Thursday, May 17, 2012

Nats' 1 + 2 = lots of strike 3s

US Presswire file photo
Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are baseball's best 1-2 strikeout tandem.
The mostly uninspiring history of the Nationals is littered with pitchers whose mission was simple: Keep the ball down in the zone, induce groundballs and pray their defense could finish the job.

It was called "pitching to contact," and while the theory behind it was sound, it was in some ways an indictment of the "stuff" these guys were taking to the mound with them. Hey, if your fastball barely cracks the 90-mph mark, you're probably not going to be producing many swings and misses.

Now consider this year's staff, loaded with power arms. Suddenly, the idea of pitching to contact seems passe. Sure, groundballs are nice. But strikeouts are even nicer.

Especially when you can boast the top two strikeout pitchers in the National League.

Yep, take a look at the current NL pitching leaderboard. Topping the list: Gio Gonzalez with 60 strikeouts. Right behind him: Stephen Strasburg with 56.

"What it is, is just we continue to go out there and try and pound the strike zone," Gonzalez said after whiffing 10 Pirates in seven innings last night. "As a starting rotation, we want to strive to continue to get better, and hopefully we see some changes keep coming. Staying healthy is our main concern. Other than that ... hey, it's good in other ways, but all I cared about was getting the win today."

Gonzalez's primary goal might have been securing his fifth win of the season (which he did) but the byproduct of that was his continued ascension into the upper echelon of big-league pitchers.

The left-hander briefly led the majors in strikeouts until Seattle's Felix Hernandez recorded three more during his start last night against Cleveland. But Gonzalez still leads the majors with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings, just ahead of Strasburg at 10.5.

"When you miss bats, it keeps the pressure off your defense," manager Davey Johnson said. "If you miss a lot of bats, that tells me that there's a lot of other ones [that] aren't centering on it. All five of them. They've been great."

Indeed, it's not only Gonzalez and Strasburg recording all these Ks. Every member of the Nationals' rotation is striking out at least 6.2 batters per nine innings. Over their seven-year history, the Nats have only seen five starting pitchers produce a strikeout rate that high: John Patterson (8.39 in 2005), Esteban Loaiza (7.18 in 2005), Jordan Zimmermann (6.92 in 2011), Odalis Perez (6.71 in 2008) and Jason Bergmann (6.71 in 2007).

From that group, only Patterson finished his season ranked in the top 10 in strikeouts in the National League. Seven years later, the Nats have the No. 1 and No. 2 strikeout artists in the league.

All the guys behind those pitchers can do is sit back and enjoy the show.

"It's fun to watch them go out and execute the gameplan that I hear them setting up prior to the game," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "We have five aces, in my opinion. And it's fun to watch aces work."


terpman33 said...

Well, seeing how Rizzo and DJ ARE NOT going to a six man rotation (like the yankees and white sox experimented with last year), I believe we have to bring Wang in the rotation, and make Detweiler one of the bullpen guys. Then, maybe if Wang lights it up, we can trade him for a good prospect and/or position player. In other words, we have to keep the WANG up!!! GYFNG!!!

joemktg said...

#1 in Team ERA, WHIP, SOs, opponent BA.

Exposremains said...

unrelated but more and more and it seems like Dunn was having a huge impact on how successful Zim is.

Marty said...

Well hopefully Strasburg will be able to pick up a few easy ones on Sunday against Wei-Yin Chen. Although according to wikipedia he was in the "NL" side of the NPB.

SonnyG10 said...

Love the K's but we still need at least 7 innings out of each of them.

MicheleS said...

I like ground balls, They keep the pitch counts low. Plus there is this:

Crash Davis: Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.

Natslifer said...

Exposremains - Huh??

Zimmy's BA 2006 - 2011: .287, .266, .283, .292, .307, .289 - effectively he's been close to the same with and without Dunn.

This year he's got a player behind him (LaRoche) that's a league leader in almost every offensive category.

Something's not going well with Zimmy but it has nothing to do with who's batting behind him.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Wang definitely not a Big K guy. But I've said before that I've never seen a pitcher who could get three quicker outs. So he went 8+ in Syracuse the other night in about 90 pitches.

I'm thinking, if (assuming) Wang is back to his September form, the Nats are going to be interested in trading Jackson. Much as I like the idea of keeping Detwiler in the rotation putting Jackson in the BP reduces his trade value. Putting Detwiler in the pen doesn't send any signals because other teams know the Nats have a long-term commitment to him. So my expectation -- not necessarily my wish -- is that Detwiler ends up in relief.

NatsLady said...

Bringing this topic over from the previous post. Re: the medical staff.

A couple of days ago an announcer said that the Texas Rangers are playing with the same 25-man roster they started with--the ONLY team in MLB with that stat. (Not sure if that's still true, but pretty amazing.)

The Tampa Bay Rays, who are smart about everything have nine guys on the DL, and barely missed having another with Rhymes HBP last night.

I'm simply not sure how to evaluate medical staffs from a distance and without expertise of my own, especially when you see first-place teams with such differing records on injured players.

I honestly don't think they know what is going on with Morse, but I would bet he aggravated the injury himself. With Storen, yes, you would like that to have been taken care of sooner, but they did know about the bone chips and he played with them in the past as have other pitchers.

Bear in mind also that we, thank goodness, don't have a team of slackers that feel it's ok to get paid for sitting on th DL. That means they probably don't report every twinge to the trainers. Werth was the absolute BEST at spotting those things and passing on the info whether the player liked it or not so I'm glad he's in the clubhouse if not on the field and hopefully players will continue to trust him.

Rizzo is very smart. If he thinks there is a problem with the medical staff, he will look into it. But, as I've pointed out before, I have one of the best orthopedic surgeons/sports doctors in the country working on it and after three surgeries, my knee ain't fixed.

NatsFanGino said...

Agreed Theo. I think they have to put Detwiler in the bullpen for a few weeks. If everyone stays healthy and Wang is pitching well, then they should trade Edwin Jackson in June. He is a 1 year rental anyway and the injury insurance just becomes John Lannan I guess..

Ryan Sonner said...

Strasburg has 56Ks

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

This is why I am down on the Lannans and CMW's of the world. Sooner or later, these "Pitch to Contact" guys get one up in the zone, and it's a 400-foot pitch to the bullpen.

Give me the heat all the time (except where Jesus applied it mistakenly the other day, thank you). All things being equal (and they're not, thank god), the guys bringing it get it done. There's a reason Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton are in the Hall of Fame -- and John Lannan never will. It's called velocity. And I love it.

Repeat after me, boys and girls: pitching and defense win games in the post-steroid era.

Chevy Chase Bob said...

Yikes! I just looked at the schedule for the remainder of the season...very tough! The Nats will need every starter to show up and hope the injuries will stop.

A DC Wonk said...

I like ground balls, They keep the pitch counts low.

I'm not, actually, convinced of that. Sure, a one-pitch groundball out, or a DP, keeps it low, but grounders also find holes and end up singles, too.

The SABR guys find that the best way to keep the pitch count low, by far, is reducing the number of walks. (Secondly, I would think, is reducing the number of non-outs, in _any_ fashion).

Nats are 5th lowest in issuing walks. The lead the NL in K's.

They have thrown the 4th fewest pitches.

My point: the low number of walks and hits more than makes up for the high number of strikeouts.

SCNatsFan said...

I'm not sure what the staff could have done about any of the injuries and if you were a player and had the choice of having surgery or waiting to see if time heals the problem then doing the surgery I don't know how many people on this board would just go right ahead and do the surgery. The liars I guess lol.

As for the Ks, imagine the numbers the staff would have if they were pitching against our team ha ha.

A DC Wonk said...

(still catching up on last thread):

Nats' attendance while 11th in the NL, is, nevertheless, up over 100K from last year at this time -- an average of 5,900 more per game, which is 3rd best in the league.

I can't help but suspect those numbers will be higher when we look at them again Monday morning.

NatsLady said...

Theo, I watched part of that game the other day in 'Cuse, and I must say, I just love watching CMW deal. (Of course I cringed every time he went near first base). He could single-handedly double the Nats GIDP totals.

Like some other observers, I'm a little worried about Detwiler's stamina and mental toughness. No worries on either score for CMW. I feel Det gets one more start here as CMW gets one there, and then Det goes to the BP. It's a shame, because he has come a long way, just not far enough yet that I want him facing a steady diet of the Phillies, Braves, and sheesh, the Orioles???

My feeling is they won't put EJax in the pen because he does have the stamina and toughness that Detwiler needs to develop. With the schedule we have for the next month-plus tell me who you would rather have: two out of these three Wang, Ejax, Det?

As to whether they might trade a starter, that's two months away and speculation is pretty pointless right now. They're not trading Stras, Gio, or JZ, that's all we know.

NatsLady said...

Sunshine--fly ball pitchers do that all the time!
It's amazing to me that with his slow start Clip has yet to give up a dinger.

The one thing you can say about ground balls is they don't leave the park. What I liked about CMW this spring and in 'Cuse was he was good in the first inning. If he can go 6 or 7 with the sinker sinking, and it starts to rise later in the game, fine, that's what you have a bullpen for.

greg said...

dcwonk, i'm pretty sure most of the nats starters induce a lot of ground balls as well. i don't think any of them are considered "fly ball" pitchers. so i think that has something to do with the pitch counts as well.

Holden Baroque said...

Werth was the absolute BEST at spotting those things and passing on the info whether the player liked it or not so I'm glad he's in the clubhouse if not on the field and hopefully players will continue to trust him.

@NatsLady, do I understand this to mean Werth was ratting out injuries to the team when he suspected them in other players? Interesting. How do you know this?

carolync said...

Fewer ground balls have significantly reduced the number of double plays (Nats are dead last} and the number of errors by infielders.

Holden Baroque said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Exposremains said...


Looking at the stats I would say that Zim's 2 best year were 2009, 2010

NatsLady said...

JZ has the highest groundball ratio of our starters.

Here stats, groundball vs.flyballs:

JZ 1.92
Det 1.54
Stras 1.37
Gio 1.36
EJax 1.16

Just for contrast, the true GB pitchers have ratios well over 2. If you look at teams, the Nats are right about average.

Only the real extreme flyball pitchers (Barry Zito) have ratios under 1 and that probably doesn't last the full season.

Here is fangraphs on the subject.

NL pitchers

I used NL only because it's less pages...

Exposremains said...

I'm not saying that for sure Dunn is the reason for Zim's struggle. I'm just saying you could make a connection.

NatsLady said...

Sec 3, yes, he was, if you want to think of it that way. It was in the paper a couple of times last year and I didn't like it because I really think that sort of thing should stay in the clubhouse, but reporters will be reporters.

Holden Baroque said...

I see. Thanks, NL.

Natslifer said...

Of course.
- But they weren't that much better.
- I was obsessed with Dunn (in a bad way) - other teams pitched around Zimmy to get to him, not the other way around. Remember when Dunn batted .000 with RISP in April and May of 2010?
- Zimmy's batting .222 now (way off his norms) and seeing tons of good pitches because no one wants to throw to LaRoche.

So your theory would have to be that other teams were pitching around him in the Dunn days and he knew it so he just waited for mistakes and pounded them - I suppose that's possible.

But for me, 60 to 70 points down in average is just way out of whack and something else is going on. I'm worried it's a lingering health issue and hoping it's not.

NatsLady said...

Natslifer--I feel the same on RZ. I think he may be playing semi-injured and it's affecting his offense somehow, but he doesn't want another DL stint or even days off because he's trying to get his rhythm back.

And there you are with how do the training staff and Davey handle it, because surely they can see what we see.

Exposremains said...

To me what worries me more than the AVG about Zim is the OPS and SLG are down.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

For those into Pitchers WAR, Gio is #3 overall and Stras and JZim are both in the Top 18.

Grandstander said...

There's a lot of merit to the notion Zim is playing hurt and the evidence is in his slugging percentage.

Prior to his injury, he was slugging .345 with 4 doubles and a homer. Since his injury, he's slugging .250 with just 1 double.

It's a small sample size, but knowing he's done this in the past increases my suspicion that he's still got something wrong that's affecting his swing.

Gonat said...

NatsJack perfectly analyzed Zim's issues at the plate as he is pulling off the ball and missing those outside pitches going oppo. On top of that, he is topping balls which is the evolution of getting back to better contact and seeing the ball better.

Zim has been at this juncture many times before. Last night in his last at-bat, he didn't swing at any of the outside junk and drew a walk. Good sign.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Remember, Zim had no rehab starts. This is his rehab.

NatsLady said...

Ghost and Gonat, exactly. That's what makes me think he doesn't want any (more) days off even if he's not totally up to par. That was a nice at-bat last night. So he's seeing the ball, just hasn't got the good power swing back.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

True, most just probably don't remember, this is normal for Ryan, once he goes oppo with some line drives he will be back in a groove and start mashing again.

jcj5y said...

It doesn't make sense to worry about Zim right now. Small sample size numbers are meaningless. He looks fine at the plate, not swinging at many bad pitches, as Gonat points out.

He's always been a little prone to roll over the ball and hit some grounders to short, and he probably always will be. He hit two balls to the right side Tuesday, one of which was scortched. Neither resulted in a hit.

If he was looking completely lost (or injured) up there, maybe it would be different. But worrying based on the last two weeks is crazy.

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

BTW, everything is based on advanced scouts who said to pitch him outside. Once he handles those outside pitches they will bring some balls in his wheelhouse as they move locations.

They were doing the same to Espi.

NatsLady said...

Groin injuries still exist.

Brandon Inge went from getting released by the Tigers following five years of sub par production to smacking four homers and driving in 17 runs in his first 11 games with the A’s, but now a groin injury has his resurgence on hold.

SCNatsFan said...

You want to see a groin injury google Gordon's at bat in the Royals game last night or go to Deadspin to see it

MicheleS said...

New post for Beltway Baseball is up.

NatsLady said...

SCNats--wow, that hurt to watch and I don't even have a "little gentleman."

JaneB said...

It hardly seems fair to measure Ks against the cheating AL pitchers who never have to hit, until they get traded into the One True League.

Tcostant said...

It was HUGE that Gio signed an extention after that trade. Huge!

NatsLady said...

Votto does it again. Fortunately he is in New York.

Avar said...

FWIW - The articles I've read from the Sabre guys say that one hitter "protecting" another is a myth.

NatsLady said...

Avar--I've read the same. But it sure does seem like players believe it. Same with spots in the lineup.

peric said...

Even thoug it was injury shortened Zim had an outstanding year offensively finishing 2nd overall to Morse. LaRoche is hitting far better than Dunn ever did and he is behind him. Morse will soon be bsck and Harper is developing. It's way better. Zim will come around.

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