Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Rotation Cycle 2012 #1: good/bad/soso


Surprise 5th starter Detwiler turned in your best outing of the first Rotation Cycle. Photo Cathy T via

It has been so long since I did one of these, that I nearly forgot that I used to do them 🙂

For the uninitiated, I try to do a quick recap of our starters each turn through the rotation, culminating in 33 “rotation cycle” posts that can be seen if you click on the “Nats Rotation Review” category tag to the right.  If I’ve seen the game, I’ll give more detailed analysis based on my observations.  Otherwise I’m recapping the box score and interpreting the stats to come to a conclusion.  The focus is on the starters, but there is a section for relievers and the offense.

The classifications are not very scientific; usually good, bad or mediocre/soso.  If someone is great or awful, we’ll note that as well.


  • Stephen Strasburg looked healthy and in command on opening day 4/5 (box/gamer), getting a no decision after 7 complete innings.  His line: 7ip, 5 hits, 1 ER, 5K and 1BB.  More importantly he was only on 82 pitches through 7 innings, a very efficient work day.  A couple of these hits were relatively weak (one an infield pop fly that fell between 4 infielders, another a scoring issue that probably was a hit).  Its not difficult to look unhittable when its 41 degrees and the wind is blowing in, but Strasburg seems to be adopting the same strategy as his compatriot Jordan Zimmermann: pitch efficiently, pitch to contact, and keep your pitch counts down so you go deeper into games.  It may not be as flashy as a 14-K effort, but if it leads to wins everyone is happy.
  • Jordan Zimmermann‘s first start on 4/8 (box/gamer) was just as effective as Strasburg’s; unfortunately for Zimmermann he went up against a buzz-saw in Jeff Samardzija and his offense couldn’t help.  Zimmermann took the loss on a day when he went 7 complete innings on just 80 pitches, giving up 6 hits, 0 walks and one earned run.   This is the classic adage of why W/L records are misleading; if Zimmermann pitches this way all year as our #3 starter we’re going to go far.
  • Ross Detwiler‘s rotation spot won’t be going away any time soon if he continues outings like 4/10 (box/gamer).  5 innings, 2 hits and a walk with 6 Ks to earn the win.   Detwiler picks up where he left off last summer and gives immediate validation to the Lannan– demotion decision.


  • Yes, its bad when your marquee off-season acquisition Gio Gonzalez fails to get out of the 4th inning in  his debut start.  Gonzalez struggled with control and with effectiveness on 4/7 (box/gamer) and gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks.  He did have 6 strikeouts in his 3 2/3 innings, so there’s that.  His fastball was hopping; 95mph in the first two innings, averaging about 93 on the day.  He threw mostly fastballs but wasn’t getting the swing-and-miss effect like he needed.  Of course, an outing like this isn’t helped in the analysts’ minds when Tommy Milone (the 4th best prospect sent the other way in the trade) pitched 8 shutout innings in his debut.  Lets hope this is first-start jitters.


  • Edwin Jackson‘s 4/9 start (box/gamer) wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as effective as we would have liked.  He was a victim of the long-ball, giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk in 5 innings.  He did have 6 punchouts on a night where he threw a ton of off-speed stuff (only 42 of his 78 pitches were fast-balls; he threw a ton of sliders on the night).   The homer he gave up ended any chance of his getting a W on the night on a game that was more or less thrown away by replacement starter Henry Rodriguez.

Starter Trends

MLB Trends (through Detwiler 4/10 Cycle 1)

Strasburg    good
Gonzalez    bad
Zimmermann    good
Jackson    soso
Detwiler    good

Relievers of Note and other News

  • So far its looking like Brad Lidge may be the steal of the FA market.  He’s throwing well, his slider is back and he’s closing out save opportunities for just $1m.
  • So far, its looking like the “bad” Henry Rodriguez from 2011; a 0.00 ERA but a 2.25 whip and a loss by virtue of his own throwing error.
  • Ryan Mattheus isn’t doing himself any favors right now and may not be long for this bullpen.  Of course then again its looking like Drew Storen is closer to Tommy John surgery than returning to the field, having visited Dr. James Andrews this week.  Meanwhile, surprise 25-man roster includee Craig Stammen is performing decently in a swing-man role and looks to stick.

Thoughts on the offense

  • Adam LaRoche comes out on fire, a shock considering he’s usually a slow starter and the fact that he looked beyond awful in the first game, waving weakly at curveballs in the dirt.  Ian Desmond looks like the Desmond of September, which is great news.
  • Meanwhile, in a completely unsurprising development Roger Bernadina has started out the season 3-for-20.  Why aren’t we looking for a CF again?
  • Too bad Chad Tracy doesn’t have any OF flexibility; he’s looked great off the bench so far.

Overall Summary

Can’t argue with an away series win, despite the weakened nature of the opponent in Chicago.  We could get a second away-series win tonight if one stud young Ace (Strasburg) can beat one come-back Ace (Johan Santana).  That’s the way to go in baseball; play .500 on the road and play .600 ball at home and you’re a 90 win team in an era where 90 wins almost certainly guarantees post-season play.

9 Responses to 'Nats Rotation Cycle 2012 #1: good/bad/soso'

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  1. LaRoche has an INSANE BABIP right now, so I expect him to crater shortly. But will be pleased if not.

    Bernadina is tied with Werth for team lead in K’s. Poor guy just can’t put it all together, shame.

    Let’s pretend Storen isn’t hurt, or at least that he’ll be back and OK before the all-star game: Lidge is trade bait?


    11 Apr 12 at 9:30 am

  2. In Gio’s defense, the ump for that game wasn’t giving him the fastball low. This effectively cut off the bottom third of the strike zone and rocked a nervous Gio further off his game. It really doesn’t help when the batter only has to worry about the top and middle pitch zones. Yes, Gio should have adjusted but it seemed to have messed with the way he wanted to pitch to the Cubs lineup way more then it messed with any other pitcher. In fairness, the ump was calling a pretty consistent strike zone all day. Well, he did at one point call out Zim on a low inside pitch. Zim was not happy to say the least.


    11 Apr 12 at 9:51 am

  3. I think it’s way too early to make any conclusions about anyone, good (LaRoche, Lidge) or bad (HRod). The conclusion about HRod being the “bad” HRod is especially egregious. He has appeared in TWO GAMES, one of which he was lights-out (struck out the side around a walk). Even in his one bad outing HRod got squeezed for a walk, then threw the ball away on a bunt (after having to adjust, since his initial thought to go to second was blocked by the umpire) and gave up a flare to RF. If Werth fields it cleanly there is probably a play at the plate.

    For me, I don’t worry so much about LaRoche’s BaBIP. It’s the balls in the seats that encourage me. He’s hitting the ball with authority.

    I root for Milone, but perspective is called for there, too. His one start he had a K/BB of 0/3, a BaBIP of about .120, and his stuff produced a grand total of two (2) swings-and-misses in eight innings of work. Between the two pitchers I’d rather go on Gonzalez’s stuff and his results over the past two years than Milone for one fluky start.

    John C.

    11 Apr 12 at 10:04 am

  4. I’ve been one who has said that in absence of a definitive upgrade they should let Bernie play, but this really is his last chance and he’s blowing it. That said, with Morse not returning for awhile Bernie should unfortunately get plenty of playing time.


    11 Apr 12 at 10:35 am

  5. Regarding Gio: Perhaps it was just first-start-with-a-new-team jitters. He was rolling along until he suddenly forgot how to get an out.

    Regarding Jackson: Some pitchers are inconsistent from start to start, others from inning to inning, Jackson manages to be inconsistent from pitch to pitch. But he is who we thought he was.

    I’m thrilled about LaRoche and Desmond thus far, a bit worried about Espinosa’s bat and Zimmerman’s throwing. I still see Werth having a markedly better season than last year. And finally, Bernadina is living proof of the team’s Great Void in centerfield. I’m not knocking Rizzo for this. I know he genuinely tried to fill the Great Void. Maybe next offseason. I seriously doubt Harper will be filling the Great Void, though, since they already have him rotating back to right field.


    11 Apr 12 at 10:56 am

  6. So… kind of starting to look like worst-case scenario now for Morse and Storen. I may have to adjust my win-loss prediction downward a bit.


    11 Apr 12 at 12:54 pm

  7. Totally fair. Probably should have caveated the whole “short sample sizes” in the post. But the post is what it is; a quick review of the first 5 starts.

    My pointing out Milone’s great start certainly wasn’t meant to say “see I told you we shouldn’t have made that trade.” It was more to pre-empt those comments that invariably follow. Neyer did a nice little post talking about how Milone may or may not turn into the next coming of Moyer, or he may put up a career 6.00 era.

    Todd Boss

    11 Apr 12 at 7:40 pm

  8. Morse is far more concerning than Storen, in these terms. This team NEEDS offense, needed it in the off-season and needs it more than ever. I think they can work around Storen, between giving more late innings to Rodriguez, Lidge, Mattheus and the like. I think you can find lively right handed one-inning arms all over the place. What you can’t find is 30-homer power. That being said, you have to like what the team did; go out and win two road series to start off the season. That’s what they needed to do and come home with a best-of-all worlds scenario start of 4-2. If you go .500 on the road and .600 at home, you’re a 90 win team.

    Todd Boss

    11 Apr 12 at 7:42 pm

  9. Going tomorrow to opening day and looking forward to his next start. Against another good arm in Latos to add to tomorrow’s intrigue. I did not see the first Gio start but would definitely have mentioned this had I done so…. sometimes just interpreting the box score isn’t really good enough. Thanks for pointing this out…

    Todd Boss

    11 Apr 12 at 7:44 pm

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