Just because I don’t seem to learn from experience, here is my pitcher report card for 2011. Pitchers are harder to grade "objectively." My jack-of-all-grades for position players, WAR, isn’t as cut-and-dried for pitchers (not that it’s cut-and-dried for position players...). W/L depends on the offense, ERA depends on the defense (and opposing offense), WPA is too context-dependent, FIP can’t explain John Lannan... In the end, I looked at a basket of stats for each pitcher and tried to judge where they ranked relative to the rest of the league.
More explanation of the grading scheme, detailed player-by-player discussion, and the consolidated report card after the jump. As always, data courtesy fangraphs and baseball-reference through the 2011 regular season.
Here are the grades I came up with. Pitchers listed in italics threw enough innings to qualify for the pitching titles. Players with asterisks by their grades faced fewer than 100 batters in 2011, so take their grades with an extra-large grain of salt.
My starting points for grading pitchers are WAR and ERA-. WAR is based on FIP (fielding-independent pitching). It judges pitchers based purely on the things they alone control: strikes, walks, and HRs. It's not a perfect measure, so I also look at ERA-. ERA- is ERA corrected for ballpark effects and normalized to league average: 100 is league average, and the "-" in "ERA-" is to remind you that lower is better (just like with ERA, itself); a pitcher with a 50 ERA- gives up half as many runs as a league-average pitcher. It also saves you having to remember or figure out whether an ERA of 4.21 (or whatever) is good or bad this season, and by how much. Note that defense and luck play a big part in ERA-, which is why I started with WAR/FIP. I also look at peripherals like baserunners allowed (WHIP), strikeout rate, and walk rate.
For starters, I also look at innings pitched per start and the rate of Quality Starts (roughly, did the starter pitch well enough to allow a league-average offense a chance to win and long enough to not kill the bullpen). For relievers, I also look at the percentage of inherited runners scored and the number of shutdowns (SD) and meltdowns (MD). You can think of SD and MD as better versions of saves/holds (SD) and blown saves/blown holds (MD).
Roughly speaking, "A" = Ace, "B" = top half of rotation/bullpen, "C" = bottom half of rotation/bullpen, "D" = due for a DL trip to rehab sprained fastball, "F" = just off/heading to the waiver wire. I listed everyone who pitched for the Nats in 2011. I highlighted players who pitched enough to qualify for a pitching title by putting their name in italics, and noting pitchers who faced fewer than 100 batters with an asterisk.
Also, when I mention how pitcher ranked in a certain stat relative to the rest of league, I'm comparing starters to the 49 qualified NL starters and relievers to the 71 qualified NL relievers. Everyone gets graded as if they’re a regular player, regardless of whether they’re coming back from injury or it’s their first appearance in MLB. Yes, I know that this can lead to silly grades in some cases--the curse of the dreaded Small Sample Size (SSS). If you have more questions about how I put things together, please ask in the comments.
Head of the Class ("A" students)
Tyler Clippard had 1.2 fWAR in 88.1 IP with an astounding 48 ERA- (3rd in the NL), improving on his mid-year pace. He struck out 31.6% of batters faced (4th among NL relievers) and walked 7.9% (improving from under league average at the half to about the top third). The lower walk rate has propelled him to best in the league in baserunners allowed (0.84 WHIP). He's allowed only 22% of inherited runners to score, while racking up 40 SDs (3rd in the NL) and only 10 MDs in his 72 appearances. He leads the league in reliever WPA (+5.01). Clipp is still good at baseball. Heck, he was on an All-Star pace, and then he got better. He’s franking awesome at baseball. Grade: A+
Drew Storen finished the year with a 72 ERA- and 0.9 fWAR in 75.1 IP. He fanned 24.4% of batters faced (an improvement from below league average to the top third), while walking only 6.6% (16th in the NL). He allowed 20% of his inherited runners to come around, with 40 SDs (tied for 3rd—with Clipp) and 10 MDs in 73 appearances. His 1.02 WHIP is 9th in the NL. He’s also improved since the half. Grade: A
Craig Stammen made the most of his limited playing time, scoring 0.2 fWAR in 10.1 IP with a 23 ERA- (he’s the anti-Chad Gaudin). He fanned 31.6% of batters faced (which would be 4th in the league) and allowed only 11% of inherited runners to score, with 4 SD and 1 MD in 7 appearances. His 10.5% walk rate was in the bottom third, although we have to consider his superior hitting, too. I know I’m saying this as a charter member of the Craig Stammen Fan Club, but doesn’t Davey want a righty long man in 2012? Grade: A-*
Major League Achievers ("B" students)
Stephen Strasburg came off the DL to wow us with a bravura SSS performance, tallying 1.1 fWAR in only 24 IP, with a frankly ridiculous 27.3% K-rate (2nd in the NL), 2.3% BB-rate (1st), and a 39 ERA- (1st). In case that looks lucky to you, he actually under-performed his 33 FIP-! Part of that is on the strength of having given up no HRs over a short sample (he only faced 88 batters this year). Let’s pile on with some more crazy stats: .174 batting average against, 0.71 WHIP, and 12 K/BB! Of course, he averaged fewer than 5 innings per start, and only 2 of his 5 games started were Quality Starts. That’s enough to keep you from getting a "A" on the Doghouse Scale, even with absurdly good peripherals. Booooo! Grade: B+*
Jordan Zimmermann put up 3.4 fWAR and an 84 ERA- in his 161.1 IP in 2011, falling a bit from the All-Star pace he had at the halfway mark. In fact, he added just 0.1 fWAR in his 41.1 IP since the last report card. He struck out 18.7% of batters faced (about league average for starters) while walking only 4.7% (3rd best in the NL). He's 18th in the NL in pitcher fWAR, between Ricky Nolasco and Mat Latos, and he had the 8th-lowest WHIP (1.15). He averaged a bit over 6 IP per start, with 62% QS. That’s solid, but it looks like JZimm ran out of gas in the stretch. Could it be that the doctors know what they’re talking about with the post-TJ rehab schedule? Grade: B
Gentleman Ballplayers ("C" students)
Todd Coffey had a 95 ERA- and 0.5 fWAR in 38 IP. He struck out 18.1% of batters (bottom third of the NL) and walked 7.9% (top third). His 1.26 WHIP is at the middle of the league, and he's allowed only 19% of inherited runners to score. He had 13 SDs and 7 MDs in 69 appearances. His peripherals were weak, but he kept getting good results. Grade: C+
Tommy Milone had a pretty auspicious debut, with 0.4 fWAR in only 26 IP and a 100 ERA-. He fanned 13.6% (bottom 15%) while walking only 3.6% (top of the league). He went just under 5 1/3 IP per game, with 20% QS. I like the low walks, and I’ll like it even more if he can go deeper into games. Grade: C+
Livan Hernandez seemed to tire in the second half, too, recording 1.9 fWAR and a 118 ERA- in 175.1 IP over 29 starts (adding a total of zero WAR in his last 8 starts). He struck out only 13.2% of batters this season (bottom 15%), while walking only 6.1% (top third). He allowed a lot of baserunners, as his 1.40 WHIP was in the bottom quarter of the NL. He threw exactly 6 innings per start, with 52% QS. Overall, a bit of a dropoff since the break. Livo’s running out of majik. Grade: C
Jason Marquis ended with up a 104 ERA- and 1.6 fWAR in 120.2 IP over 20 GS before breaking his leg for another team. His 7.4% walk rate is a bit better than average, while his 13.6% strikeout rate is down in the bottom 15%. He's in the bottom quarter of the league in baserunners allowed (1.42 WHIP), and he's averaged exactly 6 IP per GS, with 65% QS. That’s decent but not outstanding, with passable results and innings-eating despite weak peripherals. Grade: C
Ross Detwiler split time between starting and the ‘pen as he put up 0.4 fWAR in 66 IP with a shiny 79 ERA-. He fanned 14.8% of batters and walked 7.2% (both below average), although his 1.26 WHIP was above average. Exactly 50% of his 10 starts were QS, averaging 5 2/3 innings per start. He had 3 SD and 0 MD in his 5 relief appearances (all of which were multi-inning), allowing only 25% of inherited runners to score. I think he made a good case for swing man or the bottom of the rotation. Grade: C
John Lannan continued his mission to defy DIPS theory, with 1.3 fWAR in 184.2 IP over 33 GS, and a barely-better-than-average 98 ERA-. He struck out 13.1% of batters, while walking 9.4%--both in about the bottom 15% of the league. His 1.46 WHIP is also in the bottom 15%. Despite winning 10 games, he averaged a bit under 5 2/3 innings per start, with only 48% QS. He’s still defying his peripherals, but the peripherals aren’t very good. Grade: C-
Brad Peacock put up 0.1 fWAR and a ridiculous 20 ERA- in 12 IP. His 8.3% K-rate and 12.5% walk rate would both trail the league, although his 1.08 WHIP would be 5th best. He had some luck with batted balls (including no HRs), outperforming his 101 FIP- and 163 xFIP- enormously. He went 5 1/3 innings per start, with neither of his 2011 starts being QS. His one relief appearance was a MD, in which both inherited runners scored. His SSS success just barely outweighed his terrible peripherals. Grade: C-*
Needs Improvement ("D" students)
Tom Gorzelanny put up 0.7 fWAR and a 106 ERA- in his 105 IP in 15 GS and 15 relief appearances. He struck out 21.3% of batters (top third for starters, but bottom half for relievers), walked 7.4% (bottom third for starters, top third for relievers), and had a 1.29 WHIP (bottom half). He's only had 40% QS, although he allowed no inherited runners to score. Overall, he was a mixed bag. Grade: D+
Henry Rodriguez made things plenty interesting on the way to a 94 ERA- and 0.6 fWAR in 65.2 IP. He struck out 23.7% (top third in the NL) and walked 15.3% (2nd worst). He let in 35% of inherited runners, a bit worse league average. In 59 appearances he's had 11 SDs and 9 MDs--a bit more likely to save the game than blow it. That's not helped by his 1.51 WHIP, which is 5th-worst in the league. On the bright side, he gave up a miniscule 0.14 HR/9. He showed some promise, but he still has a ways to go. Grade: D+
Chien-Ming Wang returned from the DL to show us 0.2 fWAR in 62.1 IP with a 106 ERA-. Pitching to contact saw him strike out only 9.1% of batters faced (worst in the NL) and walk only 4.1% (4th best). He want about 5 2/3 innings per start with only 36% QS. His 1.28 WHIP was near the middle of the league, while his 1.16 HR/9 was in the bottom 20%. He got almost (but not quite) to the point of being a decent bottom-of-the-rotation option in 2011. Grade: D+
Atahualpa Severino had the most extremes in his smallest-on-the-team sample of only 4.2 IP. His 36.8% Ks and 5.3% BBs would both be in the top 10%, while his 1.93 HR/9 would be right at the bottom. His 102 ERA- underperformed a 90 FIP- and a 45 xFIP- (bad luck with the dingers and batted balls!). He let in 50% of inherited runners, with 1 SD and 1 MD in his 6 outings. Grade: D+*
Ryan Mattheus managed a 74 ERA- and -0.1 fWAR in 32 IP. He only struck out 8.8% of batters (worst in the NL if he qualified) while walking 11.0% (bottom quarter in the NL). His 1.28 WHIP is also in the bottom half of the league, although he only allowed 28% of inherited runners to score, which is slightly better than average. He has 7 SDs and 6 MDs in 35 appearances. His performance fell off a lot since the SSS happy times in the first half. Grade: D
Cole Kimball threw 14 innings before getting hurt, with his shiny 51 ERA- outperforming a 105 FIP- and 152 xFIP- thanks to some luck with batted balls and no HRs allowed. His walk and strikeout rates were both 18.6%--below average for Ks and bottom of the league for BBs. Still, he had 1 SD and 0 MD in his 7 appearances, despite allowing 80% of inherited runners to score. Too many walks, but not the unmitigated FAIL we had with some other Nats’ SSS adventures. Grade: D*
Yuniesky Maya came up at the end of the season for 5 starts and 5 relief outings, for 32 2/3 IP with 0.1 WAR and a 138 ERA-. He struck out 10.8% (bad) and walked 7.0% (below average) with a 1.53 WHIP (bad). He averaged 5 IP per start, with only one of the five being a Quality Start. On the other hand, neither of his inherited runners scored, and he got 1 SD and 0 MD in relief. That’s hardly spectacular, but it’s not disastrous. Grade: D
Sean Burnett has improved over the second half, although only to a 100 ERA- and -0.4 fWAR in 56.2 IP. He struck out 13.6% of batters (4th worst in the NL) while walking 8.7% (about league average). He got down to 0.95 HR/9 (bottom quarter). He managed 17 SDs and 14 MDs in 69 appearances, scoring 44% of inherited runners (much worse than league average). His 1.32 WHIP is in the bottom third. Sean hurt the team more than he helped it this year, but I think his drastic improvement in the second half raised him out of failure territory. Grade: D-
Not Helping ("F")
Collin Balester keeps mocking our faith in his 95-mph heat and brutal 12-6 curve. He had -0.3 fWAR in 35.2 IP, with a 120 ERA-. He let in 44% of inherited runners, with 1 SD and 7 MD in 23 outings. His 21.4% K-rate was middling, as was his 8.8% walk rate. The 1.77 HR/9 was fairly disastrous, even with a merely poor 1.46 WHIP. Miss more bats, Collin. Grade: F
Doug Slaten was a failure by any reasonable measure, with -0.3 fWAR and a 116 ERA- in his 16.1 IP. His league-trailing 2.51 WHIP and 2nd-worst 1.69 HR/9 are hardly offset by his bottom-third 15.5% Ks and 10.7% BBs. His atrocious 47% rate of scoring inherited runners led to his name becoming shorthand for "messing up another pitcher’s ERA" in the game threads. In 31 appearances, he had only 1 SD and a whopping 11 MD. Why has he not been returned to the waiver wire? Grade: F*
Brian Broderick did not impress in his brief audition at the start of the season, managing to keep his WAR to 0 in 12.1 IP, despite a 173 ERA-. He only struck out 7% of batters, with a 1.54 WHIP, while cashing in 100% of inherited runners. He had 1 MD (and 0 SD) in his 11 appearances, which were almost exclusively in junk time. Grade: F*
Chad Gaudin established himself as the anti-Craig Stammen to the tune of -0.1 fWAR in only 8.1 IP with a 171 ERA-. While he struck out a reasonable 22.2% of batters, he walked an atrocious 17.8%. Somehow he only allowed 14% of inherited runners to score, although he added plenty of his own baserunners with a 2.4 WHIP. He had 3 MD and 1 SD in 10 appearances. Grade: F*
Does this tell us anything?
This tells us that we have some cause for optimism in 2012. We have some terrific young arms at the top of the rotation and top of the bullpen. JZim may go 180+ IP next year without fading at the end, while Clippard and Storen will be a lights-out duo in the high-leverage situations. Strasburg still has to build up his endurance, but his limited debut was ridiculously dominant.
On the other hand, 2011 was clearly a year of transition and exploration, as few pitchers threw enough to qualify for a title (although most of the ones who did were solid). Most of the D/F pitchers are either not going to be around in 2012, or can reasonably be expected to do better if they pitch in the bigs next year. What grade would Yu Darvish get?
As always, please offer your own perspectives on how you'd grade last season's pitchers in the comments.