been healthy all spring, he would probably have been my No. 1 overall player. If the doctors clear him, he could be excellent value in the pick 6-15 range as perhaps the only pitcher in this draft who has true No. 1 starter upside.

Kevin Goldsten felt equally strong about his potential

Among the best high school righties in recent memory, as he has everything scouts look for… much more than just a pure arm, as many teams also saw his power curveball as one of if not the best breaking ball in the draft.

There is, to reiterate, no doubts about his talent. But the elbow injury probably scared quite a few teams away. So did signability, as he did commit to UCLA. If he ends up going there and is healthy (and as good as people think) he’d come out as an overall number one pick. But that couldn’t be for another three years, and Kevin Goldstein is our guide once again

Hopefully that will assuage all of our fears, of course, if he signs it’ll probably be 10 minutes to the deadline so we’ll have some time yet to sweat it out. Goldstein didn’t say whether or not he liked the pick over Twitter, but commented that he has insane upside. Keith Law was more direct:

So once again, the people who know about scouting are pretty darn excited about what the Nats did. I personally really like this pick. There is no reason to pick for need ever in baseball, but especially when you are already a contender. It doesn’t make send for the Nats to draft someone who likely won’t be in the lineup for a couple of seasons at minium to fill a need when they’re trying to win it now. So another great pitcher despite the dominance of this staff? Absolutely!

I appreciate what they’re doing here, and they probably felt they couldn’t resist this level of talent when it fell to them. Its another year and another guy who truly has the potential to be the best player in the draft. But don’t take my word for it, here’s what Baseball America’s prospect guru Jim Callis said on MLB Network last night:

If you’re talking about a guy in this draft who has the highest upside of any pitcher… it could be Giolito… Huge upside. What amazes me is you’re talking 4 drafts in a row now, just by circumstances and where they picked and how the draft’s fallen, they got Stephen Strasburg, the best pitching prospect in the history of the draft, next year you got Bryce Harper, the best power prospect in the history of the draft, last year picking 6th they got the best hitter in last year’s draft in Anthony Rendon, and this year picking 16 they may have gotten the highest ceiling in the draft. That’s unbelievable. If he stays healthy, that’s an unbelievable 4 year run for the Nationals.

Now we just gotta figure out what to call him. Because we’ve already got a Gio. And it’s very nice.

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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Don’t Count Innings for Strasburg

April 12, 2012

We all know Stephen Strasburg is the Nationals best pitcher. We also know that he will be shut down at some point this season, which is unfortunate for the team’s playoff chances. And while we don’t know what date it will happen, we do know that he’ll be finished for the year whatever start he reaches 160 innings pitched. Right? Well, not really.

According to this thoroughly interesting Baseball Prospectus article about the recent history (ups and downs) of the Washington Nationals, Mike Rizzo says that the 160 IP limit is bunk:

“Look, the media put (the 160-innings limit) out there, not me. It probably comes from what Jordan Zimmermann pitched last year.

“I don’t have a specific pitch count in my mind, a specific innings count in my mind. I am going to refer to my experience as a farm director, as a player development guy, and knowing his body. In conjunction with Davey Johnson and Steve McCatty, when we feel he’s had enough, we’re going to shut him down.

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2012 NL East Rankings Part 2: The Pitchers

March 28, 2012

Yesterday, we examined the position players for each team in the NL East, giving out 5 points for the best player at each position, 1 point for the worst. Here’s where we stand:

SCORE: PHI (28), DC (26), MIA (25), ATL (23), NYM (18)

The Nats did so well because of strong showings in C, 3B and LF, while ranking middle of the road for the rest, and only taking the dreaded #5 slot for first base. Comparing starting pitchers is even tougher than the position players, not because it’s hard to know who’s best, but because it’s a little subjective to name the #2 or 3 guy for a team. At least the #1s are pretty clear. I’ve tried to use Baseball Prospectus as my guide to order, and I continue pick a great British rock to guide the text.

#1 STARTER (The Stone Roses)

1. Phillies – Roy Halladay
2. Nationals – Stephen Strasburg
3. Marlins – Josh Johnson
4. Mets – Johan Santana
5. Braves – Tim Hudson

Roy Halladay is still an ace of aces, he finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last year after winning it in 2010, and is still the best here. Strasburg is projected by PECOTA to have the lowest ERA of any starting pitcher in the league, and we all know that peace reigns and Love Spreads in Washington whenever Baseball Jesus starts, but he’s not pitching more than 160 or so innings this year. He’s no lower on this list despite the inning cap, because the next two guys have some question marks. Josh Johnson is a true ace, but he was hurt most of last year and has only started one full season so far. Santana is also coming off injury, and probably doesn’t have the fastball he used to have, although he was still incredible without it in 2010. Tim Hudson is a very good pitcher, but he probably isn’t in the league of what the other 4 guys can bring.

SCORE: PHI (33), DC (30), MIA (28), ATL (24), NYM (20)

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