Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

Breaking down the Nationals' starting rotation sweepstakes

January 21, 2011 - 03:15 PM
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John Lannan is just one of many Nats pitchers in competition for a starting spot in 2011. (Photo: Associated Press)

Back in December, after Cliff Lee signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, I broke down each of Philadelphia's four All-Star starting pitchers and predicted how each would do in 2011. A similar spirit will guide this blog post, which will look at where each of the competitors for spots in the 2011 Washington Nationals starting rotation stand as we are approximately four-and-a-half weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting.

Now, in the interest of trying to be as accurate and realistic as possible, a couple of notes: we're assuming that Stephen Strasburg won't return until 2012. We're also excluding Chien-Ming Wang from this discussion, simply because it's impossible to know what to expect from someone who hasn't pitched a ball in anger since 2009. We'll have to see how he looks in spring training before being so bold in his case.

Finally, in the case of some players who I believe have all but wrapped up spots in the rotation, I'll be projecting how I think they'll do in 2011.

Ready? Let's begin.

Livan Hernandez

2010 Statistics: 10-12, 3.66 ERA, 211.2 IP. WHIP: 1.323. K/9 rate: 4.8. ERA+: 110.

Verdict: Hernandez put in yeoman's work for the Nats in 2010, but it's hard to see him matching the same level of production in 2011. Consider his BABIP against of .293 and his FIP of 3.95, which suggests that he benefited from some quality defense behind him. Not to mention these two facts: he's never been a big strikeout guy (his highest K/9 rate was 6.87, with the 2003 Expos), and he'll be 36 on Opening Day.

John Lannan

2010 Statistics: 8-8, 4.65 ERA, 143.1 IP. WHIP: 1.563. K/9 rate: 4.5. ERA+: 87.

Verdict: Last season, Lannan's third full season in the majors, should have been a chance for him to build on his solid performances in 2008 and 2009. Instead, he was so bad during the first half of the season that he was sent to AA-Harrisburg to get straightened out. However, there are reasons for cautious optimism surrounding Lannan entering this season, not least because he was the victim of some atrocious luck in 2010 (borne out by his .326 BABIP).

Craig Stammen

2010 Statistics: 4-4, 5.13 ERA, 128.0 IP. WHIP: 1.500. K/9 rate: 6.0. ERA+: 79.

Verdict: If Stammen makes the roster, 2011 would be just his second full season in the big leagues, though the fact that he'll be 27 on Opening Day leads one to believe his ceiling is as a back-of-the-rotation buttress. Anyway, Stammen's another guy who BABIP and FIP were cruel to in 2010 (.333 and 4.06, respectively, and compare his FIP to his ERA above), and his 6.0 K/9 was a good step up from his 4.1 K/9 rate in 2009. But he must learn to get his pitches under control and drive that 2.88 BB/9 rate much lower. Whether he can do that is an open question.

Luis Atilano

2010 Statistics: 6-7, 5.15 ERA, 85.2 IP. WHIP: 1.494. K/9 rate: 4.2. ERA+: 79.

Verdict: Low K/9 rate and relatively high BB/9 rate (3.36 in 2010) spell trouble for Atilano, who put up below-average numbers in 2010 with a BABIP of .297 and a difference of just .15 between his ERA and FIP (5.00). He has to put on a really good show in spring training to be considered a viable starting option.

Jason Marquis

2010 Statistics: 2-9, 6.60 ERA, 58.2 IP. WHIP: 1.705. K/9 rate: 4.8. ERA+: 61.

Verdict: A .333 BABIP, a .95 FIP-to-ERA differential, and a probable improvement in his left-on-base percentage (63.9 % last year compared to a career average of 70.7 %), not to mention the fact that he's somewhat close to full health means that Marquis should improve on those ghastly 2010 statistics (not that that's setting a high bar, mind you). Whether he can regain the control he had in his days with St. Louis (including a career-low 3.00 BB/9 in 2005) will be the determining factor as to whether he'll start the year in the rotation.

Ross Detwiler

2010 Statistics: 1-3, 4.25 ERA, 29.2 IP. WHIP: 1.618. K/9 rate: 5.2. ERA+: 89.

Verdict: Took a step back in 2010, with a FIP of 5.64 and a BB/9 rate of 4.25 offsetting a decent BABIP of .303. He's starting way at the back of the pack heading into spring training. 

Yunesky Maya

2010 Statistics: 0-3, 5.88 ERA, 26.0 IP. WHIP: 1.577. K/9 rate: 4.2. ERA+: 69.

Verdict: Mike Rizzo has admitted that it was a mistake to throw Maya into the mixer toward the end of 2010 with only five minor league starts under his belt. Highly unlikely that he starts 2011 in the rotation unless he does something special in spring training.

Tom Gorzelanny

2010 Statistics (with Chicago Cubs): 7-9, 4.09 ERA, 136.1 IP. WHIP: 1.496. K/9 rate: 7.9. ERA+: 106.

Verdict: Called "one of the most confusing pitchers in baseball" by Fangraphs (that's one for the business cards), Gorzelanny brings another high strikeout rate to the Nationals, as Adam Kilgore points out here. Gorzelanny's also been victimized by some bad luck and poor defense in his time with the Pirates and the Cubs. If he can maintain his high strikeout rate, Gorzelanny should sail into the Nationals rotation and perhaps become a dependable number three starter.


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