Last week, we went with a Fanpost about some of the options that the Nats could or should take a serious look at when Free Agency gets going full swing. While I love the fact that it created plenty of discussion, a few steps were left off the pages as I jumped to the conclusions about the Nats' needs. A couple of users pointed out my omissions of pretty much every starter on the current roster except for John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, and the injury-riddled Scott Olsen. This was certainly a fair point, so for my first official article (well.... likely a series over the next couple of weeks, moving to the bullpen and position players), I'm going to take a look at the options that the Nats already have in house.
Despite getting just a combined 33 starts (all from John Lannan) from their primary pitchers they started in 2008, the 2009 Nats actually matched their 2008 starters' ERA exactly (4.97). Neither group was in the top two-thirds of the league (2008 saw them finish 23rd... 2009, 27th), but considering that 26-year-old starters J.D. Martin and Garrett Mock were the two elder statesmen among the eight starters who made ten starts or more, there's some room for optimism going forward. The only starter with a consistent enough (or long enough, to be honest) track record for the Nats to know he'll be dependable in 2010 is Lannan, but there are plenty of guys with a shot to take a step forward in 2010.
I'll give some more in-depth insights, as well as ordering the candidates and their expected 2010 performance after the jump...
The Candidates (In order of 2009 Major League Starts Made)
John Lannan (33)
Craig Stammen (19)
Garrett Mock (15)
J.D. Martin (15)
Shairon Martis (15)
Ross Detwiler (14)
Scott Olsen (11) *
Livan Hernandez (8) **
Colin Balester (7)
Stephen Strasburg (0)
Bradley Meyers (0)
* Arbitration Eligible ** Free Agent
Statistically, nobody else in the minors really looked ready to make the jump. Strasburg is a pretty polarizing force among both fans and the mainstream media. Some think that he's immediately big-league ready. Others feel that he should probably get a year's worth (or at least part of a year) of pitching professionally before being thrown into the big league rotation. Count me as someone who thinks that he should at least begin the 2010 season in the minor leagues.
John Lannan: 9-13, 3.88 ERA (4.70 FIP), 1.35 WHIP, 89 K, 68 BB, 206.1 IP
The Eye Test: In two and a half years since reaching the majors, Lannan has been something of an enigma. What we see doesn't look fantastic. His fastball isn't overpowering. While his curveball is certainly a plus pitch, he doesn't have any one pitch that can dominate hitters. However, he continues to consistently induce weak contact on balls in play by keeping hitters guessing. There's nothing particularly deceptive about his delivery, but he's effective, and has been in each of the past two years.
Stuff: His fastball has shown a bit of improvement as he's become more acclimated to the big league level. On average, his fastball has jumped from 86.7 MPH in 2007 as a rookie to 88.2 MPH in 2009. His favorite secondary pitch has been the slider, which breaks sharply and dives late. Lannan does change speeds very well, with a sixteen MPH difference between his fastball (88) and his curve (72).
Statistically Speaking: Lannan's ground ball to fly ball rate took a bit of a hit this season, dropping from 2.02 to 1.72. That said, his BABIP remained pretty consistent at .276. While it's pretty well-known that pitchers' BABIPs allowed are generally going to normalize between .290 and .300 over time, it's safe to say that a 2.5 year sample size is indicative of the fact that Lannan's low BABIP may, in fact, be sustainable. Lannan's BABIP in 2007 was .273. It was .273 in 2008 as well. While I hoped it wouldn't, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop on him a bit this season, but it didn't.
It's been beaten to death around some sabermetric websites, but it still needs to be pointed out that Lannan's strikeout rate is a major concern in terms of his long-term success. Lannan struck out just 3.88 batters per nine innings in 2009, a significant dropoff from a (still relatively poor) 5.79 K/9 rate in 2008. Strikeout rates certainly aren't the be-all, end-all by any means, but (particularly on a Nats team that struggled mightily defensively in 2009) most big league pitchers can't be quite as reliant on their fielders as Lannan has been. If he can bring the strikeout rate back up over 5.00, then I like his chances at continued success.
Prognosis: In all likelihood, Lannan is the only pitcher from the 2009 starting crop who would have been worthy of a spot in a contender's rotation. The frightening part is that he's miscast as the Nationals' ace. Ideally, he'd be a #3 starter on a contender, preferably placed between two power pitchers to change the pace.
Ross Detwiler: 1-6, 5.00 ERA (3.86 FIP), 1.59 WHIP, 43 K, 33 BB, 75.2 IP
The Eye Test: At 6'5, 174 (soaking wet), Detwiler definitely needs to add some bulk to his frame. Apart from that, I don't have any complaints. He has good mound presence and a good feel for pitching. He has solid sink on all of his pitches, and looks like he could develop into a nice ground ball pitcher with solid power pitching production.
Stuff: His fastball tops off in the mid-nineties, but sits most comfortably in the 89-91 range. On the plus side, his fastball has good sinking movement, leading to a lot of ground balls. He seems to have improved on his curveball quite a bit in the past couple of years in the minors, and it gives him an excellent change of pace. The changeup could use some improvement, but has the potential to be above average.
Statistically Speaking: It's hard to completely discount the 5.00 ERA in roughly half a season's worth of big league starts, but it's more important to look a little closer at the numbers below the surface. Detwiler's 3.86 FIP in the big leagues led all Nats starters in 2009, and is indicative of the better days ahead. Save for one big league inning in his first pro season after roster expansion (part of his entry contract), Detwiler was making his first venture above the A+ level to start the year, and pretty much everything he did at all three levels this season indicates future success:
AA: 0-3, 2.96 ERA (3.31 FIP), 1.39 WHIP, 28:10 K:BB ratio in 27+ innings
AAA: 4-2, 3.10 ERA (3.24 FIP), 1.54 WHIP, 42:20 K:BB ratio in 49+ innings
Lost in all of this is that Detwiler was the anti-Lannan. How so? His BABIP in AA was .346. His BABIP in AAA was .357. His BABIP in Washington was .330. Again, BABIP is something that will typically normalize between .290 and .300. While I believe that, based on what Lannan over 2.5 years, it's possible for a pitcher to slightly reduce that figure (and I assume that the opposite is true, as well), any pitcher allowing a BABIP as high as Detwiler did this year seems to have been extremely unlucky.
Detwiler's strikeout rate nosedived a bit when he went to the majors, but that's far from atypical. That figures to improve a bit in his second shot in the big leagues. He does need to work a bit on his walk rate, though that should improve as he becomes more confident attacking the zone at the big league level.
Detwiler does have a couple of statistical anomalies that seem unsustainable as well (most notably, his HR/FB rate of 3.7%, which typically resides closer to 9 or 10% around the league), but the positives seem to outweigh the negatives.
Prognosis: Build wise, stuff wise, and statistically, he reminds me a lot of a player that the Expos/Nats were "Minayad" out of in the Bartolo Colon trade (Cliff Lee). It doesn't look like Detwiler will ever become a dominant strikeout pitcher, but he throws plenty of ground balls and strikes out enough for his power pitching to make a difference. He needs to hone his command a bit more, but he's only 23. Most likely, he ends up developing into a solid middle of the rotation starter. Without question, he should be in the rotation all year in 2010.
Garrett Mock: 3-10, 5.62 ERA (4.28 FIP), 1.73 WHIP, 72 K, 44 BB, 91.1 IP
The Eye Test: If you thought you were starting to notice a lack of power pitching with my top two, you're going to see it get even worse as we move down the line. Mock is one of the few in house options the Nats have with a power arm. He's struggled a bit the past few years being used as a tweener that's shifted between the rotation and the bullpen, and it's shown at times with his confidence on the hill.
Stuff: Mock certainly doesn't have dominant stuff, but he has enough to succeed. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid nineties with so-so movement. He brings a nice power slider to the table, as well as a solid change. He went away from the curveball a lot more this year, using it just 10% of the time (20% in 2008), going with the changeup much more often.
Statistically Speaking: Like Detwiler, Mock was plagued by an insanely high BABIP against during his major league stint this season. Mock allowed a ridiculously high .361 BABIP in the majors, as compared to a very low .262 BABIP in AAA. Not surprisingly, he owned the International League (5-1, 2.65 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) when he was down in Syracuse. Going off of his major league production alone, his strikeout rate (7.09) was above average. His walk rate (4.34) could use some improvement, but did improve from 2008 (5.05). His strikeout to walk ratio (1.64) could certainly improve, as we'd ideally be hoping to see him hit the 2.00 mark.
For a power pitcher, Mock did throw a lot of ground balls this season, maintaining a strong 1.49 GB/FB rate. His HR/9 rate (0.89) looks pretty sustainable in a park that has slightly favored pitchers. His HR/FB rate (9.0%) also seems pretty sustainable, as it's pretty much league average. Simply put, the two biggest problems that Mock encountered in 2009 (in the majors) were a lower-than-average strand rate (64.2%... most pitchers will end up between 70 and 75%) and the fact that the fielders behind him weren't making plays.
Prognosis: Simply put, Mock (26) has done enough in the minors the past two years so that he has nothing to prove by heading back to AAA. Mike Rizzo and whoever the Nats name as their new skipper (latest reports say they're leaning towards bringing Riggleman back) need to commit to Mock either as a starter or a reliever and stick with it in 2010. His production to this point in his career would certainly indicate that he might end up as a nice organizational swingman (pitching at AAA and being able to come up with an injury or two to the big league rotation) on a contender. For the Nats, he's one of the top five options they have, and they need to cut the cord and give him a full opportunity to stick.
Scott Olsen: 2-4, 6.03 ERA (5.24 FIP), 1.72 WHIP, 42 K, 25 BB, 62.2 IP
The Eye Test: It was certainly a terrible year for the talented young lefty. Olsen struggled early before shutting it down with a shoulder injury in early May. After coming back for three starts, he re-aggravated the injury and opted for season-ending surgery. Though he's still young, indications in the past two years are that he's losing something off of his fastball. The shoulder injury could well be the culprit.
Stuff: A couple of years ago, he sat consistently in the low-nineties with his fastball. His average fastball in 2009 was just 88 MPH, though. He has a good slider and a potentially dominant change to complement it. Whether it's because ofthe shoulder injury or for some other reason, Olsen has gone away from his fastball quite a bit the past two years, relying on his off-speed stuff more and more often. Just 56% of his pitches last season were fastballs, as compared to 70% in 2007.
Statistically Speaking: There's not a lot that looks favorable in Olsen's statistical profile. Though he's early in his career, he does seem to be getting into an up year/down year trend (his two best seasons were in 2006 [4.04 ERA, 1.31 WHIP] and 2008 [4.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP]... they surrounded a 5.81 ERA bust year in 2007 and were followed by last year's injury-plagued mess with the Nats). Not surprisingly, his BABIP has fluctuated heavily from year to year, and 2006 (.285, which is close to average) and 2008 (.266, which is extremely low) were good years. 2007 (.350) and 2009 (.348) were awful years. Still, Olsen hasn't had an FIP of under 5.00 since that 2006 season, and his strikeout rate the past couple of years has been way down from his first two seasons in Florida. Olsen is a fly ball pitcher, and his HR/9 rate reflects it (1.37 career, 1.58 last year).
Prognosis: Ideally, we find that the shoulder problem had been bothering him a bit in 2008 as well and that 2007 was a bit of a statistical anomaly. Olsen is entering his second year of arbitration, and must accept it if the Nats offer it to him. The problem, of course, is that he made $2.8 million last season, and very few players see their salary drop in arbitration, so there's no guarantee that they can keep Olsen under contract. It's safe to assume that it's going to cost the Nats roughly $3 million to retain Olsen. Given the team's modest payroll, that may not be worth it. I happen to think that it will be, as I don't think they're going to find anyone better for the price.
Craig Stammen: 4-7, 5.11 ERA (4.68 FIP), 1.29 WHIP, 48 K, 24 BB, 105.2 IP
The Eye Test: A finesse right-hander, there's not a lot that's particularly impressive about Stammen. He's mainly reliant upon an average fastball and his curveball, primarily relying on his deception and command to succeed.
Stuff: His fastball tops off around ninety, and sits primarily in the high eighties. He does have pretty good movement, and varies speeds on his fastball pretty well. While he mainly relies on his fastball and his curveball, he does offer a changeup and a slider. There's not much variance in the speed of his off-speed stuff.
Statistically Speaking: Honestly, his numbers are just plain odd. Stammen generally maintained a solid strikeout rate in the minors from 2006 through 2008. While he finally seemed to click early last season, it happened as his strikeout rate got cut in half. As Stammen worked his way up from High A Potomac to AAA Columbus in 2008, he maintained a 7.64 K/9 rate. Even as he reached AAA, Stammen struck out 35 batters in 43 innings, but couldn't build on his (albeit, in short stints) dominant performance from an ERA or FIP perspective at the lower levels. In fact, the more traditional numbers (7.33 ERA, 1.81 WHIP) would indicate that he was just plain awful in his nine starts in AAA in 2008. Using all these new-fangled sabermetric statistics such as FIP, we can see that he may actually have been better during his 2008 AAA stint (3.73 FIP) than he was when he was dominating AAA in some of the more traditional statistics early last year (1.80 actual ERA... 4.40 FIP). His strikeout rate in Syracuse (3.15) was actually pretty pitiful, but he was more successful on the surface.
Despite the statistical oddities in the minors last season, he was pretty solid after getting the call to the big leagues. Stammen still didn't really do much to improve his strikeout rate, though it was a touch better (4.09). He did continue to show impeccable control (2.04 BB/9) and maintained a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio despite the fact that he wasn't striking many hitters out. The .282 BABIP was a bit low, but it's at least in the range where it would appear to be sustainable. Though he's predominantly a ground ball pitcher, Stammen did allow a little over a home run per nine innings, and his HR/FB rate was just a touch high at 11.9%.
Prognosis: It's hard to say that a rookie starter may have already peaked, but I get the feeling Stammen has done just that. Given his solid performance out of the rotation this year, he should be given every opportunity to compete for a spot next season. If the Nats don't break the bank going after a free agent starter or two, he should probably begin the year near the back of the Nats' rotation. Long term, I just don't see him there.
J.D. Martin: 5-4, 4.44 ERA (5.67 FIP), 1.42 WHIP, 37 K, 24 BB, 77 IP
The Eye Test: Have I said finesse righty for any of the other..... yeah. I guess I have. He's managed to do pretty well at the minor league level as a strikeout pitcher, but that's certainly not because he overpowers hitters. A minor league vet, Martin appears to know his craft and expose hitters' weaknesses.
Stuff: Martin doesn't really have a big league quality fastball, though he does mask that with a wide array of pitches. His fastball sits in the mid-eighties and tops off in the high eighties. He has a nice late-breaking cutter that he throws about half as often as his fastball. Martin also features a slow curveball and a changeup. Like most finesse pitchers, he relies greatly on his control.
Statistically Speaking: Martin was positively Maddux-like at Syracuse before getting the call to the bigs. He walked just 10 batters in 88 innings (and one of those was intentional). He wasn't quite as efficient in that regard upon reaching the majors, but his 2.81 BB/9 rate as a rookie was still spectacular. It seems that he was able to get a lot of minor league hitters out via the strikeout even without dominant heat (6.44 K/9 at Syracuse... 7.93 K/9 in 2008 with the Indians organization), though it didn't translate quite as well at the big league level (4.32). There's both a possibility and an expectation for a bit of improvement in that area going forward, but he'll never become a dominant strikeout pitcher. He's a fly ball pitcher, which can be troubling without much of a power arsenal. This led to a 1.64 HR/9 inning ratio in 15 starts with the Nats in 2009. His FIP matched up pretty well with his AAA numbers (2.66 ERA, 2.77 FIP), but indicated that he may have been a bit lucky during his stint in the big leagues (4.44 ERA, 5.67 FIP).
Prognosis: Martin has certainly pitched well enough to have earned a shot at sticking on a big league roster, but he looks like a change of pace reliever long-term. The Indians tried shifting him to the bullpen in 2008 with good results. Barring outside help being brought in, Martin likely gets a crack at winning a rotation spot next Spring, which wouldn't be the most horrible thing in the world. We'll see how the league does when they get a second look at him. His arsenal just indicates to me that he's probably not going to be that successful as a starter long-term, though he could be effective if used out of the bullpen.
Livan Hernandez: 9-12, 5.44 ERA (4.44 FIP), 1.56 WHIP, 102 K, 67 BB, 183.2 IP
The Eye Test: Well.... I guess there's no other pitcher in baseball as reliant on the eephus pitch as Livan is at this point. Livan's best days are long since behind him, and it's shown ever since he left Washington the first time.
Stuff: Once upon a time, Hernandez's fastball touched 90 MPH on occasion. Nowadays, he's lucky to get it over 85. He's crafty, and his heat generally has three different speeds: Slow, Rush Hour, and Paint Drying. Honestly, he makes the two soft-tossers above look like Roger Clemens at times. He does throw a variety of breaking balls, including a slider, a sinking change, and one of the bigger looping curveballs in recent memory.
Statistically Speaking: We'll start with the positive. For the second straight year, he improved upon his FIP (4.44). Now to the negatives. Hernandez finished last in the majors among 78 qualifiers for the ERA title with a 5.44 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. In 2008, he finished 87th out of 88 qualifiers for the ERA title with a 6.05 ERA and tied for 86th with a 1.67 WHIP. While his strikeout rate was almost acceptable last season, it touched 5.00 for the first time in the past three seasons. Livan has not maintained a K/BB ratio of better than 1.75 since 2004. Quite frankly, the 34-year-old (which could be questionable) doesn't even eat innings like he used to.
Prognosis: My worst day this offseason will be the day that I hear that the Nats have retained Livan Hernandez, and (much as I hope it doesn't) I know that day is coming. I understand that he has a wealth of experience both because of his service time and the fact that he's pitched (effectively, earlier in his career) in some big games. While I feel that the Nats should certainly pursue a guy who is a quality big-league starter who can help to mentor some of the youngsters on the staff, I simply think that he falls short of being a quality big-league starter at this point in his career. I'd probably be wrong if I said that nobody will go after him for anything more than a minor league deal if he doesn't sign with the Nats, but nobody should.
Shairon Martis: 5-3, 5.25 ERA (5.48 FIP), 1.42 WHIP, 34 K, 39 BB, 85.2 IP
The Eye Test: There was no in between for Martis. He was either really good or just plain awful during his time in the big leagues in 2009. Martis allowed two earned runs or less in seven of his fifteen starts. He allowed five or more in five of his fifteen starts. There wasn't much in the way of consistency, though it was nice to see how good he could be when he was on.
Stuff: Martis' raw stuff isn't amazing, but it's above average. He tops off in the low nineties with his fastball, complementing it with a solid changeup and slider. He rarely mixes in his curve, but does vary his pitches quite a bit, using his fastball just 58% of the time in 2009.
Statistically Speaking: Ideally, you'd like to see a young pitcher (even one who struggled) have a strikeout to walk ratio of better than 2.00. Martis walked five more hitters than he struck out in 2009. Simply put, this is too huge a problem for him to overcome. Considering that Martis had a 5.25 ERA in the big leagues last season, it's a bit scary to say that he was lucky, but his BABIP indicates just that. Martis allowed just a .258 average on balls in play when he was in Washington last season, and that's far from sustainable. He improved a bit both with his strikeout rate and his all-around production when he was sent back to Syracuse, but still looked like he needed more work.
Prognosis: It was a really nice early run for Martis in Washington last year, but the simple fact of the matter is that he looks like he needs more time (maybe a full year) in AAA. The talent's there, and he's still just 22, so there's an excellent chance he'll be a nice contributor for the Nats down the line. I just don't see it happening in 2010.
Collin Balester: 1-4, 6.82 ERA (7.45 FIP), 1.58 WHIP, 20 K, 14 BB, 30.1 IP
The Eye Test: After splitting time between Columbus and Washington in 2008, Balester spent most of 2009 at AAA Syracuse. He looked a bit worse for the wear after struggling a bit as a rookie in 2008, and his surface numbers (4.44 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) took a bit of a hit in the minors.
Stuff: Once considered the Nats top pitching prospect, Balester does have good stuff and a power pitching profile. He features a fastball that sits in the 91-92 range and can touch the mid-nineties. He complements it with a solid curveball and a changeup that he seemed to get away from last year.
Statistically Speaking: Both his strikeout rate and walk rate took hits in AAA last year, though his FIP actually improved significantly, in part because he was particularly unlucky on balls in play. Balester had a .349 BABIP and a bit of an unsustainable home run rate (5 in 107 IP) in AAA. We got a chance to see first hand how unsustainable that home run rate was when Balester made a late-season appearance in Washington, as he allowed a ridiculous 10 homers in 30 innings.
Prognosis: Like Martis, he'll still be just 23 when Spring Training begins, so there's still plenty of time for him to try and turn things around. It won't be in the Nationals rotation to begin the year, though. Balester needs more seasoning.
Brad Meyers: No MLB Stats
The Eye Test: Listed at 6'6, 190, he certainly has a good, projectable frame. There's not much to go on with the eye test, so we'll talk about his minor league stats instead. Meyers dominated High A ball to start the year, going 6-2 with a 1.43 ERA, a 2.72 FIP, a 1.04 WHIP, and a 65:21 strikeout to walk ratio in 80+ innings. After earning his promotion to Harrisburg, Meyers continued to thrive, going 5-1 with a 2.25 ERA, a 2.76 FIP, a 1.06 WHIP, and a 43:11 strikeout to walk ratio. Those numbers are just plain dominant at any level, and while the 24-year-old probably won't receive more than a token invite to camp, he certainly bears watching.
Stuff: I can't say anything from having watched him first hand, so I'll just go with the scouting report. His fastball has been clocked as high as 94, but is usually in the 89-91 range. He has a slider that's a potential plus pitch and a changeup that (at the time) was hit or miss. He has good movement, including some late sink on his fastball.
Statistically Speaking: The former fifth rounder (2007) took some time to develop, but everything seems like it's started to click. He started to show improvement with his strikeout rate in 2008, fanning 7.91 batters per nine innings. He continued to show how much he's improved as a strikeout pitcher in 2009, managing a 7.13 K/9 rate between Potomac and Harrisburg. Meyers also showed continued improvement with his control, as he walked just 2.11 batters per nine innings in the minors this season. The numbers would indicate that he was certainly a bit lucky with his HR rate, as he allowed just three home runs in 136+ innings between A+ and AA ball. Maybe the biggest plus about his production in 2009 is that he performed so well while maintaining a pretty average BABIP.
Prognosis: Given his performance in 2009, I certainly think that there's a terrific chance that Meyers has a future in the rotation. While he was taken in the fifth round out of Loyola-Marymount in 2007, he was projected as a sandwich pick, and slipped through the cracks a bit. That said, I think he should get the token invite to Spring Training and probably start the year in Harrisburg, getting a call to Syracuse in June if it looks like he's building upon last year's strong showing. The stuff's there. The projectable frame is there. The performance is there. He just needs to keep building on that confidence and show last year wasn't a fluke.
Stephen Strasburg: No MLB Stats
The Eye Test: We've all seen Strasburg's scouting videos at this point. He has an ideal pitching frame, overpowering stuff, and is being labeled as a savior.
Stuff: His fastball's been clocked as high as 103, but sits better in the high nineties. He's finally showing off that changeup that he'd talked about, and it looks like a third potential plus pitch. His breaking ball is more slurvy than anything else.
Statistically Speaking: Arguably the best college pitcher of all time, there's not a whole lot to go on professionally. Strasburg has looked really strong in three of his four AFL starts and blew up in the other one. He'll post huge strikeout numbers, but he's going to have to get used to facing hitters that play at a considerably higher level than those he faced at San Diego State.
Prognosis: He's young. He's rich. He's going to be terrific, but the wise move will be to bring him along slowly. Give him an invite to Spring Training, but start him off in A ball and let him get his feet wet. When the Nats call him up to the big leagues, they're going to expect him to be their ace for the next six years. Make sure he's ready for that type of responsibility.
By my count, here's what we're looking at heading into the offseason based on what's in house:
Definite In House Options
Probable In House Options
God, I Hope Not!
I'll be back with some bullpen discussion early next week.