Wednesday, April 6, 2011

If pitching form holds, wins will come

US Presswire photo
Jason Marquis authored the latest strong outing by a Nationals starter last night.
MIAMI -- So, after yet another excruciating loss to the Marlins -- doesn't it seem like every loss to the Marlins is an excruciating one? -- the Nationals find themselves sporting a 1-3 record this morning, sitting all alone at the bottom of the NL East standings.

It's a disappointing start to the season, to be sure, but it's even more frustrating because they've gotten superb work out of their rotation so far. Four games in, Nationals starters own a combined 2.66 ERA, having issued a total of only four walks in 23 2/3 innings. Livan Hernandez, Jordan Zimmermann and Jason Marquis each got credited with quality starts, and John Lannan probably would have gotten one himself if not for Saturday's rain delay.

"I look at the glass as half-full," manager Jim Riggleman said after last night's 3-2, 10-inning loss. "I'm encouraged by those starts that we've gotten. ... You take the rain out of the situation, and really we've had four games where we've gone at least six. That's important."

It is important, because it's difficult to believe a team that gets six or more innings out of its starting pitcher every night is going to lose 75 percent of the time. Come to think of it, it's pretty much impossible for any ballclub to lose 75 percent of its games over a full season, even if its starters sport an ERA over 6.00.

The question, though, is whether the Nationals can expect their starters to keep this up. These aren't exactly pitchers known for extended periods of dominance.

It may, however, be more possible than you think. All four of those starters pitched well in spring training, so it's not as though these early season outings came out of nowhere. They've also managed to pitch in a manner that best suits them, not trying to blow opposing hitters away but instead to get ahead in the count and let their defense make plays behind them.

Nationals starters may have collectively recorded only 10 strikeouts in four games (tied with the Red Sox, Rockies and Indians for fewest in the majors). But they've also issued only four walks (only the Phillies, with three, have walked fewer batters).

Here's another impressive stat: Through four games, Nationals starters are averaging only 77 pitches per outing, 13.05 pitches per inning, fewest in the big leagues. That's not because they're getting yanked early. It's because they're efficient.

This is what they're going to have to do over the long haul to keep themselves competitive.

"We just need to go out there and pitch to our capabilities, not anything more or anything less," said Marquis, who struck out two without walking anyone last night. "The wins will come if we keep throwing the ball that way."

Yes, the wins should come, but only if the Nationals start playing better defense behind those starters (they were flawless in Games 1 and 2, much less so in Games 3 and 4) and if their lineup starts producing just a little bit more in clutch situations (they're hitting .121, 4-for-33, with runners in scoring position).

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wins cannot happen without run support, our offense stinks and until it starts hitting on all clyinders we are going to rack up losses even when our starters put in a great performance.

Feel Wood said...

"Here's another impressive stat: Through four games, Nationals starters are averaging only 77 pitches per outing, 13.05 pitches per inning, fewest in the big leagues. That's not because they're getting yanked early. It's because they're efficient."

No, it's because they're getting yanked early. Pitchers throwing 13.05 pitches per outing should be going 7 or 8 innings, not just 6.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Wins cannot happen without run support, our offense stinks and until it starts hitting on all clyinders we are going to rack up losses even when our starters put in a great performance.

Unfortunately, I think this will be the Nationals achilles heel all season and forsee the Nationals again bringing up the rear in runs scored for the season. They will be a hot and cold hitting team, almost an all or nothing offense with several games of heat, then cold for several...


UNTERP

Doc said...

Mark, you mentioned in your video yesterday that the Nats have no LH relivers in the system to rely on if Slaten continues to underperform.

Why not consider Detwiler as an available arm out of the Nats BP?

It's common on ML teams to work in/out relievers and starting pitchers. In time, Detwiler should be in the starting rotation, but could do well out the BP in the meantime.

Obviously, this BP is in a state of fluxuation right now, and all options should be considered.

I'll bet Detwiler rather be in the ML BP than starting in Syracuse.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Doc: Because the Nats really do look at Detwiler as a guy who will be in their rotation at some point this season. Why have him sit in the bullpen in D.C. and have to learn how to adjust to facing one batter every night when he can be stretched out at Syracuse and on a five-day schedule?

The only reason to put Detwiler in the major-league bullpen right now would be if the team is convinced he's never going to make it as a starter (like they did with Balester last year). I've gotten no indication the organization is thinking in those terms right now.

Nats Rising said...

Mark,

A little off topic but I was surprised last night that I could not find the Nats radio broadcast while driving in the NW DC/Bethesda area. I believe they were only broadcast on AM 1580 but the signal was too weak to pick up. The Caps were on AM 1500 and the Wizards were on FM 106.7. Am I correct that they were broadcast on only one really weak radio channel? If so, to whom in the Nationals organization would you suggest I complain?

MicheleS said...

Adam Dunn just had an appendectomy..(Didn't realize that was contagious) so for those of you lamenting the lack of offense, even if the big guy was still here, he wouldn't be available.

Jaxpo Nat said...

I agree, scoring runs will be a problem all year, but let's be honest. This team isn't going anywhere this year. Wins are not the primary concern this season. The primary concern is the offensive development of Desmond, Espinosa, and Ramos (as well as the development of JZ into a legit #2 starter, and the emergence of Storen as a closer). When Desi, Espy, and Ramos do what we think they can, our offense will come around. Until then, yes, last in the league in runs scored. That is why benching them so Cora and Hairston can get ABs is even more insane that it would be on a normal team in a normal season.

Anonymous said...

Mark,

They are short of left handed relievers but that is why Gorzelanny made so much sense. He can be used out of the bullpen and knows the routine.

Lannan and Detwiler would not make good relievers. Chico is learning that art this year in Syracuse. Tom Milone and Attie Severino might also possibilities that could be brought up from AAA if they perform. But, Milone would definitely be used as a starter and Severino is still in Florida so ....

JaneB said...

In Viera, I was in line behind a scout, each of us waiting for our Cuban sandwiches. I was feeling particularly loving about my Nats that day. I think Livo was pitching. Anyway, I asked him what he thought about the Nats. he shrugged, looked around, and asked what I thought about them. I said I grew up a Mets fan and knew I could love them no matter what. He smiled, and didn;t say anything. We got the sandwiches and started to walk back. He looked around again and turned toward us and said, "You're in trouble." I (rudely, I realize) went into full denial mode: "No! Our pitchers are better this year!" Then immediately asked, "why are we in trouble?" "No offense," he said. "But Werth..." I started to counter. And he said, "No offense is no offense." So. I want him to be wrong, But maybe no offense is no offense.

Hmmm. Still Go Nats.

joemktg said...

Detwiler will take over Marquis' spot in the rotation once Marquis is traded in July (or sooner). Detwiler's a starter, and will be starting during the second half of the year.

Randahl said...

So, what's with the lack of radio coverage last night? After a few games on FM 106.7, where we could actually pull in the coverage in Fairfax county (unlike in years past) it's off again! Could not get anything NATS last night! Mercifully, I guess after reading what happened.

Anonymous said...

But what are the chances the pitching will hold? Really.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

"Marquis, who walked two without walking anyone last night."
Can't get more efficient than that."

Sec3, who is not sayin', he's just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Kilgore pinch running for Zuckerman there.

Mark Zuckerman said...

Strikeouts, not walks. Fixed it. Sorry.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Just a thought: if they're pulling starters "early" to save them for later in the year, then they use up the bullpen sooner. So who do they have more of, waiting in the minors? Starters, right?

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

S'ok, Mark--it was an error of aggression.

DFL said...

I wouldn't trade Marquis unless the Nats get a younger pitcher with equal talent. You should trade good pitching only when the deal is too hot to say no to.

N. Cognito said...

JaneB - We know there's no offense. What I want to know is, where did you get the Cuban sandwiches?

J Riggleman said...

My fun time in Orange Peel City line-up for today
1. Stairs RF
2. Desmond 2B
3. Zimmerman 1B
4. Cora SS
5. Hairston CF
6. Werth LF
7. Morse 3B
8. Hernandez P
9. Bixler C

bgib said...

About the radio issues, see:
Mark's post on 4/5/211
Series preview: Nats at Marlins

Comments
Mark Zuckerman said...

FYI: I updated the radio listings for this series. Though the Nats' official website has 106.7 FM broadcasting every game this season, that's not accurate. They'll be bumped off 106.7 and over to 1580 AM a couple of times this month when the Wizards are playing. And they'll be bumped off 1500 AM when the Capitals are playing, as is the case tonight and tomorrow.
April 5, 2011 12:22 PM

Jon said...

Any stats on the combined GO/AO stats of the Nats starters? Would make those low K totals look less meaningful if they really are throwing a lot of ground balls.

Jaxpo Nat said...

DFL said...
I wouldn't trade Marquis unless the Nats get a younger pitcher with equal talent. You should trade good pitching only when the deal is too hot to say no to.

Yes, or only when the 32-year-old will walk after the season for nothing in return. You trade him for the best deal. Marquis will no longer be that good by the time the rest of the team is.

joemktg said...

@DFL Marquis is in his walk year of his 2 year deal. Either trade him, sign him, or take draft compensation when he signs for another team as a FA. Don't care what we get in return, so long as its a high OBP everyday guy.

Steve M. said...

Doc, no matter what Mark thinks about Detwiler, the team has short-term needs and has every right to do what they did towards the end of last season which was put Detwiler in the bullpen even though clearly he wants to be a starter.

Like I pointed out the other day with Adam Wainwright, they put him in as the stopper in the bullpen in 2006 which was a year the Cardinals won the World Series. In 2007, Wainwright was on his way to being a successful starter in their rotation and eventual ACE until his TJ issue this Spring.

Still, this Bench needs to be tweaked along with the bullpen and the team is now suffering with no effective leadoff hitter.

I am not as worried about the offense as it will come around if LaRoche is truly healthy. From the 2 spot on with Werth, Zimmerman, LaRoche, Morse, and then the back end needs to be tweaked. Ankiel overall will be weak as will Pudge and it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out from prior years numbers.

I have confidence that Desi and Espi and Ramos will all contribute at BAs between 250 and 285.

I just don't see Cora or Hairston as suitable replacement players.

Again, this isn't a Riggleman issue as it is a personnel issue with Rizzo's end of things. Bryce Harper won't be here full-time for a while so the only help back on the farm is Bernadina and Corey Brown and Bixler and nothing to get too excited about with those guys so it is Ankiel for now in CF, Desmond at SS and Espinosa at 2B.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Mark's pinch hitter, how bad did the Post drop the ball by not hiring Mark? Like Low-A ball versus the bigs (okay, maybe high-A).

Steve M. said...

By the way, real impressed with Wilson Ramos in game calling ability and being a contact guy at the plate. If I were Riggleman, I would stick with the hot hand. I think Pudge will understand if Ramos plays 3 games in a row.

Riggs said...

I'm worried that Hairston may have forgotten how to play 3rd base... better give Zim the night off tonight and get Jerry in there.

JD said...

'I think Pudge will understand if Ramos plays 3 games in a row.'

Who cares if he does or not? Ramos is better so he should play 8 out of 10.

This is what kills me about Riggs (among many other things): After a month of fine tuning we come up with the genius conclusion that Desmond should hit leadoff and 3 games into the season we decide that maybe that wasn't such a great idea after all. Nothing like a manager with strong conviction.

If Mike Morse is to be the 5th place hitter then quit double switching him out in tight ball games when we may need his bat later in the game. 60 - 70 pitches is Riggs new standard for starting pitchers when they are effective; each one of the starters should have gone 1 to 2 more innings so far.

Since I think that this is a 75 win team talent wise I figured they'd stick with Riggs through the end of the year; I think I'm embracing JayB's call for a quick hook on the skipper because he is bad for my blood pressure.

Jaxpo Nat said...

HERE IS THE DIFFERENCE:

Kirk Gibson in the Arizona Republic today, after his club lost to the Cubs yesterday. "It was great to see us fight back, but we're here to fight back and win. There's no consolation"

THAT'S the right attitude, and Riggleman would never say "there's no consolation." In fact, all Riggleman DOES is look for consolation. I am officially on the fire Jim Riggleman bandwagon.

Wally said...

Well, to change the subject slightly, since Marquis came back from injury last year, with the exception of one start, he has been exactly what the Nats thought they were signing - a quality MLB pitcher. I think that it is a good sign for his performance this year.

Feel Wood said...

If the playoffs were starting today, the AL would have the Orioles, Royals and Rangers as the division champs, with the Blue Jays as the wild card. The NL would have the Mets, Reds and Padres as the division champs and the Phillies as the wild card. How many of those eight teams will actually be playing in October? Two or three at most. So it's early yet. But then again, as Yogi Berra once said it gets late early out there.

A DC Wonk said...

"Doc, no matter what Mark thinks about Detwiler, the team has short-term needs and has every right to do what they did towards the end of last season which was put Detwiler in the bullpen even though clearly he wants to be a starter."

Focusing only on short-term needs is short-sighted however. Unless you think the Nats are seriously in contention for the playoffs, it's better to focus on the long term for when they *can* make the playoffs. If the Nat's think Detwiler has a good future as a starter, possibly later this year (if, e.g., Marquis is traded), then it's silly to bring him up now and have him sit in the bullpen -- he should be on the farm working on pitching 7+ solid innings at a time.

Anonymous said...

Early? I suspect we will all know where this team will land by May 1st given the schedule. And I suspect it won't be pretty ... gird yourself for another very disappointing year folks.

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