Nationals Arm Race

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

The Nats should just move Detwiler


Detwiler's being wasted right now. Photo: Cathy T via

Detwiler’s being wasted right now. Photo: Cathy T via

How do you go from being the 5th most important pitcher on a MLB staff (yes, I believe the 5th starter is more important than the closer or any other bullpen guy, a statsitical fact that can be easily seen by WAR contributions by even the best closers), to being the least important, aka the last guy out of the pen, the swingman or long man, the mop-up guy?

Well, that’s what’s happening to Ross Detwiler so far this year.

Now, its sort of hard to feel a ton of compassion for a guy who is making $3M this year guaranteed, whether he pitches 50 times or five.   So this article isn’t so much about Detwiler or his salary, but about things like “opportunity costs” and the relative value of players in particular roles, and how teams can turn replaceable assets into needed depth.

Coming into this season, I figured (along with many) that Detwiler’s pre-injury 2013 performance, coupled with his break-out 2012 season would earn him the 5th rotation spot.  As it turned out, not only did the team not want to give him that spot … but they have repeatedly passed over Detwiler to make starts when the opportunity has arisen.  When Doug Fister went down with injury, Detwiler wasn’t pulled back into the rotation; the starts were given to Taylor Jordan.  When Jordan proved unreliable and was sent down, the team called up Blake Treinen and gave him a spot start on 5/6/14 instead of throwing Detwiler.

Which makes you wonder; what’s the point of keeping a high-priced/high-talent “swing man” if you never let him do his role??  Detwiler’s usage so far in 2014 has been more like a middle reliever than a long-man; in 9 appearances (before last night) he’s logged 14 2/3 innings.  Now, on the one hand this is a relatively good sign; if you’re never using your swing-man for 4 inning stints it means your starters are pitching well.  But on the other hand … the team is clearly wasting Detwiler’s talents.  Of the 66 batters he had faced prior to 5/6/14’s debacle, only SIX of them were classified as “high leverage” situations by  He’s being used as a mop-up guy.

You don’t use power lefty capable starters as mop-up guys.  Its a waste of their skills and talent, and ends up leading to human-nature meltdowns like we saw out of Detwiler on 5/6/14.

Here’s a quick history of the Nats longmen in recent years: Ross OhlendorfZach DukeTanner Roark (to some extent in late 2013), Tom GorzelannyMiguel BatistaSaul Rivera (to some extent), Stephen Shell, Micah Bowie and Levale Speigner (though honestly, dipping back into the 2007-2008 timeframe is tough because our starters were so bad, it was difficult to find who the designated “long-man” really was because eventually they were starting too).  There’s common features to most all of these guys: they’re generally either veterans signed to MLFA deals or on one year deals for limited money, or they’re rookies who earned their way up and provided some value.  The point is this;  you don’t pay your long-man good money, and you certainly don’t waste a good former starter in the long-man position.

The missed opportunity cost for the Nats is this: they can turn Detwiler into something of value in trade for some other team out there, right now.  Go look at our favorite trade partner Oakland’s #4 and #5 starters stats (Straily and Milone); we could move Detwiler to Oakland and get something of use back in a heartbeat and it’d make both teams better.   The Yankees would kill for a reliable 5th starter right now, with Pineda hurt or suspended, Nova lost to Tommy John and Nuno ineffective.   The Mariners are now 9-deep into their starter depth chart and are treading water.   I’ll bet you couldn’t even name Pittsburgh’s 5th starter right now.   Cincinnati’s two starters down right now and that’s before Johnny Cueto gets his inevitable D/L trip (he made 3 such trips last year).  So there’s definitely teams out there who expect to contend with starter depth issues.

Meanwhile, the Nats have 4 or 5 guys in AAA right now who could fill the role that Detwiler is playing right now, for less money and just as well, and we’d be a better team with Detwiler’s return in trade for it.   Every additional injury further thins this team and highlights more need for backup hitters (right now as we speak, we don’t have a SINGLE middle infielder on the 40-man who could get called-up to cover … and our only two out-field 40-man options Eury Perez and Michael Taylor are basically a pinch runner and a guy who’se got a month above A-ball.   (Admittedly, this situation has somewhat cleared up recently with Hairston‘s return and considering that we also have Souza and Moore back in the minors … but we still need some depth).

Move Detwiler, get some closer-to-the-majors bats, and install Treinen as that last-guy in the bullpen.  Or call back Aaron Barrett or Ryan Mattheus and just leave t hem in the bullpen instead of making them rack up frequent flier miles.  If you want another lefty, re-call Aaron Laffey and/or Xavier Cedeno and leave them on the club for a while.  You don’t need your best prospect pitching mop-up/low-leverage innings in 8-0 games.

(I’m not the only one talking about this right now: WP’s James Wagner has peppered Matt Williams about it and MLBTradeRumors Jeff Todd mentioned it prominently this week as well).

11 Responses to 'The Nats should just move Detwiler'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'The Nats should just move Detwiler'.

  1. Trading Detwiler only makes sense if the Nats can get something better in return. The problem is that after a middling Spring Training Detwiler has varied between mediocre and awful in the early going. It’s not just the numbers, he doesn’t pass the eyeball test (even without that heinous moustache). He struggles to throw strikes, and when he does throw strikes they get hit. Until he works that out in low leverage situations I’d be pretty peeved if the Nationals used Detwiler in a high leverage situation.

    The Nationals put Detwiler in the bullpen in part to address the second lefty issue (his stuff is certainly better than the in house alternatives) after the market for good relief help exploded last offseason. Detwiler has some history as a relief pitcher/swing man, and before this season his bullpen work was actually better than his work as a starter. He also gives them rotation depth, a characteristic that has value even after Treinen’s emergence.

    The Nationals are also in “win now” mode, so making the current roster weaker in both potential and production for prospects doesn’t really work – the return would have to be something that would improve the big league club. And given the composition of the roster I’m not completely sure what that would be right now. One issue there is that (thankfully) none of the injuries that they have had so far have ended someone’s season. If that changes the Nats could use Detwiler as a trade chip, but until then I doubt they are going to get any offers that would make it worthwhile to move him.

    John C.

    8 May 14 at 3:36 pm

  2. Well, no argument from me that he hasn’t responded well to his current usage. But I can never have a strong opinion about topics like this until I know the other side of the transaction.

    If he were to bring back real value, in whatever form, then I could see it for the reasons that you say, which mainly boil down to that he is replaceable. But you kind of seem to be saying ‘I am tired of watching this guy, so lets just get rid of him’ kind of trade, then I would not do it. Much higher probability that he reverts to his former levels than keeps pitching like this, imo.


    8 May 14 at 3:55 pm

  3. Wally: Actually on the contrary; I think he’s a good pitcher who’s just being wasted here. This isn’t like when the team hung onto John Lannan and had him toil in AAA all year as insurance; they’re not even using him as insurance! He’s got great reliever splits in his career, and he makes a good argument that his 2012 and early 2013 seasons indicate he’d be at least a #4 quality starter in the league. This argument wasn’t about “getting rid” of Detwiler, it was about using him.

    John: My argument was that the team (despite its “win now” mode) can still be better even by trading Detwiler. That was the basis of my argument; it doesn’t matter who you have throwing slop innings in 8-run blow outs, so the team woudl be stronger by gaining whatever it got in return for Detwiler.

    If a GM is swayed by the short sample size of his ERA in 14 innings in 2014 … well can’t help that. You have to look at the whole body of work.

    Todd Boss

    8 May 14 at 4:10 pm

  4. There are so many teams in need of a starter that one of them will think he can be a star with them & overpay.
    I’m with you, Todd.

    Mark L

    8 May 14 at 7:58 pm

  5. I agree with you Todd that he is being wasted right now, and whatever value he has will fairly quickly fritter away. However, it just doesn’t seem Rizzo’s style to trade away anyone that might be able to help the team get to the playoffs, so I just don’t see it happening. Blevins is definitely MW’s “go to” guy now for lefties, but I would like to see him try using Ross as a LOOGY for awhile to build his confidence back in small, regular doses.


    9 May 14 at 7:30 am

  6. Completely agree Todd. Add Tyler Moore to the trade as well. Rizzo and MW are driving down the value of talented ballplayers by putting them on ice / giving them no role. Zach Walters is getting close to this level as well.

    It was just a few months ago that Espy was going to get sporadic ABs, but now he can’t be taken out for Walters even 1x/week? Clippard has some bad outings and they can’t give him a few days off while trying out Detwiler? ALR can’t run and they won’t give Moore a few days at 1B? It makes no sense.

    Andrew R

    9 May 14 at 10:16 am

  7. AndrewR: is that on “the Nats” and Rizzo, or is that on Williams? (talking about all your player usage questions).

    Great questions. When it became clear last week that they needed another starter for 5/6, notice how they didn’t keep Jordan around for it. They didn’t stretch Detwiler back out. They went to a hard thrower from AAA that nobody’d heard of before the Nats put him on their 40-man (Treinen never appeared on any prospect list by any organization until July 2013’s MLB list, and even then he was listed as at #18 for the system).

    I woudln’t worry about Zach Walters just yet; he hasn’t rode the pine at the MLB level nearly as long as Moore yas.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 11:21 am

  8. Todd, my gut is that this is a Rizzo thing, but certainly am not “in the know.” So far Williams is coming across as a boob, and I now think Rizzo hired him to be his puppet (as his bud Beane does with his managers), rather than a professed hard nosed guy.

    They are catering to the vets, and all over the place with the young guys (lineups, roles). The fact that Hairston is on the team now has no basis in logic considering that he’ll be gone at the end of the season and has been awful.

    Finally, why can’t we run for the catcher in the 8th or 9th inning when they are on second base? What are the odds that the backup catcher will come in and then get hurt, necessitating a 3rd catcher, and that that emergency catcher will be the reason for losing the game? Why not use a pitcher to run for that catcher who may be fairly quick?

    I think Rizzo is a great talent evaluator and trader and has done a great job offloading old players for young talent, but what’s the point if he’s going to stick them on the end of the bench to rust when they are talented enough to get on the 25 man roster?

    Andrew R

    9 May 14 at 1:20 pm

  9. That’s some heavy criticism of Williams 🙂

    Perhaps Rizzo’s roster decision making is driven by a current “win now” mandate from ownership, who was spoiled by 2012 and maintains this is a playoff team? You can’t justify trading away talent from a team expected to win and not get criticised (see the Fister deal in Detroit). I agree with the “catering to the vets” opinion to a certain degree but hadn’t noticed the lack of pinch running as a critism of his management style.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 2:00 pm

  10. As a Brooklyn Nets fan as well, I have watched Kidd grow on the job and hope MW will as well. I’m not saying fire MW, but he certainly seemed overmatched in month one and I have to believe that Rizzo is pulling strings now, if he wasn’t already before.

    Re pinch running, it’s more of a lack of using the backup catcher unless there is an injury. If we need runs in late innings, we should do whatever needed to get those runs and not worry about disaster planning.

    I agree with your points about win now, but that has somehow morphed into giving vets little rest and hoping to not have to play the young guys. I would be planning contingencies by having Frandsen/Espy or someone else take more practice reps at catcher so they are viable in a pinch and giving some vets a few days off in a row, perhaps against weaker teams, to have the young guys ready if there is a problem.

    Andrew R

    9 May 14 at 2:20 pm

  11. I was completely on-board with MW being the manager honestly, but I also thought he’d be a bit more forward thinking/less “old school” than he’s turned out to be. Ah well; maybe he’ll adjust.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 3:20 pm

Leave a Reply