Monday, December 7, 2009

Position-by-Position Off-Season Outlook: Starting Pitchers

I continue my position-by-position look at the off-season outlook for the Nationals with starting pitching. You can click these links to check out my look at catchers, middle infield, corner infield, and outfield.

The Present

  • No. 1 starter: John Lannan
I've gone on and on about whether Lannan is as good as his results over the last two years. But hey, at least I'm a Nationals blogger. This guy did two posts on him, and he's a Cardinals blogger!

What's undeniable is that Lannan had an incredibly rare season in 2009, posting a 3.88 ERA over 206.1 innings while striking out only 3.9 batters per 9 innings. Chien-Ming Wang in 2006 was the only other pitcher in the last 15 years to do that.

Lannan will be just 25 years old next season and will have plenty of time to show that he's better than this top Baseball Reference comp. Of course, he's eligible for arbitration after next year, so if he DOES continue at his current pace, he's going to get real expensive real fast.
  • No. 2 starter: Craig Stammen
Let's not debate who goes where in the 2-5 starter positions. You could rank them in any order.
I'm taking a wild guess that this is how they'll start the season if no changes are made.

Stammen had his moments in 2009. Lots of groundballs, not too many walks. The Nationals would be ok if he was the fifth starter.
  • No. 3 starter: Garrett Mock
Mock had his moments in 2009. Lots of groundballs, a few too many walks, but lots of Ks too. The Nationals would be ok if he was the fifth starter.
  • No. 4 starter: J.D. Martin
Martin had his moments in 2009. Hardly any walks, but no strikeouts either. The Nationals would be ok if he was the fifth starter.
  • No. 5 starter: Ross Detwiler
Detwiler had lots of moments. In 2006 at Missouri State. Now, he's looking like a left-handed Collin Balester. He's got heat, but not enough off-speed stuff to get major league hitters out. The Nationals would be ok if he was the fifth starter.

In the Minors
  • Stephen Strasburg
Boswell is right. The Nationals should have drafted Darryl Strawberry. Oh well.
  • Jordan Zimmermann
Zimmermann's elbow was a devastating devastating injury for the organization. When you stockpile arms, you're hoping one will break through. Zimmermann was the one. Smoker, Detwiler, McGeary... all of them look pretty much like busts. These days, Tommy John surgery seems routine to fans, but it's anything but. If he recovers like Josh Johnson, we may have hope in 2011. But this is the Nationals, so he's probably J.D. Martin.
  • Collin Balester
Balester throws hard, but he doesn't really have the off-speed stuff to make it as a starter. The curve is just ok, and the change-up isn't. He really regressed in 2009. He changed around his mechanics, but the results were the same. It might be worth seeing what he can do as a reliever, but barring a breakthrough he's not close to succeeding as a starter in MLB.
  • Shairon Martis
In 2008, the Wowin' Curacaoan K-ed 9.07 per 9 in AAA and 10.02 per 9 in a brief stint in DC. In 2009, he had every chance to secure a spot in the rotation and K-ed 3.57 per 9. He wasn't much better in AAA, where the struck out 4.84 per 9. Something went terribly wrong for Martis last year, and we're not going to hear from him until he fixes it.
  • Aaron Thompson
A lefty one-time first-round pick who came to the Nationals from Florida for Nick Johnson, Thompson has a leg-up over the competition in that he's a Rizzo guy. He's got good groundball rates, and pitched well in Harrisburg after coming to the Nationals. Barring injury, he'll get his shot in 2010.
  • Brad Meyers
The Nationals minor league pitcher of the year, Meyers rocketed up the organizational ladder in 2008. A fastball, slider, and change-up give him a good chance to make it in the majors as a swingman. He's another guy who should get a shot at some point next year.

Free Agents
Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors, here's this year's list of free agent starting pitchers:

Starting pitchers
Brandon Backe (32)
Cha Seung Baek (30)
Miguel Batista (39)
Erik Bedard (31) - Type B, not offered arb
Kris Benson (34)
Paul Byrd (39)
Daniel Cabrera (29)
Aroldis Chapman (22)
Bartolo Colon (37)
Jose Contreras (38)
Doug Davis (34) - Type B, not offered arb
Lenny DiNardo (30)
Justin Duchscherer (32) - Type B, offered arb
Adam Eaton (32)
Shawn Estes (37)
Josh Fogg (33)
Jon Garland (30) - Type B, not offered arb
Tom Glavine (44)
Mike Hampton (37)
Rich Harden (28) - Type B, not offered arb
Mark Hendrickson (36)
Livan Hernandez (35)
Rich Hill (30)
Shawn Hill (29)
Jason Jennings (31)
Jason Johnson (36)
Randy Johnson (46) - Type B, not offered arb
John Lackey (31) - Type A, offered arb
Braden Looper (35) - Type B, not offered arb
Rodrigo Lopez (34)
Noah Lowry (29)
Jason Marquis (31) - Type B, offered arb
Pedro Martinez (38)
Eric Milton (34)
Mark Mulder (32)
Brett Myers (29)
Vicente Padilla (32) - Type B, not offered arb
Carl Pavano (34) - Type B, offered arb
Brad Penny (32)
Odalis Perez (33)
Andy Pettitte (38) - Type B, not offered arb
Joel Pineiro (31) - Type B, offered arb
Sidney Ponson (33)
Mark Prior (28)
Horacio Ramirez (30)
Jason Schmidt (37)
Ben Sheets (31)
John Smoltz (43)
Brett Tomko (37)
Jarrod Washburn (35)
Todd Wellemeyer (31)
Kip Wells (33)
Randy Wolf (33) - Type A, not offered arb

FJB's Take
This year, it's all about getting at least two solid veterans in the fold. Between Stammen, Mock, Detwiler, Martin, and Olsen, you're not going to get more than two viable starters, and you really can't count on any of them. Of course, you could just assume that the Nationals are going to lose 90-100 games again, and between those five and Thompson, Meyers, Martis, Balester, and a couple dirt-cheap Livan Hernandez-types, you could muddle through. Why spend tens of millions of dollars to get from 100 losses to 95?

Here's the biggest problem: you never want to be in a situation where you're sending Stephen Strasburg to the mound with a burnt 'pen and a losing streak. It's not just about eating innings. It's about taking pressure off. They need to make sure that the best pitcher in a generation (and even some of the lesser lights who might help you in meaningful games three to four years down the road) don't pitch through pain and hide injuries like Jordan Zimmermann and Craig Stammen did this year.

First sign one of these guys: Carl Pavano, Jon Garland, Braden Looper, Joel Piniero, or Jarrod Washburn. (Actually, I'm seeing now that he's going to accept arbitration with the Twins, which means he could have been had cheap if anyone wanted him.) But any of these pitchers will give you a solid veteran with good command and no value to the future whatsoever. Doug Davis or Todd Wellemeyer could fit in this group as well, though I like them less.

Then, I'd put a one-year, $10 million contract on the table for one of these guys: Rich Harden or Erik Bedard. Or Ben Sheets for a little less. It's possible some contender will give them some ridiculous multi-year deals, thinking that these guys might give them the special pitcher they need to get over the top, but I doubt it. If they suck, well, it's one year. Take it out of the revenue sharing money and call it even. You just might get a Cy Young-type season and a no-hitter. Certainly I'd rather watch these guys pitch than Daniel Cabrera or Scott Olsen.

Then, sign Randy Johnson or John Smoltz. Standing ovation! Woo!!

Finally, Livan Hernandez. Tell him he can compete for a job in spring training, but plan to send him to AAA to wait for an injury or two. If he doesn't like that plan, you could let him sit unemployed for a while like Odalis Perez and see how he feels in May (what's he doing anyway? Chico, can you find out for us before you start your new gig at Martha Stewart Living?). The point is to just to have someone around so you don't have to force a guy who's not ready again (see: Detwiler, 2009).

Seriously now, wouldn't a rotation of Lannan, Harden, Garland, Smoltz, and Stammen be more fun than what you've been watching? And it really wouldn't cost all that much.

Then, I know it's sacrilege for most Nationals fans, but I really think the Nationals should be shopping John Lannan. There are half a dozen free agents pitchers at least who could give the Nationals more production for less money than Lannan will cost over the next two or three seasons. And a 25-year-old pitcher who's proven to be able to throw 200 innings a year should be in high demand. I wouldn't insist on dealing him if a good deal didn't materialize, but if he could be a key piece of a package for let's say Lannan and Willingham for Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez, I would do that.

Finally, I wouldn't do Wolf or Lackey, because both of them will require long-term commitments that won't make sense for DC. Think if we were stuck with Alfonso Soriano till age 38. It would be like that. And I would stay away from the head cases who may pitch well, but will cause more trouble than they're worth in a young clubhouse: Brett Myers, Brad Penny, and Vicente Padilla. And for the love of god, please non-tender Scott Olsen.


Mr. Mustache said...

Agree with almost everything. Name you seem to have missed (other than in the Lannan comparison, but I guess he's not a free agent yet): Chien Ming Wang. Does he fit in one of the categories?

Sec314 said...

The number 2 and 3 starters will be Stammen and Martin. They follow the old Ray Miller mantra: "work fast, throw strikes." They don't get flustered or rattled and keep the fielders in the game.

Deacon Drake said...

Rich Harden has been just good enough and healthy enough over the past two years to get a wannabe contender to drop 3 years.

Ben Sheets and Erik Bedard are essentially OOB unless they are willing to negotiate a one year seal, or wait until June to sign with a contender.

Ben Sheets is the pick in this case... he won't risk getting hammered in the AL, and sat it out last year when he probably could have pushed his way back.

Anonymous said...

Comparing Ross Detwiler to Collin Balester is ridiculous. For one, Balester is a HR prone pitcher while Detwiler has proven to prevent HR's at all levels. Balester had a 3 HR/9 (obviously going to decline a bit) while detwiler had a 0.4 HR/9, so Detwiler was almost allowing HR's at a rate 10X less than Balester. Plus, Detwiler has a lot more potential. He could be a 7 K/9 guy.

Your suggestion of trading Lannan because he will be expensive is ridiculous. Based off twitter, the Nats and Lannan are discussing a 4/10 deal. That is very cheap and is less than the good starters in free agency.

Steven said...

It's true that Detwiler is more of a groundball pitcher than Balester, though your conclusions are exaggerated.

My comment was about how both of them have a fastball, curve, and not enough of a change or other pitch.

I don't think the Nationals should trade Lannan because he's too expensive. I think they should trade him because he maybe overvalued in the market. You wouldn't trade Willingham and Lannan for Prince Fielder?

Anonymous said...

Craig Stammen is a solid pitcher. Did you know he had a LOB% of 60 which was the lowest in the NL. If that regresses a bit to the mean, he could have an ERA between 4-4.50 which could be a solid #4.

Steven said...

I agree. He could be a solid 4. It wouldn't be wise to count on him as more than a 5 though.