Friday, May 18, 2012

Washington Nationals: Is Their Rotation the Class of the National League?

The Washington Nationals have been a serious work in progress since new ownership took over in 2006, and the have been a very interesting team to say the least. The Nationals have been able to benefit this year from having had little to no success since about 1994 (Thanks for the help Omar). A lot of credit is due to ownership and management across the board for their ability to draft successfully, their recent trades, and a willingness to simultaneously sign (or at the very least pursue)  big name free agents, and excellent high risk, high reward talent. The team appears to finally come full circle and has been at or near the top of the NL East since the beginning of the season. Now that all that’s out of the way, lets take a look at the rotation, shall we?

Ross Detwiler is off to a more than respectable start, after having made appearances over the last 3 seasons including a very effective 10 starts and 15 appearances last season, Detwiler looks to be poised to build on his success early on this season. It appears that the team is limiting Detwiler’s pitch count actively, having not pitched over 92 pitches so far, though he has been able to make it through the 6th inning in 4 of his 7 starts so far despite this limitation. It is possible that Detwiler is putting a premium on his ability to pitch relatively deep into games, he has so far been limiting opponents to a nearly unfathomable 9% line drive rate and is getting ground balls over 50% of the time for the first time in his career. I don’t know exactly how sustainable this will be or if it’s more a matter of small sample size, but it appears he has revamped his approach and is reaping the benefits of it so far. If he can keep this up, Detwiler might well be able to take a page out of injured teammate Chien-Ming Wang whose approach is not at all dissimilar from what we’ve seen so far.

Edwin Jackson has already put together a complete game this season, but has had a few less than stellar outings to go along with his 9 inning outing as well. Jackson has balanced out to a pretty league average pitcher so far, having gone only 5 innings in 3 starts, and has 3 quality starts to his name so far. Jackson is limiting walks very well, actually better than he has at any other point in his career, having only walked 9 batters over 43 & ⅔ innings while striking out 38 in the same time frame. Jackson’s WHIP is remarkably low at the moment sitting at 1.008 which he’s aiding himself by limiting walks, but his defense might be helping him more than not, as his BABIP is sitting at .242 despite a .312 career rate. Jackson is doing a very good job of keeping opposing batters from really driving the ball, while he’s more or less a flyball pitcher he’s also only giving up 13% of balls in play as line drives, well below his 21% career average, and the ugly 25% from last season. Jackson is a hard pitcher to figure, he has been no worse than league average since 2008, but hasn’t been able to stay with a team for a whole season since ‘09. I can see E-Jax helping the Nats quite a bit, though I am concerned that a large amount of his stat line is out of sync with his career, and generally a pitcher’s WHIP increasing, will eventually result in giving up more runs, though that hasn’t entirely been the case for Jackson.

Gio Gonzalez has certainly been passed around enough, but this offseason was the pitcher worth the king’s ransom, rather than being part of it, and he has appeared to be worth every bit of it so far. Gonzalez’s stat line has got to be somewhat imposing for opposing hitters, in 48 & ⅔ innings, he’s given up 1 home run and struck out 60 batters. He has so far rattled off 6 quality starts in 8 appearances. He has not gone a game so far where he hasn’t struck out at least 1 batter for each inning he’s pitched and that sort of excuses his higher than desirable walk rate. I don’t exactly know what to make of this but his BABIP is similar to his teammates sitting at a much lower than career mark of .248, so maybe it’s not just some luck early on, but a surprisingly good defense backing up these pitchers helping to keep runners off the basepaths. Gonzalez aside from giving up only the 1 home run has very similar line drive, and fly ball rates to his career norm, so that much should be sustainable, though I don’t know that he’ll be able to continue seeing over ¼ of fly balls stay in the infield all year. Overall, Even as things normalize for Gonzalez he’s looking great now, and will likely continue to look impressive (if not quite this impressive)  throughout the season.

Jordan Zimmermann is 26 years old, and after putting together 26 strong starts last year looks to be doing nothing if not building off of that success so far. Zimmermann has pitched 52 & ⅓ innings across 8  starts, all but yesterday’s game have been quality starts. Zimmerman is looking a bit like Detwiler at the moment, for the first time in his career he’s inducing more ground balls than fly balls, though he hasn’t been quite as lucky with line drives. He’s got fairly modest strikeout numbers (38 so far) but has done a great job of limiting walks (9). He’s given up 5 home runs so far, which will have him on pace to give up a few more this year than last but he’s keeping most opposing batters in the dugout, so that doesn’t seem like it will sting him as bad as it might others. I don’t know exactly what to expect out of a pitcher who appears to have changed their approach so drastically from being an obvious flyball pitcher to the more groundball happy approach, but Zimmermann certainly has the talent to pull it off.

Stephen Strasburg has managed to put together 7 quality starts in his 8 starts so far, Strasburg has proved to be one of the most hyped pitchers in recent memory, and is most certainly showing us why. He’s struck out 8 more batters (56) than innings pitched (48) so far and has only walked 12. Strasburg may actually be the only starter in the Washington rotation with a BABIP close to their career numbers, and if he can keep it there, that should serve him fine, he doesn’t walk a ton of batters and he isn’t giving up enough contact for a .298 BABIP to kill him. His line drive and groundball rates are pretty spot on for the small sample size he’s put together so far and with the ability to strike out batters seemingly at will Strasburg should finally get to show us what he can do for a (nearly) full season.

Currently the Nats have the best pitching staff in the national league overall, with more punch outs and a lower ERA than any of the other 15 teams in the NL. Their bullpen isn’t quite as bulletproof as their rotation, but they’re not dragging the team down or costing them many wins. It’s really remarkable that the Nats offense is statistically so bad, they have plenty of talent, but it appears that things haven’t quite come together for them offensively but their pitching prowess has managed to make that very forgivable while they wait for the offense to really start clicking. One of the nicest things that the Nationals have going for them is depth, with Tom Gorzelanny and Wang (currently on the DL but could be ready to return as early as... now) on the team, there’s plenty of insurance for their rotation if things start to get rough as the season wears on.

No comments:

Post a Comment