Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Starter Matchup Analysis – April 2014



Strasburg's K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via

Strasburg’s K/9 is amazing so far in 2014. Photo unk via

Ok people, how about getting back to talking some baseball, not arging whether or not we need to fire the manager after 28 games.  :-)

Here’s a monthly feature that I like to do, breaking down the Nats rotation performance and analyzing matchups for the previous month.

Starter “Grades” for the MLB Rotation:

Grade Taxonomy; these are just quick and dirty short hand judgements on the starting stat line for each starter’s performance.   Here’s a rough starting point  for how grades are assigned:

  • Grade A: 6-7+ innings, zero earned runs.
  • Grade B: 6-7 innings, 1-2 earned runs.
  • Grade C: 6 innings, 3 earned runs and run-of-the-mill numbers of walks/hits and strikeouts.
  • Grade D: 4-5  innings, 3-4 earned runs
  • Grade F: 4 or fewer innings, more earned runs than innings pitched.

In each letter grade case, adjustments slightly up or down are made based usually on hits+walks and/or Ks (or lack thereof).   More Ks may push the grade to an N+, a slew of extra hits/walks may drop the grade to an N-, where N is the letter grade division.

(Note: I won’t repeat this each month; it is just for explanatory purposes for the first post of the year in this series).

By way of example; the team had three “A+” outings in April:

  • Strasburg’s 4/10 win over the Marlins.  Line: 6 2/3s, 1 run on 3 hits, 1 walk and 12 Ks.   He gave up the run but 12 K’s pushed him to the A+ rating.
  • Strasburg’s 4/25 win over San Diego: 7 shut-out innings giving up 7 hits and a walk with 11 K’s.
  • Roark’s 4/26 shutout over San Diego: 9 innings, 3 hits, 1 walk, 8 K’s.

Here’s the Letter grades for our Rotation in April: (here’s a quick link to the schedule to see each individual game) along with Key Stats lines for the month:

  • Strasburg: C,D,A+,F,B+,A+.  2-2, 4.24 ERA, 1.412 whip, 2.30 fip, 53/12 K/BB ratio in 34 innings.
  • Roark: C+,D-,C,A-,A+.  2-0, 2.76 ERA, 1.163 whip, 3.43 fip, 26/9 K/BB in 32 2/3 innings.
  • Jordan: A-,D-,F,D,B-/inc: 0-3, 5.61 ERA, 1.636 whip, 4.48 fip, 17/8 in 25 2/3 innings.
  • Gonzalez: A,A,D-,A,C-,C+: 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.139 whip, 2.90 fip, 38/13 in 36 innings.
  • Zimmermann: A,F,A-,B,C+,A: 2-1, 3.27 ERA, 1.333 whip, 3.09 fip, 35/8 in 33 innings.

Tanner Roark turned around his slower start and has “won” the 5th starter competition, which extended a month into the season thanks to Doug Fister‘s spring training injuries.  Taylor Jordan’s letter grades bely his crummy overall stats; 0-3 with a 5.61 ERA, a 1.63 whip and a 4.49 FIP.  Lets hope Jordan can get it turned around in Syracuse and provide cover for the next injury.  Gonzalez leads the staff in ERA while Strasburg leads the staff in FIP on the back of his amazing K/9 rate (53 K’s in 34 innings for an astounding 14 K/9 rate, which leads the league right now for qualified pitchers).  Zimmerman keeps on plugging away, mixing in good outings with bad ones; lets look for more consistency from him in May.

I think its rather interesting that our three power arms are all seemingly abandoning the whole “pitch to contact” mantra so far; all of their K/9s are above a K per inning.  And Strasburg’s is just ridiculous.  Do you think maybe Strasburg is tired of his defense throwing away outs and he’s just saying, “I’ll do it myself” to some degree?  I think if I had to rank our own rotation in terms of effectiveness I’d go Gonzalez, Strasburg, Zimmerman, Roark and Jordan.  In other words, almost identically to our rotation order.

The team finishes the month 16-12, on pace for 93 wins, despite the injuries to the offense and the generally awful defense so far this year.

Now here’s some Starting Pitcher Matchup analysis.  I track of the opposing starter the team faces each night and ranked them three different ways:

  • Their Rotation Order intra team: the opening day starter for a team is their “#1” and the other four guys are ranked 2-5 as they appear in the opposing rotation.
  • Their Ranked Performance intra-team: at the time of their series with the Nats, the 5 starters on a team are ranked 1-5 on pure in-season performance.  The guy with the best season stats at that time is ranked #1, the guy with the worst #5.
  • Their Subjective League-Wide “Rank” as a pitcher: a subjective look at whether the opposing starter is a league wide “Ace,” a near-Ace or #2, and the like.

I also kept track on a night-to-night basis a quick opinion on whether I felt the Nats had the Starting Pitching Advantage (or if it was an even-matchup, or if I felt the opposing team had the pitching advantage) and tracked how we did.

Opponent Rotation Order Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 4-3 Gee, Fernandez, Weaver, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright
2 4-2 Colon, Wood, Wacha, Cosart Wood, Kennedy
3 3-2 Wheeler, Alvarez, Oberholzer Harang, Lynn
4 1-3 Miller Hale, Richards, Stults
5 2-2 Koehler, Erlin Koehler, Skaggs
5+ 2-0 Hand (2x)

(Note: a “5+” pitcher means a starter who was not on the opening day roster for a team.  We’ll see a ton more 5+’s as more starters go down with injury and are replaced by minor league call-ups).

Not all #1 starters are made the same, nor are #5 starters.  The team actually holds a winning record against opposing team’s #1s and #2s (which you normally do not see), but scuffled against other team’s #4 starters.  Of course, Shelby Miller and David Hale are not ordinary #4 starters, but you’d have liked to have seen wins against the likes of Clayton Richardson and/or Eric Stults.

The team got a great win over Jose Fernandez but lost twice to Atlanta’s ace Julio Teheran.  Not the end of the world, but they need to do better (obviously) against Atlanta pitching.

Opponent intra-Rotation Ranking Stats

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-4 Fernandez, Cashner Teheran (2x), Wainwright, Richards
2 2-4 Gee, Wood Wood, Harang, Koehler, Skaggs
3 4-1 Colon, Wacha, Koehler, Hand Kennedy
4 4-1 Wheeler, Oberholzer, Miller, Erlin Hale
5 3-2 Weaver, Cosart, Alvarez Lynn, Stults
5+ 1-0 Hand

In other words, the Nats are 2-4 against opposing teams’ best pitcher at the time of the series, 2-4 against the opposing team’s 2nd best performing pitcher at the time of the series, etc.   This is a slightly better way of seeing how the Nats perform against the opponent’s hottest hand at the time.  Notice here that Aaron Harang is given much higher credit for his 2014 performance than his rotation order rank may merit him.

The team (as one would expect) is struggling against the best and 2nd best guys on opponent’s teams, but are beating up on the rest of the rotation.  This is a good sign frankly; you need to win when you go against the other team’s struggling starters.  As the season goes along the team should stabilize and be able to hold its own against the best guys on other teams.

Opponent League-Wide “Rank”

Starter # Record Opposing Starter in Wins Opposing Starter in Losses
1 2-1 Fernandez, Wacha Wainwright
2 1-2 Weaver Teheran (2x)
3 5-2 Cashner, Wood, Colon, Wheeler, Miller Wood, Kennedy
4 3-2 Gee, Oberholzer, Cosart Hale, Lynn
5 2-4 Erlin, Alvarez Richards, Harang, Skaggs, Stults
5+ 3-1 Hand (2x), Koehler Koehler

In other words, the Nats are 2-1 against MLB “Aces,” 2-1 against MLB “near aces” or #2’s, etc.

This table really shows how the team has truly done against the elite pitchers in this league.  We can argue in the comments section about my subjective ranking of pitchers as being #1s, #2s, or whatever.   For comparison purposes with our own team talent-wise, I have Strasburg as a league-wide #1, Gonzalez and Zimmermann as #2s, Fister as a #3, Roark and Jordan as #5s.  Aces are few and far between; you’re far more likely to see a bunch of #4s and #5s on opposing teams.  It is of note that a 5+ starter can be a complete crapshoot; he could be a 4-A pitcher just giving the team innings or he could be the team’s #1 starter prospect and can be as effective as a #2 starter right off the bat.

So far, the team has beaten a couple of aces and had expected losses versus the likes of Adam Wainwright and Teheran.  Slightly concerning is the record against what I consider #5 pitchers in this league, though to be fair Harang and Tyler Skaggs certainly are not pitching like #5s right now.


Performace against Expectations by Advantage

By “Advantage” Record Matchups in Wins Matchups resulting in Losses
Wash 10-6 Gio-Colon, Stras-Gee, Stras-Miller, Zim-Oberholtzer, Gio-Cosart, Stras-Erlin, Gio-Alvarez, Stras-Koehler, Zimm-Hand (2x) Stras-Teheran, Zimm-Hale, Zimm-Lynn, Gio-Harang, Zimm-Stults, Stras-Koehler
Even 3-1 Gio-Weaver, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Wheeler Jordan-Skaggs
Opp 3-5 Roark-Fernandez, Roark-Cashner, Gio-Wacha Roark-Teheran, Jordan-Wood, Roark-Richards, Jordan-Kennedy, Jordan-Wainwright

In games where I thought Washington had the clear starting pitching advantage head-to-head, the team went 10-6.   I’ve listed the match ups for each case so you can decide whether we really had the advantage.

In games where I thought the pitching matchup was even, the team went 3-1; this is a good sign.  Three of these four matchups involved Roark or Jordan.

In games where I thought our opponent had the clear advantage heading into the game, the team went an expected 3-5.  Most of these matchup involved either Roark or Jordan.

It is interesting to note that Jordan struggled .. but he also had a number of very tough matchups in April.  He had to go against Alex Wood twice, Ian Kennedy, Adam Wainwright and Tyler Skaggs.   For a guy with just a handful of starts, that was a tough slate of matchups.


Per-Starter Matchup Listing:

Nats Starter Opponent Makeup Nats Record under starter
Strasburg two Aces, a #4 and three #5s 4-2
Gonzalez an Ace, three #2s, two #3s 5-1
Jordan an Ace, three #2s and a #5 1-4
Roark three Aces, a #3, a #4 3-2
Zimmermann two #3s, two #4s, two #5+s 3-3
ttl for month: 16-12

So, as discussed above, Jordan has had some tough matchups.  But Roark had to go against three staff Aces in April and still came out with a winning record.  Despite a couple of shaky outings the team was 5-1 when Gio pitched.  Lastly we can see that Jordan needs to be replaced; the team was just 1-4 in his outings and you’d have to think that they wouldn’t have a losing record when Fister throws.

April Conclusion

The Nats have beaten up on weak teams and faltered against good teams.  And it only gets tougher from here; they’ll face Philadelphia’s 1-2-3 in order in early May, then entertain Los Angeles and their two Cy Young winners.  Later on this month they visit the cavernous Oakland stadiums and go up against three different playoff calibre teams in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Texas.  Lots of good pitching matchups to be seen.

7 Responses to 'Nats Starter Matchup Analysis – April 2014'

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  1. I really liked the column. I like how you broke the different pitchers down. Great stuff. Cant wait for next months piece.


    2 May 14 at 3:07 pm

  2. Stras is definitely overthrowing, trying too hard, esp. when he gets in trouble. JZimm does the same thing. Who knows what goes on inside Gio’s head.

    This is why I like Roark. He never seems to get rattled.


    2 May 14 at 3:40 pm

  3. Stras showed some moxie in holding Philly hostage after the debacle 1st last night. That was a statement win for sure; coming back to beat a game in which Cliff Lee was handed a 3 run lead early. Tough.

    Todd Boss

    3 May 14 at 12:35 pm

  4. Nice work Todd.

    My takeaways from the season so far are:

    1. Whether Jason Werth is hiding an injury or is just getting old, he is playing some of the worst right field I have ever seen. Just looks lost out there. I hold my breath every hit to him. At least it hasn’t affected his bat. Been very clutch.

    2. Rendon is becoming elite. Even his outs are generally good quality contact outs. Needs to work a few more walks but he gets pitched tough and isn’t geting many calls either.

    3. Regarding Roark last night, I seem to see a lot of pitchers really struggle in their next outing after a complete game. Happens alot. Tough to recover in 5 days from those extra long outings.

    4. Desmond is a frustrating player. Just a streak player freak on offense and defense. Crushes when he’s hot, but one of the worst looking around when on the cold side. Still no plate discipline after all these years. Dude is never going to change so I’d ride him when he’s hot and give him a rest sometimes when he’s obviously struggling.

    5. Harper is at a crosroads. To my eyes his successes to date have emanated from brute strength and athleticism as oppsed to technique. Rendon or even Ramos by comparison has some great technique and balance as naturally gifted hitters. Harper has an unusual stance that he has never adjusted. Closed stance with very pronounced shouder shoulder tilt from back shoulder to front shoulder. Other players who hold the bat high do so more with their arms but he does it by tilting the shoulders. It creates alot of power of course but It causes him to fly open alot, creates a lot of holes in his swing and makes for a lot of moving parts and angles on his swing that are tough to syncronize and get on plane. He’s going to be a streaky boom or bust hitter I fear unless he makes some adjustments. I’d like to see him exeriment some with opening his stance a bit ala Laroche and leveling his shoulders. I remember Franconia commenting on Harper when he first came up that he was a great athetic player but didn’t have a great swing yet. I kind of agree and don’t think he’s changed much.

    5. Strasburg is just a fascinating case. We were all expecting this 101 mph unhittable fireballer from college, and instead he’s having most of his success and impressive strikeout totals with a junkball arsenal. We were expecting Aroldis Chapman like devastating heat, but his fastball has become very hittable even before the reduced velocity, and his crazy movement off speed stuff is getting all the outs. Will be interesting to see if he’s an Ace and worth paying $25 million a year in two years with a 92 mph fastball. Glad to have him in his cheaper years here though.

    6. Gotta love Laroche on his every other year is great track. Soriano too looks good this year with a smoother delivery than last year has his ball jumping on the hitters.

    7. Can’t wait to get Zimm and Ramo’s bats back, Hope they come back well but you never know just back with hand injuries.

    8. I’d still take an injury prone bad defense Mike Morse on this team anyday. He was the best natural hitter on the team and our hitting deficient lineup couldn’t really afford to lose a guy like that. Hard to find .300 hitters with power. I would take the defensive liabilty with his bat in the outfield over Span any day. Last year not fair to judge him as he broke his hand. Jettisoning by far the best hitter on your team was just overthinking it by Rizzo. Span plays a nice CF but continuing to force the issue that he is a leadoff hitter is not working. We should own up to the mistake and Span should be batting eigth.

    Marty C

    4 May 14 at 11:37 am

  5. Hey there Marty! Good to hear from you!

    1. Werth’s defense: My favorite defensive stat is UZR/150, which is notoriously bad in SSS, but so far Werth’s is -12.5 in RF for the year. That’s worse than he was last year but about on a par with what he put up in 2012. So, yeah, in addition to the dropped fly balls and misplayed balls in the corner, his range isn’t great. Personally, I think its just a matter of time before he and Harper switch corner OF spots anyway. But … if you want to see how tough it is to use UZR/150 in small sample sizes, look at Rendon’s rankings so far at third base; he looks awful! But everything we’ve ever heard about him at third says he’s a plus-plus defender. Hey, at least he can throw it from 3rd to 1st without hitting the camera-well.

    2. Rendon’s showing why he was a consensus 1-1 pick before getting hurt in college. I didn’t think he’d matriculate this far, this fast. But yeah, with him and Harper and Strasburg and (eventually) Giolito, this team has an awful lot of upper-upper end draft talent (all four guys either 1-1 or 1-1 talents before amateur injuries).

    3. Roark’s struggles post CG; a fair point, but I’d disagree slightly. Roark’s CG was only 105 pitches (MLB pitchers generally don’t show game-after effects until hitting 120 pitch plateau) and he wasn’t really challenged with a ton of high-leverage situations throughout the game …. I think it was more the fact that he’s showing some incredibly distinct home/away splits so far in his career (he has a 0.26 ERA at home … h e’s given up ONE earned run in 35 home innings, but he’s got a 4.07 ERA on the road in 55 innings). I’m worried about these splits; it’s just a matter of time before he starts regressing to the mean at home.

    4. Harper: eh. He’s been hurt so much so far in his career that its impossible to say what he has or hasn’t done. In april of last year, prior to hitting hte wall he was the league’s MVP; OPS above 1.000, hitting for power and average. For his career he generally hasn’t hit lefties as well as righties (.726 ops versus LHP versus .878 against RHP for his career) … but so far in 2014 its the exact opposite; he’s clubbing LHP to a .476 average. So, what’s really the problem? I’m not sure I agree that his swing is problematic; he flys open when he’s going for a homer sure … but so does Giancarlo Stanton. Harper’s bat control is on display every time he drives a ball to the opposite field; notice that nobody plays a shift against him? That’s because he can control the bat, he can hit to all fields; not a lot of lefties can do that. Personally I think i’d just like to see him healthy and batting on a regular basis for a season before trying to pass judgement on “what’s wrong” with his swing. Remember, this guy was still a 3.5-4 win player last year, missing 1/3 of the season … as a TWENTY YEAR OLD. He’s still either the youngest or 2nd youngest player in the entire MLB.

    5. Strasburg: more and more i’m thinking that he’s never going to achieve the Cy Young stature that has been heaped on his shoulders since his draft day. Amazing stuff? Yes. League-leading mph velocity on his fastball? You bet. But man he gives up a lot of cheap hits. He just never seems to have “no hitter” stuff. He’s still an ace in this league, but when the time comes to pay him I think the team lets him walk. He’ll sign a 10-year $250M deal with the Dodgers and move back to SoCal anyway.

    6. LaRoche = contract year. Happens every time he’s due up to make money. Hate to say it .. but its true more often than not.

    7. Where do you play Zimmerman when he comes back? I don’t want him back at 3rd throwing away a ball every two games. I like Rendon there. And, how do you sit Espinosa right now? He’s on fire. Read an interesting analysis piece that says the nats should move LaRoche when Zimmerman comes back and put him permanently at 1st. Can’t say I disagree.

    8. One of my oft-repeated mantras is, “You can hide someone in left field.” Right now the Nats are not using that mentality, instead playing a plus-defender (Harper) in left. You use left field to hide a masher like Morse, or Trumbo, or (in his later years) Bonds. It gets you an extra bat into the lineup at not a ton of defensive cost.

    Todd Boss

    5 May 14 at 9:26 am

  6. Hey Todd…

    On Harper, I think he has an awful lot of really bad looking at bats. Alot like Desmond, can look great in streaks then can’t see the ball at all for long stretches. His hits come in bunches when he gets his timing right. I agree best to judge him when he is healthy but I wish I could see some adjustments. Lots of holes in his swing and only the one HR this year (even though it was a monster) shows he’s just struggling to hit the ball hard. He should have had 5 HR by accident with that violent swing. Notice the series vs Trout. Trout didn’t make much noise in the series as Pujols dominated but when it was over, Trout quietly had a very nice stat line without doing anything spectacular and Harper had nothing. I just perfer guys that can really handle the bat like Trout or Rendon as you need that consistency and high contact rate in the clutch or even just to keep the line moving. Of course as soon as I touted him, Rendon had his worst game of the year last night.

    Zimmerman you have to put him back at 3rd. Espi is starting to trend down again and I don’t trust his production. So his “on fire” may be burning out. Lots of bunt hits and defensive swing hits in his pile. After a HR last week his swing getting longer again and the bad looking K’s piling up again. Think that’s why he got benched last night. And Espi’s RISP is atrocious so some empty stats he has so far. You can’t really want Espi’s bat in there vs. Zimm’s do you? I agree Zimm’s throwing scares the hell out of me but how can you move Laroche now when he is leading the team in every hitting stat? There is just no where else to put Zimm unfortunately and he makes too much money to sit. But I certainly can’t sacrifice Zimm for Danny Espinosa of all people even if he throws a few away. Maybe get Danny some games at SS when Desmond is in his cold streaks.

    Our defense as a whole is bad anyway, so maybe we’ll have better chance outslugging teams than small balling them. No perfect answer to fix things with these kind of issues. People making too much money and entrenced in their positions. Team has very little roster flexibility when you think about it. Especially when they won’t give the promising kids a start anywhere. As you now i’ve always advocated giving a player on an obvious cold streak a day or two off to let them work out of it in the cage instead of the lineup. As these cold streaks tend to last weeks, not a day or two. Why not give Souza or Walters a start when the regulars are struggling? Williams much like Davey lets his stars flail around and kill their stats and confidence playing through horrendous cold streaks instead of giving them a breather. Was hoping Willams would be different.

    Marty C

    5 May 14 at 2:49 pm

  7. Harper was clearly struggling early in the year. But then from 4/13 til his injury he was just fine (.303/.375/.488). So he had two bad weeks then two good weeks. I dunno how much you can tell from that. I’ll take streaky hitters as long as their ups are fantastic enough to warrant taking notice.

    Trout vs Harper is going to be an unfortunate comparision for Bryce for a long time; Trout is playing the same position that he always played while Trout is basically learning the outfield on the fly. Trout’s stayed healthy while Harper’s been unlucky with injuries. And Harper’s a year younger, though by this time there’s no more age excuse. Trout’s clearly the better all-around player and I think its tough on Harper to be the youngest slugger in the league and have 30 homer capabilities at age 21 … and yet its not “good enough.”

    Todd Boss

    5 May 14 at 4:21 pm

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