Over the past two weeks, I took a look at the Nationals 2010 rotation in terms of ERA and then xFIP. I split the team's starters into a theoretical rotation, creating our #1 starter out of Stephen Strasburg (best xFIP among starters in the majors last year at 2.15) and Craig Stammen (3.91 xFIP) with Chico's start tossed in. The rest of Stammen's starts went into creating our #2 starter, and so forth until we had five slots worth of pitchers who each pitched 32 games (slot #5 pitched 34 each).
Looking at each pitcher's xFIP versus ERA gave us an idea of which pitchers might have been under performing and might be worth watching in 2011. Today I give you the xFIP for every pitching slot of every team in the National League. Using this information, we may get a better picture of how the Nationals pitching staff matches up to the rest of the league in raw ability.
The Nationals Starting Pitching Far Below League Average
This may needlessly be pouring salt on lingering wounds, but the Nationals starters straight up stunk with one small exception named Strasburg. Thanks to his amazing contribution, the Nationals #1 starter ranked 5th in the NL. Without him, the Nationals #1 starter would have been 15th. Nationals starters #2 through #5 were ranked 15th, 16th, 15th and 14th respectively.
I have not included a column for team averages, but the Nationals average of 4.41 xFIP for starters is 15th in the NL, ahead of only the Pirates. Six teams averaged under 4.00 xFIP, two from each division.
Looking For Patterns for Success
Obviously, a quality pitching staff does not guarantee success (see Cardinals, Astros, Dodgers, Rockies) nor failure (see Reds). The Phillies (1st), Braves (5th), Giants (8th) and Reds (11th) won with very different pitching staffs.
If we break out the top three starters for each team, the Phillies rank top again, followed by the Braves (7th), Giants (8th) and Reds (15th).
Now, some teams like the Giants did make the most of that most elusive of qualities in a pitcher - good luck. In raw ability we can see that they were not much above average, yet they they rode to the World Series largely on the back of their pitching.
Can We Look Ahead to Better Days?
Better luck would not have saved the Nats pitching staff in 2010. Hopefully, better defense will encourage good luck, and hopefully healthy pitchers will lead to better pitching as well. Regardless of what team you're looking at, this chart can not perfectly predict pitching success or failure, thanks to reasons and failings like the Nats know all to well (plus those pesky off-season roster changes). xFIP is, however, as good a predictor as we are likely to find.
Without a unexpected transformation from within the Nationals pitching staff, however, there seems little hope that this pitching staff will outperform their xFIP by much this year, and they will need to if they want to move out of last place.
Look for a miracle from Wang, Detwiler or your choice of team savior, because whoever our 2011 miracle may turn out to be, he is sorely needed.