The Nats Playoff Rotation: A Poem

First we’ll use Gio,
Next up, J-Zim
Followed, we hope, by a Detwiler win.

Next series? Gio
Followed by Zim
Then Det and E.J. (if he doesn’t give in.)

This was obviously inspired by Gerald Hern’s “Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain

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Milestones on K Street?

A friend of mine remarked recently:

So the Rays’ pitchers just set the record for most K’s in a season by an AL team with 1,246. The 2003 Cubs hold the MLB record with 1,404. The Nats currently have 1,237 K’s on the season. What are the odds that the Nats’ pitchers break the Cubs’ mark in the next 3 years? I say even money.

This is one of those things that sneaks up on you. As much as I follow the Nats’ pitching staff, I had not really been keeping track of their cumulative strikeout figures. Currently, the Nats are third in the league, behind the Phillies (1290) and the Brewers (1299), although I have to believe the Brewers’ strikeout totals are somewhat inflated from having to face the Astros and the Pirates (who are, respectively first and second in strike-outs while batting) so often.

Let’s get one obvious thing out of the way. The Nats pitching staff posts a collective 8.18 K/9. There are about 90 innings left in the year. Assuming nothing changes radically, we’d expect around 82 more strikeouts through the end of this year, bringing the total to something like 1,328 or so. So, no way the 2012 Nats come close to the 2003 Cubs’ unbelievable strikeout totals.

Could the Nats equal such a mark?

We can try to make an extremely crude projection. Let’s assume an unlimited, 200-inning Stephen Strasburg. Let’s further assume that Edwin Jackson re-signs with the organization, and that Ross Detwiler remains in the rotation. That gives us a five-man rotation of Strasburg, Gio, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson, and Ross Detwiler. So let’s start by looking at how they’d do.

Looking at totals since 2008, here’s what the K/9 rates look like:

Strasburg: 11.21
Gonzalez: 8.79
Zimmermmann: 7.41
Jackson: 6.92
Detwiler: 5.48

Assuming all of them pitch 190 innings (I know, very very crude here), this is what it looks like:

Strasburg: 236 strikeouts
Gonzalez: 186 strikeouts
Zimmermann: 156 strikeouts
Jackson: 146 strikeouts
Detwiler: 116 strikeouts.

That gives us a starting pitching rotation total of 840 strikeouts. So far, in 2012, those same five have recorded 800 strikeouts. This seems plausible. So the 840 strikeouts from the starting rotation would need an additional 564 strikeouts from relievers to equal the 2003 Cubs. 2012 Nats relievers put up 433 strikeouts, all together.

What if we don’t bother with all this tiresome averaging over the past several years, and assume the Nats pitch at the same level they’ve done in 2012? Well, assuming 190 innings for everybody:

Strasburg: 11.13 K/9; 235 K’s
Gonzalez: 9.36 K/9; 198 K
Zimmermann: 6.95 K/9; 147 K
Jackson: 8.03 K/9; 170 K
Detwiler: 5.68 K/9; 120 K

For a staff total of 870 strikeouts.

But let’s look back at those 2003 Cubs K/9 rates:

Kerry Wood: 11.35 K/9; 211 IP; 266 K
Mark Prior: 10.43 K/9; 211.1 IP; 245 K
Matt Clement: 7.63 K/9; 201.2 IP; 171 K
Carlos Zambrano 7.07 K/9: 214 IP; 168 K
Shawn Estes: 6.11 K/9; 151.2 IP; 103 K

Wow. Strasburg today has nothing on Wood and Prior in 2003. They got more strikeouts, more often, over far more innings than we now think prudent. The forgotten man here was Shawn Estes, who racked up 103 strikeouts in 28 starts for the 2003 Cubs.

If the Nats are going to challenge the 2003 Cubs for the most strikeouts by a pitching staff in a single season, they’re going to have to hope that several of the following happen in the same year:

  • Stephen Strasburg pitches over 200 innings
  • Jordan Zimmermann pitches over 200 innings
  • Gio Gonzalez pitches over 200 innings
  • Ross Detwiler discovers some way to get 2 more strikeouts per 9 innings
  • The bullpen gets more strikeouts

The Ten Percent Problem

12-4.

12-4.

Twelve and four!

If you had told me in January that today, with ten percent of the baseball season behind them, the Nats would have lost only four games and won twelve–I would have laughed at you.

But as I type these words, I’m watching the last-place Phillies founder against the Diamondbacks. I never thought I’d see the day.

The Nats continue to outperform my pre-season projections. According to my calculations, the Nats should be about 9-7 (I actually had them projected .543). They should have scored 61 runs and allowed 59 runs.

As I predicted last post, the offense has cooled somewhat. To date, the Nats have scored 58 runs, marginally fewer than my preseason predictions would have suggested.  What should really amaze us, though is this: to date, the Nationals have allowed only 45 runs. Look again: that’s a whopping fourteen fewer runs than the preseason prediction.

That means that the Nats success is largely attributable to dominant pitching–especially the K Street rotation.

You know the statistics. As I write this, the Nats pitching staff leads all baseball in staff ERA (2.34), FIP (2.30), xFIP (3.16), and strikeouts (144). The Nats’ pitching staff, collectively, has the lowest opponents’ batting average (.199).  Of the top fifteen pitchers in all baseball in xFIP, four are Nationals: Gio Gonzalez (no. 2), Ross Detwiler (no. 9), Edwin Jackson (no. 13), and Stephen Strasburg (no. 14).

Add all of that up, and that’s worth three wins, I suppose.

It all makes for thrilling baseball. But the Nats are scoring only 3.63 runs per game so far. Again, that’s less than the Natstradamus-predicted rate of 3.80 runs per game. The National League average so far is 3.90. This does not bode well for the long term.

Then again, the Nats have the fewest runs allowed per game so far (2.80)–vastly outperforming the Natstradamus-projected 3.5 runs allowed per game.

If the Nats are going to stay hot, they are going to need to find offense somewhere. With Michael Morse hurt, all eyes will turn to Tyler Moore, whose arrival in Nats Town seems imminent. Until then, the Nats are going to balance on the razor’s edge–and Nats town is going to watch their every move breathlessly.

 

The Cone of Silence Descends

In what Mark Zuckerman called “the biggest news of Nats training camp so far,” Bryce Harper has deleted his Twitter account.

I don’t need to go over all the ridiculous things Harper has tweeted over the past year.other bloggers have done a better job of that.

But what interests me most is the apparent cone of silence that has descended over Nats players’ twitter accounts over the past week. At about the time that Nats players attended a media meeting where Davey Johnson issued some stern warnings about Facebook and “Tweeter” and “a whole bunch of web sites”, Nats player twitter accounts lit up with the same message:

Follow @NationalsPR for a behind-the-scenes look at the Nationals and Spring Training 2012!

Who carried these robo-tweets? Well, Stephen Strasburg, Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, and Edwin Jackson reproduced it verbatim. Closer Drew Storen varied the wording a bit. This blogger is aware of only two Nats players in major league camp in Viera who seemed to evade this apparent pronouncement from Nationals PR: Danny Espinosa, and Jesús Flores. I wonder if these two escaped because of Nats PR’s oversight, though. Espinosa hasn’t tweeted since September. Flores’s background image still shows him in his Navegantes del Magallanes uniform–maybe the PR hacks don’t read enough Spanish to know that Flores is active on Tweeter.

Has there been a team-wide social-media blackout? Likely not. Flores, Storen, and Jackson continue to be their gregarious selves on Twitter. But the sudden intrusion of the team’s PR apparatus on player Twitter accounts seems to point to a Nationals organization that is much more interested in the careful management of its public image.

Perhaps this is what the League and the Union meant when they agreed that “all players would be subject to a social media policy.” The summary of the 2011 Collective Bargaining agreement is very terse on the subject, acknowledging only that such a term exists, but not fleshing out any of the regulations to which players would be subjected.

For as much as Harper’s tweets and his front-running ways may have annoyed me, personally, it’s tough for me to see this as anything other than a warning to other players: tone it down before the social-media rules let us force you to tone it down. Players–and fans and writers–will take notice.

Nats Fans Around the World (First in an Occasional Series)

I promised an occasional series of profiles of Nats fans in far-away (from DC) places. For our first installment, let’s meet Will Henline (@willbhenline on twitter), who roots for the Nats in Jersey City, NJ, just over the river from Mets country. I caught up with Will over e-mail.

Editor’s note: I’ve added links for convenience. And also because they will make you smile, every now and again.

When did you first become a Nats fan?
Day of franchise creation, late 2004. I watched the logo unveiling on a crappy livestream in my dorm room.

How do you follow the Nats in NYC?
I shell out for MLB.tv, first and foremost. Have it on iphone, ipad, and Apple TV so i rarely miss a game unless I have to work past 7. I read every Nats blog out there each morning with my coffee, and I read the Post online for traditional reporting.

How often do you get down to Citi Field for a Nats/Mets series?
I try to get to Citi once a series. I live over the river in Jersey City, so it’s a pain in the ass to go home late, but I have an old college roommate who lives in Queens and is a huge Mets fan, so it’s a good excuse to catch up. Also, with the current state of the Mets, you can’t beat $3 stubhub seats. Very Wizards-esque.

Are there any other Nats fans in NY?
Probably, but I’ve never met one. I did have a Yankees fan who saw my cap in the subway the other day stop me to talk about Edwin Jackson. So word is spreading.

Who’s your favorite active Nat? how about all-time?
Jeez. Active? Love Zim (Pay that man his money, Rizzo!) but I also have a soft spot for Ankiel. I remember his 2000 meltdown with pain to this day.

All time? My buddy and I used to quote The Life Aquatic and yell “ESTEBAN!” at Esteban Loaiza from the RFK cheap seats.

What’s your favorite Nats memory?”
Zim’s walk off on opening night 2008. Close second would be Zim’s walk off vs the Yanks, as I opened smack talk fire on a particularly obnoxious Yankees fan for the entire walk out of RFK. Wasn’t in the building for it, but my ringtone is Charlie Slowes’ call of Zim’s walk off grand slam vs. the Phils.

Have you been down to Nats games here in DC? Are you planning to come this season?
My girlfriend, sister, best friend and I will be Taking Back the Park on May 6th. We’ll be in RF defending Jayson Werth. Feel free to come say hi. Bring brass knuckles. We’ll be coming down at a later date in the season to take my Mom to a game. We took her last year and saw Morse’s walk off vs the Padres with friends from England. Mama Henline is 1-0 at Nats Park. I’ll also be at Wrigley for the opening series vs. the Cubs.

What’s the hardest thing about being a Nats fan in NYC right now?
Mets fans. I don’t feel like I have to elaborate on that one.

No, just kidding. Most Mets fans are okay people. They too, however, have to suffer through Philly fan invasions, and the Citi Field staff is just as spineless against the hordes as the Nats Park crew is. I attended a Mets/Phils game in which a Met fan was ejected from the ballpark for shouting at a Philly fan who threatened his young son. Sad stuff. Philly fans are a scourge to humanity.

Round and Round it Goes

It’s been a dizzying day in Natstown. First came the news that the Nationals had prevailed in the salary arbitration case against John Lannan, netting Lannan a $5 million sallary instead of the $5.7 million he asked for.

Just when everybody thought it would be time to put the arbitration proceedings behind us and focus on baseball, Natstown was rocked by the news that Bavarian-born St. Louis hurler Edwin Jackson had joined the Nats for a one-year deal valued at about $10 million.

Wait, WHAT?

I guess that means Rizzo’s going to trade Lannan and acquire that mythical center fielder, right? Well, not really. “We did not acquire Edwin Jackson to trade another starting pitcher,” said Rizzo.

If we’re to take Rizzo at his word–something I myself am loath to do–where does that leave the 2012 Nationals?

The Nats can’t possibly break camp with all of that starting pitching. Someone has got to go on the pitching staff. It can’t be Detwiler, who’s out of minor-league options. I very much doubt that it will be Wang. The only pitcher in the rotation that comes to mind with minor league options left is…the five-million dollar man, John “Long Ball” Lannan.

So Jackson must replace Lannan. What does that mean? Well, between 2008 and 2011, Edwin Jackson has has a FIP of 4.13 (as opposed to Lannan’s 4.57). Assigning him the 180 innings that I gave Lannan in my previous projections, Edwin Jackson’s better pitching is worth one extra win. That’s right Nats town: With Edwin Jackson instead of John Lannan, the 2012 Nationals would be projected to 85 wins.

It could potentially get better. Edwin Jackson is a much better batter than Lannan. I project he will be worth 1.16 wRC in 2012. So what? That nudges the win total up to 86.

That’s a lot of wins for a ballclub that’s only broken even once (the magical 2005 Nationals!). But that hasn’t stopped some observers from envisioning big things for the Nats. Who would have believed that Buster Olney was going to put the Nats in the wildcard?

My best guess here is that the fans in Syracuse will be treated to John Lannan for a good while…until a deal can be struck trading Lannan, Bernadina, Detwiler, and possibly Lombardozzi for a capable center fielder.

Also, what shouldn’t be lost in all this is that John Lannan has been a pretty good pitcher for the Nats, all in all. As a friend of mine remarked right after the arbitration award was announced, “Lannan has done yeoman’s work for the Nationals during some of their darkest years.” Even if he didn’t get all of what he asked for, he deserved at least some of it.