Thursday, 16 July 2009

First-Half Nationals' Review: the Pitching

Pitching is 75 per cent of the game. Or something like that. Maybe 52 per cent, but there's some defence in there, too. Actually, where the Washington Nationals and the fabled 'Plan' are concerned, pitching is probably 75 per cent, if not more. As Definitely-Not-Interim-or-Acting President Stan Kasten said the other day, 'It's hard to amass a core of young future starters. That took us time. I've always believed that that was the most important thing, that was Job One.'

And, frankly, it's still a work in progress. There are signs of a rosy dawn in the future, but not necessarily where you'd think. But right now it's still night.

Rather than trot out some traditional statistics, or even some old-fashioned sabermetric ones, I'm going straight to the 21st-century granular approach here. I'm going to talk about LD% (Line-Drive percentage) and HR/FB ratio (home runs as a percentage of fly balls). I'll throw in K/9 and BB/9, just for retro effect.

Basically, LD% has an impact on the batting average by a pitcher's opponents. If the LD% is high, the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) will probably be high, too. Young pitchers who don't make quick progress with getting a high LD% lower are likely to have short big-league careers. HR/FB is pretty constant for most pitchers, so if there's some deviation from the league average there, for a young pitcher it's safer to assume that it will drift towards that league average. Taking the pitchers currently on the 40-man, this is the statistical snapshot.

Starter      K/9   BB/9    LD%   HR/FB
Olsen 6.0 3.6 22.5 13.7
Martis 3.6 4.1 15.4 10.2
Detwiler 5.7 3.8 24.5 5.6
Zimmermann 8.8 2.9 25.3 13.9
Stammen 4.0 1.8 19.1 8.8
Lannan 4.0 3.1 18.7 11.8

League Ave 6.9 3.2 19.2 10.3

Martis, Stammen and Lannan are doing a Mark Fidrych impersonation. If they don't get that K/9 up, their careers will be short. Otherwise, Martis needs to get his walk rate down, and the other two are doing a fine job. You can fit guys like this into the 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, and not complain.

Olsen's a league-average innings eater type, with numbers like that, great for spot 3 or 4 in the rotation.

Detwiler and Zimmermann are supposed to be the future studs. Unfortunately, they look pretty uneven here. Zimmermann's got the Ks, but that LD% worries me. It's remained stubbornly high all season. Detwiler's not quite got the stuff, and also has a high LD%, but something about that line fills me with more confidence that you're looking at a future Scott Olsen type, who might turn into a #2 for a season or two. That's actually pretty good, because one never knows. Sometimes people raise their game even higher. But, being realistic, a young pitcher's best seasons for strikeouts are at the start of their career. Then they go down.

Well, this review is partly about the coming 'Riggleman Era'. My advice? Keep Stammen in the rotation. At one time their was a rumour that he was headed for the bullpen, but he's doing too good a job starting. I think that plan has been set aside with Detwiler's return to the minors, but you never can tell.

As for the bullpen, I'll just go straight to the chart
Starter      K/9   BB/9    LD%   HR/FB
Beimel 5.6 3.8 16.7 6.2
Bergmann 6.2 3.9 23.5 15.3
Burnett 7.1 1.4 11.9 17.0
Clippard 9.0 3.9 10.0 7.8
Kensing 3.6 7.2 29.2 14.6
MacDougal 3.7 7.4 14.3 8.5
Mock 4.2 5.5 10.9 0.0
Tavárez 8.4 6.8 17.2 3.4
Villone 4.9 6.4 20.3 6.2

League Ave 7.4 4.0 18.7 8.8

Well, what a mess. Walks are killing this bullpen. Look at MacDougal, he's got the numbers the wrong way round. 7.4 would be acceptable as a K/9, but as a BB/9 it's a sentence to transportation. Here's where Mr Riggleman has his work cut out for him.

I'd do something like this:

Closer: Burnett
Setup: MacDougal, Clippard, Tavárez, Beimel
Mop-up, Long Relief: Bergmann, Villone.

Villone I'd keep on a short lease. The Nationals have Dave Williams, a former big league left-hander, at Syracuse. If Villone doesn't pick up his game, I'd DFA him and try Williams.

Beimel has tolerable numbers, but his performance doesn't measure up. I believe he's added a few goats to his existing collection.

Tavárez may be done. If he could get his walks down, though, that's a closer there. MacDougal may well be in the same boat, to be honest.

The rest are a bit mix and match at the moment. I have a feeling they are going to miss Kip Wells. He somehow could dial it up for an inning, but he was screwed if he had to go two. Then he got hurt, and didn't come back the same pitcher. They won't miss Kensing, though. Didn't he cost them a real, live player?

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