Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Three would be nice company

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They've managed to add a Hall-of-Fame catcher, a workhorse right-hander, a closer with a fairly solid track record, a veteran second baseman and several established relievers during what even cynics would have to agree has been a productive offseason.

But if the Nationals are going to make any significant strides in 2010 and perhaps escape the basement of the NL East, there's one more piece that must be added to the puzzle: a No. 3 starter.

Because right now, they don't have one.

Sure, John Lannan and Jason Marquis will serve as important anchors to Washington's rotation and can pretty much be counted upon to pitch with some level of effectiveness. But after those two, the projected rotation looks mighty suspect. Yes, there are some intriguing names in the mix who could fill the gap -- Scott Olsen (if he's healthy), Ross Detwiler (if September wasn't a fluke), Craig Stammen (if he can build off a solid rookie season), Garrett Mock (if he can find some level of consistency), Stephen Strasburg (if he lives up to the hype). Is there a single name among that group, though, that you feel confident enough to pencil in for 175 innings and a sub-4.50 ERA? Didn't think so.

The importance of a reliable No. 3 starter can't be overstated. Try finding a competitive ballclub that doesn't have one. They're few and far between.

Remember the 2005 Nationals, who despite obvious roster limitations somehow had the NL's best record at the All-Star break and were on pace to win 100 games? (Yes, I know this feels like eons ago.) What, more than anything, put them in such a position? The fact they had three quality starting pitchers: Livan Hernandez (15-10, 3.98 ERA, 246 1/3 IP), John Patterson (9-7, 3.13 ERA, 198 1/3 IP) and Esteban Loaiza (12-10, 3.77 ERA, 217 IP).

Indeed, the correlation between solid No. 3 starters and overall success is significant. Here's a rundown of all 30 MLB teams in 2009, ranked by the total innings pitched by their top three starters...


OK, there are a few anomalies within there -- the Pirates ranking in the top 10, the Mariners ranking in the bottom 10 -- but for the most part, the theory holds true. The more innings you get out of your top three starters, the better your team is likely to be.

Is it any surprise the Nationals got the lowest number of innings from their top three starters in 2009? Not in the least.

And is it any surprise they're making a real push to acquire an established, veteran starter before camp opens next week to help fill the void? They'd be crazy not to.

This is why the Nats have been so aggressive in pursuing free agent right-hander Chien-Ming Wang, who baseball sources say is deciding between either Washington or one other yet-to-be-revealed finalist. Wang may be an injury risk, having made only 24 combined starts the last two seasons for the Yankees and having gone an abysmal 1-6 with a 9.64 ERA in 2009 before undergoing shoulder surgery. But if he's healthy -- and all signs point to him being close to 100 percent and shooting for a May return to the majors -- Wang is an established, big-league pitcher who should be able give the Nats exactly what they need.

If they ultimately don't sign the Taiwanese right-hander, the Nationals will hope to get those precious quality innings from someone else in-house. Or maybe they'll make a run at one of the few other available free agents, though there aren't many appealing options.

But one way or another, the Nats will need to find a No. 3 starter at some point if they intend to take a significant step forward in 2010.


NatsNut said...

Fingers crossed.

Do you think Lannan will get the nod for Opening Day?

Anonymous said...

I know the list of available pitchers is alphabetical, but seeing Tony Armas first thing produced an oh, no in me ... think we'll have Livan back?

JayB said...

Now we are getting some voice of reason. This is exactly why I am so frustrated by this Off Season. Rizzo knows he had to come up with a #3 starter. He knows he had to come up with a big improvement at SS. By waiting so long and trying to do it on the cheap he has put at risk the something he could not afford to lose. He has to put a competitive team on the field this year. Too many Box Seats and Suites are due for renewal this year. If he fails to get a proven starter and a SS like Omar V. then all the work to date is lost. Thanks Mark for telling it like it is.....We all know it and Rizzo knows it...I just hope it is not too late now.

Andrew said...

How cruel to bring up John Patterson! LOL To think what this team could have been with John Patterson and Shawn Hill anchoring the 1-2 in this rotation.

Yes, the cruel game of baseball. I still think Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg and a PTBNL will be in the top 1-2-3 combos in 2012 and a very competitive trio in 2011.

2010 is transitional at best with at least a roster that looks like a Major League crew that needs to deliver 75 wins to bring some respectability back to DC especially when compared to a hybrid roster of Major Leaguers sprinkled with AAA guys in the past few years.

David Gregory said...

Hey, I'm very happy you have started this blog. I am going to support you. Keep up the good work. I will be reading you every day.

David Gregory

Craig said...

So Wang doesn't start?

natsfan1a said...

Hope that they can get it done.

I also hope that you didn't really intend to implant the "Three's Company" theme song in all of our minds. That would be too cruel on top of Snowmageddon. :-)

William said...

Two words: Dustin Moseley. Solid ERA, and only 28 years old. I hope the Nats don't get someone like Smoltz. We don't need a one-year stop-gap. We need someone to eat innings for a couple years until Zimmermann and Strasburg are ready to blossom.

Anonymous said...

The Nats already have a #3 starter. As a matter of fact, they have two established #3 starters: Lannan and Marquis. What they don't have--and aren't yet looking for--is a #1 or #2 starter. You don't need them to be respectable, but do need them to be a winner. (Champions require more: at least three #1 or #2-type pitchers to get through the fall postseason.) Since I guess that "respectability" is the name of the game for 2010-11, I'll be happy with what Rizzo can get this winter.

But I still hope that he empties the Lerners' wallets over the next two winters.

Anonymous said...

Did I read someone advocate for Omar Vizquel???

JayB said...

Yup Omar would be a great one year fix for SS or 2B....the Nats middle infield has no idea what is mean to be a solid defensive force. Who better to teach Danny E and Ian D than the best ever at SS?

JayB said...

And Yes I know it worked great for Texas last year and is White Sox have already signed him for this year.....our loss.

Randy said...

Hey Mark, Great job on the Blog. Keep up the good work. Looks like Braden Looper and maybe Brandon Backe are the best of what left.... How about a slick trade that gets us a strong No. 1 starter? Strasburg is two years away at best. Give the kid a break.

sjm105 said...

thanks Mark and good luck with this. I had no idea Mosley was still out there and he would be a nice pick up. If we get Wang (& I think we will) do you think Rizzo will keep digging for more SP's - I hope so because I would love to see our young guys start out at Syracuse with maybe a little less pressure.

NatsGirl said...

"Who better to teach Danny E and Ian D than the best ever at SS?"
I'm sorry, but I don't think the Nats will be signing Derek Jeter any tyime soon. :-)

JayB said...

DJ is not the best defensive SS of all time....Omar might not be # 1 but he is in the top 3......but I get your snark :)

Anonymous said...

Why not take another run at Livo? He won't cost that much, eats innings and can mentor the young staff. Glavine could fill that role too.

Brian Benson said...

Your right Mark we sure could use a legit # 3 or better. The only ones I see still available do nothing for me...Colon, Washburn, Schmidt, & Washburn. I don't see any kind of a trade happening either. Lets hope some of the younger pitchers from last year get it figured out. Great article as always Mark...Brian

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