Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

What part of Detwiler’s career makes him assume he has a rotation spot??


Detwiler may be in denial about his job.  Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via

Detwiler may be in denial about his job. Photo Haraz Ghanbari/AP via

Washington Post beat reporter Adam Kilgore called Ross Detwiler for a reaction to the Doug Fister acquistion and Mike Rizzo‘s follow-up comments on the pending 5th starter competition next spring.  Here’s the story:

I call out one quote from Detwiler in particular:

“I didn’t know there was going to be an open competition for the last spot,” Detwiler said. “Oh, well. I’ve gone into every year since I got here like that.  So why change that now?”

I’m sorry; what part of Detwiler’s career, or his performance last year in particular, is such that he should be surprised that he’s going to be competing for a rotation spot??  I’ll just note a few key points:

  • He’s thrown more than 75 innings ONCE in his MLB career.  In fact in his entire professional career he’s only thrown more than 75 innings twice; 2012’s 164 MLB inning season and 2008’s 124 inning Potomac season.
  • He was 2-7 with a 4.04 ERA (a 94 ERA+) and even worse advanced stats (his 4.44 SIERA ranked him 176th out of 206 MLB pitchers who threw 70+ innings last year).
  • He never goes deep into games; per Kilgore’s article he’s pitched past the 7th inning once, and a look at his game-logs shows that he rarely throws even a 100 pitches in an outing.
  • As others have stated, he basically throws one pitch … and batters begin to tattoo him when they see it enough; again per Kilgore’s article opposing batters are hitting .314/.366/.493 the third time through the order against him.
  • He had two separate D/L stints in 2013, and a season ending stint in 2010.

What part of those statistics inspires confidence that a) Detwiler is actually durable enough to count on for an entire season in the rotation, or b) he’s going to be better than one of our many alternatives at this point?  Or c) is he even good enough to be a starter for this team any more?

To the c) part, I used to be a big proponent of Detwiler’s, especially after his 2011 and 2012 seasons with their stellar looking ERA+ figures and after hearing anonymous scouting reports that gush about Detwiler’s “stuff” being the best on the staff.   But a look deeper (especially at 2012) shows that his ERA+ is a mirage; his advanced metrics put him far back on the leader boards of qualified starters.   His bullpen stats are phenomenal (albeit short-sample-sized); maybe its time to accept that he’s a better bullpen weapon.

Perhaps I’m overreacting to one quote in this article in particular since the rest of the article seemed to have him saying “the right things.”  But this quote shows a rather misguided opinion of his capabilities, given what his performance has been and given how much time he’s missed.  He has to be more aware of the possibility that the team no longer can count on him to be there to answer the bell 32-33 times with better than league average performance.

Written by Todd Boss

December 6th, 2013 at 8:10 am

28 Responses to 'What part of Detwiler’s career makes him assume he has a rotation spot??'

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  1. Sorry, hit thw wrong button.

    Cover the names and look at the numbers of these two Nats’ lefty starters’ age 26 seasons:

    2011 – 184.2 IP, 10 Wins, 106 K, 1.462 WHIP
    2012 – 164.1 IP, 10 Wins, 105 K, 1.223 WHIP

    Yep, 2011 is John Lannan and 2012 is Detwiler. Not really a whole lot of difference there despite the obvious disparity in natural ability. Count me among those who believe Det will end up in the bullpen next year.


    6 Dec 13 at 8:40 am

  2. I have kind of a ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’ reaction.

    I agree that it seems surprising that Detwiler assumed that he would automatically get the last rotation spot. But to me, it is more of a durability issue than effectiveness. I never bought into the ‘best stuff’ on the staff, but IF Det could stay healthy, I think a lefty throwing 180 IPs a year of slightly less than average FIP, which is where he basically is careerwise, has a job in someone’s rotation. And since starters get paid more than relievers, I get where he thinks that he is a starter.

    But that is a heck of a big IF. His durability numbers change the equation substantially. For a win now team like the Nats, I think that there is no way that he should be counted on for the rotation. I think that they need someone who has a better chance to give them a whole season of at least average numbers. If I am the Astros or a team like that, I would certainly give him a chance to show that his injury issues are behind him.

    I have been beating the drum about putting him in the pen: we need a lefty there anyway, he has been very effective and could become a real weapon for a contending team. I think that he would easily justify his arb numbers for this year and next. And, if we go through SPs, we could possibly lengthen him out to be a fallback SP option. Seems like a no brainer now that we have Fister.


    6 Dec 13 at 9:54 am

  3. See, I didn’t read any kind of arrogance or assumption on Detwiler’s part. When Kilgore tweeted the first part of the quote (up to “oh well”) I was a bit taken aback. But when I found a fuller version of the quote, I realized the full quote included the next line “I’ve gone into every year since I got here like that … [s]o why change that now?” and goes on to say “I’m not looking at gaining or losing a spot, really. If I throw well, it’s going to be there. If I [stink], then it won’t.”

    Are we really going to get bent out of shape with a guy based on these quotes?

    John C.

    6 Dec 13 at 10:10 am

  4. I think the Nationals are a better, deeper team if they sign a good LHRP (J.P. Howell or Boone Logan) to pair with Cedeno in the bullpen, sign O’Flaherty to a cost-effective two year deal, possibly with an option for the third, and Detwiler wins the fifth starter job outright. That would give the Nationals a good R/L mix both in the rotation and the bullpen (figuring Soriano, Clippard, Storen, Stammen, Cedeno, LH free agent, Ohlendorf as the long reliever/spot starter). It would also mean that the Syracuse rotation would go Jordan, Roark, Karns, Solis and Rosenbaum, a nice bit of depth for the team to draw on over a long season. And the Syracuse bullpen would have Garcia, Barrett, and possibly a minor league free agent LHRP to draw on as well.

    John C.

    6 Dec 13 at 10:31 am

  5. I did give a slight “hedge” to the whole “getting bent out of shape over one quote” in the post, for what its worth. I also do not like taking a quote out of context.

    That being said … O’Flaherty is not a 100% guarantee to be healthy. There’s not really THAT much on the loogy market. Detwiler’s shown to be effective in the pen. He can’t stay healthy in the rotation.I think this scenario writes itself.

    Be honest with yourselves; right now who do you think wins the 5th starter spot in a true-on competition? Roark, Jordan, Detwiler, Ohlendorf, Karns. I think that’s the way the competition works itself out, in that order, based on 2013 performance. Maybe it doesn’t stay that way the whole year, thanks to regression (Roark), injury (Detwiler) and capability (Ohlendorf).

    John C: take your bullpen, replace LH Free Agent with Detwiler and stick Roark in the rotation to start the year and I think that’s how i’d open the season. Replace Roark with Jordan if you wish. I havn’t done my full-on minor league rotation analysis yet but yeah you’d have to think Syracuse is looking up versus what i’ts looked like the last couple years.

    Todd Boss

    6 Dec 13 at 10:54 am

  6. I have no problem with Detwiler saying that. As Clinton Portis told a group of University of Miami players this year, “every one of you in this room needs to think you are a starter,” in order to have a goal of one is not quite there. I would rather he have the confidence.

    With that said, I am on the fence about him. But this is a more stat driven front office than ever before, and the stats above don’t lie.

    I still see the Nats making another big trade, and it would not shock me if said trade was for a lefty A grade starter, with Det included as part of the return. That’s not to say it is Price. He may be unaffordable with so many contracts unresolved, and Fister may be the template.

    As for LH reliever, Det may be idea, but if he has a preference and would be valued elsewhere as a SP, even in a three team deal, Rizzo would not bury him to sulk.

    With that said, the team is obviously going to acquire a LH reliever, either by trade or FA. That will force the roster issue with the number of bullpen arms we now have.

    A package of Det, Karns, and Mattheus would relieve some of the logjam if a Grade A starter was coming back. Just sayin.


    6 Dec 13 at 10:55 am

  7. The other point is that there is a true potential roster logjam of right handed arms. And after the better FA signings clear (see Morse trade) may be the best time to relieve the burden for higher value of stocking A-A+-AA prospects.

    Consider (and that is not even the minor league FA):


    + another LH reliever that the team will definitely add.

    No way can the team send Roark down to AAA to start the year. The issue is what his role is, and only that.

    That leaves:


    on the fence for one spot in a 12 man staff

    But now consider who is (possibly) already ticketed for AAA in addition to the five or six (depending on the size of the bench) losers of the above competition:

    Treinen (yes, Treinen)
    Cole (if he has a great spring, why not?)


    Jordan is easy to slot into AAA for more development, OK. Perhaps that slows the Cole timetable, as it need not be rushed. Ohlendorf can also be expensive insurance as well, but I am assuming he would have to be waived if not on the 25 man (and would not clear).

    and AA rotation:

    Cole vs. Gilliam vs. surprise

    So there has to be a trade of the surplus coming. If for prospects, I would hope it is weeks from now, when teams have holes after FA and winter injuries. But the depth enables a multiple pitcher for a Grade A kind of deal.


    6 Dec 13 at 11:15 am

  8. Or, of course, the big bopper LaRoche replacement.


    6 Dec 13 at 11:17 am

  9. By the way, count me in the “trade Soriano” crowd. I know he may improve, but I am not convinced that he is the kind of clubhouse guy that is so necessary to get an extra five wins or so. And, he is replaceable from within. If Storen falters, there are other candidates in house and knocking on the door. All you need is one.

    Roark (yes, Roark – big balls, throws strikes, does not give up HR)

    Like LaRoche, if either is traded after the dust settles on the winter meetings and better free agents, someone might overpay for need. Timing is the difference between Josh Johnson and Michael Morse yields.

    Motto: Acquire early, stockpile, trade surplus late.


    6 Dec 13 at 11:27 am

  10. I still think det can be great in the rotation. His durability issues have never been in his arm. It has been his lower body and back, mostly because of inconsistent mechanics. These things can get ironed out as a player matures.

    But regardless, he needs to start listening to his coaches and proving that he believes in his secondary stuff. Nobody can face a rotation three or four times with one pitch. He has a legitimate arsenal, he just refuses to throw it.

    He can keep doing his thing the same way first time through, but second time he needs to make people nervous with something offspeed once in a while. This will give him more success the third and fourth time through the order, even if he reverts to the sinker.

    But if he wants to be a purely one-pitch pitcher, he is destined for (success) in the bullpen.


    6 Dec 13 at 11:33 am

  11. I find curious the whole Nats loogy obsession, which has been taken as gospel by the media and the blogosphere. Yes, Davey complained about the loogy lack, even though he rarely used lefties in situational situations. Rizzo seemed to try to get away from the loogys, perhaps a point of philosophical disagreement with Davey. He has now jettisoned two of the three ‘pen lefty holdovers during the time when everyone is saying he should be overspending to bring in more.

    My guess is that Rizzo is thinking as Todd is–that the Nats already have one of the best power ‘pen lefties in Detwiler. Relies heavily on one pitch? Gets figured out multiple times around the order? Can’t pitch deep into games? None of those are problems if he’s in the ‘pen. That said, no one with the organization is going to say this out loud, probably not even to Detwiler, because his trade value is exponentially greater as a starter. If Robbie Ray just netted Doug Fister, what might a (somewhat) established MLB lefty starter like Detwiler bring? (Let’s just hope that oppo front offices don’t find this post!)


    6 Dec 13 at 11:56 am

  12. Loogy obsession: i’ve made the counter points before; Stammen and Clippard especially have great splits against lefties, so you don’t necessary have to be a lefty to get lefties out. BUT, that’s not how Clippard and Stammen are to be used. So unless you can find me a less-important reliever who can get lefties out …. guess what? We’re talking about a loogy again.

    Rizzo let all three loogy candidates leave last off-season and I think its safe to say, given the number of them he then went and procured afterwards (Abad, Bramhall, Bray, Mann, West, Ohman, Romero in addition to then claiming Cedeno, claiming Robertson and trading for Krol) seems to tell a different story. Now here we are in 2013; he’s already DFA’d/traded Abad, traded Krol and outrighted Robertson. What’s next? I don’t think we want another cattle call in spring training for reliable lefties. Put Detwiler in the pen, perhaps call up Solis.

    Todd Boss

    6 Dec 13 at 1:08 pm

  13. Trading Soriano: who’s gonna take him? And how much money would the team have to give up to get rid of him? I think the “proven closer” memo is finally making its way around the league enough .. well maybe not every where.

    Todd Boss

    6 Dec 13 at 1:09 pm

  14. Seems to me that Detwiler should be in the mix for a starting job, but not guaranteed a spot. The Nats cannot be counting on him as the Lefty out of the pen, however. They might convert him and be pleasantly surprised, as they did with Gorzelany, but there’s no guarantee that will work either.

    If Det is the no. 5 starter. I see no reason not to send Roark to Syracuse as the 6th Starter. He has options. Let Roark pitch every 5 days so he’s ready to go when the inevitable injury occurs.

    I like the idea of signing Howell or Logan and O’Flaherty for the long term. But they need a proven LHRP. Going without one till midseason did not work last year and it won’t work this year. Relying on Cedeno alone is not enough.


    6 Dec 13 at 1:57 pm

  15. Lots of good comments. I had a few thoughts on some of them, so apologies for doing it this way.
    I think the Nationals are a better, deeper team if they sign a good LHRP (J.P. Howell or Boone Logan) to pair with Cedeno in the bullpen
    I don’t think Cedeno has much to offer as a key piece of a contender’s bullpen. Nothing in his history beyond an extremely small sample suggests that he can be an important piece
    Be honest with yourselves; right now who do you think wins the 5th starter spot in a true-on competition? Roark, Jordan, Detwiler, Ohlendorf, Karns.
    I think it is Jordan, and I honestly don’t even think it will be close as to who has the better career (assuming he can stay healthy). I think the guy has a JZimm ceiling.
    I still see the Nats making another big trade…
    I agree, but I just can’t see it for another SP, not with only 1 spot left, and so many ready candidates. I think a righty bopper that can move between the OF and 1B, at the expense of Span or ALR, makes perfect sense. If ALR is hitting, fine leave him in. Take some ABs away from Span and slide Harper to CF. The reverse, if necessary. And, if everyone is hitting, well that is a good problem to have. I have suggested Bautista, but a Corey Hart type could work too.
    Trading Soriano: who’s gonna take him?
    I completely agree. He’s ours for another year. We just need to make sure that he doesn’t reach that vesting option.

    With the Fister deal and ATL losing McCann and Hudson, I’d say that we are the favorites in the NL East. Unless you think Furcal and Salty put Miami over the top :)


    6 Dec 13 at 2:04 pm

  16. I’m not sure I would consider the market thin for Left handed relievers. JP Howell, Scott Downs, Boone Logan, Matt Thornton, Oliver Perez and Jose Mijares are out there. To me JP Howell is in a tier by himself but any of the other guys would fill the role the Nationals are said to be looking to fill. Most of them will probably do it on a 1 year deal.

    I would take O’Flaherty if it is a 1 year deal with incentives and an option for the 2nd year. He had surgery in May so he will probably not be ready until around the break if he doesn’t have any setbacks.

    I take one free agent, whichever of the guys takes a 1 year deal, and plug him into the bullpen.

    Free Agent

    I let Detwiler compete for the 5th spot. If he doesn’t win he takes Cedeno’s spot in the ‘pen.


    6 Dec 13 at 4:12 pm

  17. I do like the dialogue here, even when we don’t always agree.

    On the battle for the 5th rotation spot, I guess I’m more skeptical of Roark than most here, because I’ve been following him for a while. He was great last year, a flash out of nowhere. For the previous five years, he was essentially organizational depth. Which is the fluke, the one year or the previous five? I liked Taylor Jordan, but again last year was the first good season that he’s had. I’m in “show me” mode with both of them. Detwiler was effective in both 2011 and 2012. Combine that with the fact that Detwiler has no minor league options, and someone will have to beat him out for the #5 starter spot.

    John C.

    6 Dec 13 at 4:23 pm

  18. Nats sign Nate McLouth for 2/$10m. I think that it is a pretty good signing. Pretty sure it is now either Hairston or TMo, and am guessing it is Hairston.

    Back up C is the biggest remaining need, in my book. A pen guy would be nice, but not as important as improving on the Onion.


    6 Dec 13 at 5:24 pm

  19. Wow, only one of Roark, Mattheus or Garcia? I dunno about that; if Garcia is healthy he’s proven to be fantastic in the pen (albeit also in SSS), and Roark’s numbers in not a very small sample size last year speak for themselves. Maybe the answer really is Roark winning the spot with Mattheus begrudgingly going to AAA and Garcia, i dunno, maybe he’s still not completely healthy and he does AAA to show he can go every other day.

    I can see a scenario where Jordan wins 5th spot, Detwiler takes Cedeno’s spot, we don’t sign a FA and just go with Roark and Ohlendorf (can’t forget about him) as 5th/6th/7th guys in the pen with everyone else in AAA. Only one lefty though.

    Todd Boss

    7 Dec 13 at 8:27 am

  20. Roark’s resurgence; a quick conversation with him last August at a golf event led me to believe that perhaps its a bit more depressing in Syracuse than we may think. Roark did not speak highly of playing there; said it was always cold, nothing to do, and nobody at the park to see them. Maybe he just needed to get to the majors to get over a mental hurdle? I dunno; i’d be skeptical normally as well; 5 years versus 2 months. But that’s 5 years on buses in the minors versus 2 months of absolutely lights out performance in the majors. I think Kris Medlen; nobody gave him a shot, he comes up in 2012 and was cy young. He stepped back a bit in 2013 but was still a very effective player.

    Todd Boss

    7 Dec 13 at 8:30 am

  21. McCouth: wow i was expecting a 1 year $4M deal … not a 2year $10+ with an option. That just seems so expensive for what he brings to the table.

    McLouth’s arrival spells doom for Brown, Moore, any other outfielder on the roster, perhaps Kobernus. Wow.

    Todd Boss

    7 Dec 13 at 9:16 am

  22. But don’t you think McLouth is a substantial upgrade from Moore, Brown, Bernie, Tracy? I agree it is pricey, but to me, it is exactly the kind of well spent money a contender should make.

    The creativity on the Fister trade, as opposed to a blockbuster for Price, a large contract for a Garza type, or even a 1 year Haren/Jackson type, pays for this and a quality backup C. I think that it is a good use of resources.


    7 Dec 13 at 10:20 am

  23. Interestingly, even if you assume that McLouth steps back from 2.5 WAR to 1-1.5, the $5.75M per year is about the going rate, even a bit on the good side.

    Besides, when the Nats DON’T sign guys like McLouth they are routinely villified for not spending the money. So complaining that they spent too when they sign someone that they spent too much just rounds out the chorus :-)

    John C.

    7 Dec 13 at 10:53 am

  24. Given Werth’s career injury history and what has happened with both Morse and Harper missing significant time in 2012 and 2013 in another outfield spot I am more than ok with the team signing Mclouth to a deal this size. He offers good defense in LF, some pop, can draw a walk and can steal a bag. Now one injury can be absorbed by a guy who is a 2+ win player vs a replacement level guy ala Corey Brown.

    Kobernus and Moore both have options and are useful depth this year. Brown is AAAA and isn’t a guy a contender would rely on. I think with Brian Goodwin probably moving to AAA and Michael Taylor moving to AA the team has left hand hitting outfielder depth in the minors. Not to mention Burns and Souza from the other side. Brown is redundant and Perez is similarly redundant. I think Rizzo may have another trade up his sleeve using a guy like Kobernus or Perez and a reliever like Mattheus, Davis or Garcia to acquire a backup catcher or bench piece while also opening up an extra roster spot.

    The Rays are said to be shopping Jose Lobaton now and they seem like a team that would be able to maximize a guy like Kobernus and always are looking for league minimum relievers.


    7 Dec 13 at 1:49 pm

  25. Is McLouth an upgrade? Yes I think he is. Better defender than Moore, established MLB capabilities (unlike Brown).

    John C: on the money spent; Yes several years ago when the payroll was steady in the 60M range despite billionaires owning the team, I and many others routinely complained about the money not being spent. I think clearly we’re in a different mode now. My issue now adays is this: what exactly IS the budget? Because every FA contract that pushes the payroll up (McLouth’s deal probably pushes payroll to 135M) puts us closer to whatever the actual budget is … and there’s still work to be done. So yeah I still think its a good question: if McClouth puts up a 1.5 war great … but if he’s awful, then we could have already had awful for 500k, not $5M. You know? Its the same issue that faces any team that signs a FA; the opportunity cost of those dollars costing the team another player it could have used. Its one of the big reasons I hated/hate the Soriano dollars, for example.

    Todd Boss

    8 Dec 13 at 4:19 pm

  26. Not sure what to think about McLouth. His signing does seem to signal the end of the line for Brown, as Todd notes. Let’s hope Rizzo can find him a place to play while also flipping him for a couple of prospects.

    Kobernus can play both IF and OF but does seem to have a similar game to McLouth. Kobe, Walters, and Espy would seem to be competing for the Lombo seat on the pine. Obviously Espy is the superior defender if his bat can actually meet a ball at least a couple of times a week.

    As for McLouth, it is interesting that a starter for a contender would intentionally take a bench spot for a better contender. But the best-case scenario for the Nats is that Werth and Harper stay healthy and that McLouth becomes a high-priced insurance policy and pinch runner.

    It’s kind of a weird reaction to a new free agent signing, though–that we really hope we don’t see him on the field that much.

    Here’s the larger question: is there still a major deal out there for a starting bat, or are we about done except for a loogy or two and a backup catcher? The weakest links among the starters are LaRoche and Span. Schoenfield reported this morning that Span “could be available.”


    8 Dec 13 at 7:34 pm

  27. Of course McLouth may not be good – he may have a terrible season. But then again, not signing him means Corey Brown is the 4th OF. And he may have a terrible season. Rizzo gets to make a decision on which course improves their odds. I get why he decided to go with the door behind McLouth.

    At this point I expect a backup catcher and a LHRP … possibly two. If they can do that and extend Desmond, I would be quite happy with the offseason. If they do that and extend both Desmond and Zimmermann, I would be overjoyed.

    John C.

    8 Dec 13 at 10:47 pm

  28. And on McLouth, Todd, you may have forecast a 1 year, $4M deal. But in September MLB Trade Rumors predicted a two year, $10M deal for McLouth, very close to the two year $10.75M deal he ended up with. MLBTR doesn’t give two hoots in a handbag over McLouth, they just base their estimates based on industry standards and expected production. If you want the writeup, it’s here:

    John C.

    8 Dec 13 at 10:53 pm

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