Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dewtiler's First Tour a Success (but it's Time for Syracuse)

Scott Olsen is eligible to return from the DL before Ross Detwiler's next start. He may need a little more time to regain arm strength (such as it is), but as soon as he's ready, the team should send Detwiler down to Syracuse to perfect and gain consistency with his delivery. Yeah, Detwiler's been a big upgrade over Olsen, who is terrible, but you have to prioritize the long term. And it's just hard to learn mechanics and compete at the major league level at the same time.

So now's a good time to evaluate Detwiler, and I for one am pretty pleased with what I saw. In his three starts and 15 innings, he has struck out 17.7% of batters faced while walking 7.4%. Command in the past has been his problem, those rates will do just fine.

His 4.80 ERA is a bit unlucky, brought down by a 61.2% strand rate (70% is typical) and some terrible defense, especially against the Phillies Friday. Looking at the advanced metrics, FIP has him way down at 3.63, but xFIP says 4.59. By my eye, he deserves something in the middle, around 4.00.

His biggest test came Friday in Citizens Bank against the Phillies. It looked pretty ugly in the box score, but he really pitched pretty well.

He showed off excellent fastball command, and I especially liked how he pounded guys in (Utley and Howard in the first, Werth in the 3rd, Howard and Ibanez in the fourth). His fastball sat comfortably at 91-92, topping out at 93.

He also threw his good, slow curve consistently for strikes. It's a very good pitch; Fangraphs' "pitch type linear weights" says the curve as been 6.71 runs better than average per 100 pitches. That's a ridiculous number skewed by small sample size (Johan Santana's change is 2.60 runs above average per 100 pitches, for comparison). Still, it's a very good pitch, and it's especially tough on lefties. Against the Phillies, Utley, Howard and Ibanez all struggled with it. J.A. Happ looked silly against two knee-blucklers in the second. (One question though--why do scouts call it a 1-7 curve? Isn't it more properly called an 11-5 curve, since he's a lefty? But I digress.)

He flashed the change only a couple times on Friday, getting a strike on a good one to Ruiz in the second but giving up a double to Rollins on another in the fourth when he left it up in the zone. It's a developing fourth pitch, something he'll need to get through line-ups three times, and good example of why he's better off pitching at AAA, where he can work on weaknesses in his game.

He actually gave up a lot of flyballs, and it seemed like he wasn't throwing his heavy two-seamer much. He has a 42% flyball rate overall at this point, and that's not his game. That's a pitch he'll need and another priority for focus at AAA.

The reason his box score looked so ugly is that he was vicitimized by at least four gift hits:
  • The Rollins double leading off the first should have been a harmless chopper, but it went over Zimmerman's head because he was playing in (despite the fact that Rollins never bunts right-handed).
  • In the second, Guzman made a poor throw on a weak Werth grounder. He also should have gotten to the ball faster if he had charged a little more. It wasn't an easy play, but an average big leaguer makes it.
  • Ruiz's double in the second, which was a really weak swing on a nice slider away, glanced off Dunn's mitt and should have been caught. It was a tough play for him, but an average right fielder makes that play look easy.
  • Utley's double in the third was badly butchered by Willingham. Again, it wasn't exactly a routine play, but an average LF makes that play.
He did make some mistakes. He hung a curveball to Ibanez in the third, which was an RBI single and could have been more. Feliz's triple was a bad pitch, fastball up, and Maxwell did well to even get a glove on it. And as I noted above the Rollins double was an elevated change.

But overall, Detwiler really deserved to finish the fourth inning down no more than 2-1. Facing the world champs in a bandbox, there's no reason why this game should have been remembered as anything but a success for Ross.

The other take-home point from a game like this is that Rizzo's top priority going forward has to be to upgrade the defense. Over the next two years, with so much good, young pitching coming up, they have to give these kids more help. In my mind, that means assuming Dunn is a fixture that Willingham has to go. But however you solve it, you have to solve it. I don't see how you successfully transition an entire rotation of kids to the majors while forcing them to get 4 outs every inning.


Dave Nichols said...

your last sentence is the crux of the matter for the Nationals right now. the fielding is absolutely atrocious, and won't get better by "hoping" or "expecting" to be better. Rizzo has to do something about it.

Steven said...

Probably starting Kearns in CF from here on out will solve it though. Did you see that diving catch? (Nevermind a real CF would have caught it with no dive...).