Friday, August 6, 2010

No Vacancies

Detwiler, Marquis, Zimmermann, Maya.

Who the heck ARE these guys? Well, we know who most of them are, as they have logged many quality innings on the DL. Going forward, these are the faces that will appear in the "Tomorrow's Starter" section of the Post, or the Interwebs, or whatever you read. Rounding it out, for the next forty innings of his career will be Strasburg.

So what does that mean for the other guys who have made almost all the starts for the Nationals this year? Most will be sent packing, whether by trade, non-tender, or outright release. The suspects.

Livan Hernandez, 22 starts: A sad case. It seems all Livo has ever wanted to do is pitch for the Expos and Nationals... everywhere else he lands, he struggles mightily. He has been the horse that has kept the rotation and bullpen from imploding, and he has finally learned to harness whatever his arm has left (to quote Harry Doyle, "KY ball to third..."). He has clearly earned consideration to fit into next season's rotation, but the Nats' surprising starting pitching depth has all but closed the book on his career, barring major injury. I'm sure he will surface some place next season, and he will take his lumps, but the only place he can succeed is with the Nats.

Craig Stammen, 19 starts: I almost feel like I should break this into two sections: Good Craig Stammen and Evil Craig Stammen. Good Craig Stammen is by no means an ace, but has shown that he can throw strikes, get ahead in the count, and bury pitches in the lower corners of the zone. He needs 90 pitches to work his 7 innings of 2 run, 8 hit, 1 walk ball. And he contributes at the plate and in the field, as well. Good Craig Stammen is the fourth or fifth starter on a good team. He may never be good enough to find a permanent home, but brings that "Jason Marquis" package with him. Evil Craig Stammen relies too much on a fastball he can't keep down, like an old man who just popped 9 Viagra. Evil Craig Stammen leaves the game after 73 pitches and 2 runners on down 5 runs. His bat doesn't matter because in his only plate appearance, Riggleman called for a sacrifice with one out, Wil Nieves on first, and Nyjer Morgan on deck. The problem is that there is no in between with Stammen; he either has it or he doesn't. And the Nats do not have the offensive firepower to overcome Evil Craig Stammen. Watching him for 19 starts last year and 19 starts this year, progress has clearly been made. Some people may indicate that the walks are up. This isn't a bad thing, as they are only up slightly, a product of working a slider into his arsenal. He can face batters a third time without them hitting just under .500 against him. With the right pitching coach, Stammen becomes the next Joel Piniero; with the Nats, he gets the AAAA label, someone who can't quite win at the highest level.

Luis Atilano, 16 starts: The data on Atilano is inconclusive. The Pitch f/x indicate that he is a better pitcher than Stammen, but the results state otherwise. Even aligning rookie seasons, Atilano clearly lacks an "out" pitch. Guys who have it may give up runs, sport the 5+ ERA, but the WHIP will be much lower, a product of teams capitalizing on mistakes. Atilano, like many Nats pitchers over the past two seasons, gets bled to death with singles and untimely walks. He does have his service time and options working in his favor, so he will get another season in Syracuse to learn the art of the strikeout, but that also works against him as to where he falls on the pecking order of spot starts and call-ups. The Nats haven't heard the last of Atilano, but to hear him in the near future means things have gone dreadfully wrong.

John Lannan, 15 starts: Every Nats fan refused to believe the statistics. They believed that John Lannan had an unnatural talent for drawing double plays and groundouts, working through the order three times with nary a strikeout. He was the peoples' hero, a soft-spoken affable guy. This season, all four wheels came off simultaneously. Nobody bothered to complain until late May, when the 20-15 mirage evaporated into the harsh urban reality that is baseball in southeast DC. A pitcher with a SO:BB ratio under 1.5 better have complete mastery of 4 pitches and have a great defense behind him (Jason Marquis). Most fail regardless, but a couple grind their way two a few respectable seasons and a major league career. A pitcher with a SO:BB ratio under 1.0 needs to be really good at selling cars or insurance. The excuses have ranged from injury to mechanical to confidence. There shouldn't be excuses. If there is a problem, then there is a plan to fix it. If it can't be fixed... And this is where Rizzo has to be careful. Lannan, like Daniel Cabrera, is a Jim Bowden guy. Jim Bowden bumped Lannan up to the big show ahead of schedule because he saw something in him, which was vindicated for 3 good seasons. Eventually, Rizzo is going to get sick of watching him loop waist-high 84 mph fastballs and five pitch walks and call for his dismissal. Whether he handles it like Cabrera and Milledge, or sends him out with honor will mean a lot to the fans who stood by the 102 and 103 loss teams. But if he CAN figure out the sink to his fastball, location of his slider, maybe he finds his way ahead of...

Scott Olsen, 10 starts: Talk about a guy who keeps shooting himself in the foot. Last year, he showed up injured, sucked, went on the DL, came back fresh but not 100%, pitched 3 good starts and went out for the season. This season he has avoided the sucking, but can't stay healthy. When he is healthy, he looks to be the strikeout pitcher the Nats sorely need, and a lefty to boot. But Scott Olsen, much like the Chevy Avalanche, is 76 inches of unfulfilled promise. The best scenario is that a team makes a waiver claim for him, and the Nats get a B or C prospect. More than likely, though, he will be non-tendered and the Nats will get nothing except 140 innings of replacement level pitching.

JD Martin, 9 starts: JD Martin has been the opposite end of the spectrum of the Atilano/Stammen phase. Martin looks awesome for four innings, walks a guy, gives up a single, then an error, then a long ball, and suddenly Batista is warming up with an out in the fifth. The numbers indicate that Martin should be pitching in the majors. The only number GMs are looking at is 28, the age he will be opening day next year. Rizzo isn't going to commit to a 28 year old with an injury history, especially not one giving up nearly 2 HR per 9. Martin, like Olsen, will likely be in a different organization at the start of camp.

Chien-Ming Wang, 0 starts: Not much to say about Wang, other than Rizzo took a gamble and Wang took the Nats money. The mysterious injury makes Jesus Flores look like Cal Ripken. At least we know what Flores has been doing, and know the extend to which he has and has not recovered. Wang, on the other hand, just throws. And someone will pay him again next year. I doubt it will be the Nats.

The pu-pu platter, 3 starts: Batista grabbed one in a spot start for Strasburg, and Chico grabbed another in the same situation for Lannan. Neither figure into next season's plans by no fault of their own. Batista is an expendable arm, and Chico is full recovered from surgery, but with the superior starting depth, really doesn't figure in to the top 10 even. Garrett Mock started the other game and was somehow diagnosed with a broken neck. The Nats seemed to be tiring of his reenactment of the first fifteen minutes of "The Fugitive" whenever he stepped on the mound, so he will likely fall into the "release" pile when he comes off the DL. Chuck James dominated both levels of minor league ball he played and may garner some consideration if he remains with the club. Shairon Martis, Erik Arnesen, and Jeff Mandel all pitched often at Syracuse, and none of them looked like they will ever make it beyond that level. Brad Meyers, Tom Millone, and Aaron Thompson still look at least one year away, maybe more.

The trick is getting teams interested in the players that do not fit into the plan. The best trading chip the Nats have this off-season is Marquis, he is signed for one more season, and has a history of being durable and bouncing back after a poor season. If the Nats think they are competing in the NL East next year (I hope not, but stranger things happen), maybe they hold on to him. If not, deal him for a corner outfielder or middle infielder. John Lannan and JD Martin are not at all appealing to a contender, so they will likely stay put. They can both provide replacement level performance if more than one of the designated five falter or gets traded.

The perception is that the Nats have too much starting pitching. That may be true, but it may also be true that they are tricking themselves into those infomercial "buy one get one free" deals. Two of crap is still crap... you just need more toilet paper to clean it up.

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