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Numbed by Numbers, Part II

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Before I begin the second part of this look at the Nationals' statistics as compared to the National League average and as ranked against the rest of the NL, I present a public service announcement: Capitol Punishment is doing a similar thing, except in a manner than is more personalized toward the individual Nats, more explanatory, and less visually cumbersome. So, if impersonal, unexplained, visually clunky things aren't your idea of a good time, I recommend you mosey on down to Cap.Pun., though I reckon you do so already. Excellent.

* * * *

I'm going to cut down on the stats splits a bit this time around, because I'm not even interested in the Nats' OPS against with runners in scoring position and two outs or from innings one-to-six, or whatnot. Instead, I'm going to devote precious chart space to compare some important pitching numbers between 2005 (good) and 2006 (not so good). Then I'm going to repeat the same numbers, solely for 2006, with comparisons to the NL averages and by rank among the NL teams. And in between I'm going to do something a little different. So that's the roadmap.

Let's begin.

NATS: 2005 VS. 2006

CAT       NATS05  NATS06
ERA 3.87 4.88
IP/GS 5.97 5.56
StrERA 4.03 4.97
RlfERA 3.55 4.74
OppAVG .262 .273
OppOPS .729 .786
WHIP 1.37 1.49
K/BB 1.85 1.61
BB/9IP 3.33 3.83
K/9IP 6.15 6.18
FUP/9IP 4.07 4.70
HR/9IP 0.86 1.09
SV% 74% 52%

So, what's a "FUP"? Well, it's short for "F-UP," and I trust we all know what that means. It's short for Fielding Unassisted Precisionlessness, which is a dumb junk stat I conjured one day. I don't pretend that it's original or witty or even all that illustrative of pitcher quality, but here's what it is: Walks plus hit-by-pitches plus wild pitches. Yes, it's a stupid homage to defense-independent pitching statistics. And here it's expressed per nine innings pitched. There's also an adjusted F-UP, which excises intentional walks from the calculations. And then there's a third-order F-UP, which divides everything by Billy Beane's favorite number.

More substantively, what do we have here? I'm not sure; I'll have to spell it out for myself: Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Better in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06. Worse in '06.

Very good. The strikeout rate has increased this season by three-hundredths of a batter per game. Grab some bench, Gaedel.

Alright, the pitching's been worse. There might be some mitigating factors (as mentioned in the last two posts, offense is up in the NL and RFK isn't a statistical dungeon this season), but there's a lot of bad pitching here. Lieutenant Obvious just got a promotion. I don't want to belabor this remarkable insight too much.

But I'll belabor it a little bit.

Prior to the start of the season, I pegged Ramon Ortiz as the key to the season---perhaps not the overwhelming key, but the plurality key. And it was an odd choice, since he was a pick-by-proxy. It was originally going to be Brian Lawrence---or it might have been, had he not gotten hurt opening a bag of Combos or whatever the hell happened to him. So, in Lawrence's absence, it became Ortiz, because . . .

. . . eh, it's convoluted. I'll just do something really gauche and quote myself:

In 2005, the average National League team received 973 innings pitched from its starters (as opposed to 467 from its relievers). Even assuming that Frank Robinson could again stretch out the bullpen effectively such that only 900-950 starters' innings would be required, that's still 450-500 innings beyond what Hernandez and Patterson could have been expected to provide as a reasonable best-case scenario.

Ha! That's funny! Hernandez had better get busy on getting in those 400-450 innings, huh? Then again, forget that. Continuing on:

Who else was going to fill those innings? Well, the hope was we could fill in Brian Lawrence's name with an indelible Sharpie. Lawrence wasn't a great bet to be particularly good on the mound, but he seemed a solid bet to occupy the mound quite a lot and at a rate of performance appreciably better than a replacement level pitcher. Lawrence was gone about thirty-five seconds into spring training, though---and suddenly the Nats faced uncertaintly at three spots in the rotation, as opposed to two.

Only three? Oh, for those dreams. Yet more:

Four obvious candidates remained (or, in one case, subsequently emerged) for those three spots: 1) Ortiz, 2) Ryan Drese, 3) Tony Armas, Jr., and 4) Pedro Astacio. (A fifth, Rauch, appeared destined for long relief from the outset.) Now, Drese is a complete question mark, an injury- and ineffectiveness-risk. Astacio was not a question mark, at least in the sense that it appeared a fait accompli he'd suffer an injury---and he almost immediately did. As for Armas, he's an enigma; even when he's shown flashes of brilliance, he's suited to the back end of a rotation (figuratively, if not literally), because he's both inefficient and lacks stamina.

Ortiz, even given his significant struggles since his last good year in 2002, seemed the best bet to combine health with stamina with passable pitching. If he could toss 200 innings at the rate of, say, a 90-95 ERA+, that would have value to the Nats; at the very least, it would come 200 innings closer to bridging the gap.

Ortiz has pitched 104 innings so far in 2006. His ERA is 4.85. As we soon shall see (soon, I promise!), the NL average is a 4.57 ERA. Taking a quick-and-dirty look at things---without any park adjustments---that's a 94 ERA+.

So, one might say, Ortiz has done about what could be reasonably expected of him; he's not great, but he's kept his bargain---and, had there been much of a staff around him, he would have done well to have kept it together. But there hasn't been, especially among the starters. Instead, he's one beat writer's pick for staff ace---admittedly, by default. Which, of course, is the point.

Essentially, the two things that have most wrecked the season are: 1) Patterson and 2) Hernandez. There are thirds and fourths (Lawrence and Luis Ayala, for instance). But give Patterson sixty or so more innings at this point; give Livan something, anything, better than a (quick-and-dirty) 70 ERA+ more than half-way into the season---give the Nats those things, and everything flowing from them looks quite better.

Put it another way: Assuming for the sake of argument Ortiz has been the staff ace, does that make Mike O'Connor the occupant of what I perceived (hoped?) would be Ortiz's role starting the season? No, it would make O'Connor the No. 2 starter. Chew on that.

And hey---I love Mike O'Connor. He went to GW, you might have heard.

To add it all up---and not even to broach the subject of the bullpen in and of itself---the Nats are receiving between an out and a half-inning fewer from their starting pitchers than they did last season. Think about that: more than an extra batter per game required of the bullpen per game, every single game. That adds up.

Granted, the past few games skew this season's figure a bit; as I noted previously, the innings pitched per game started figure had been steadily rising during the hot streak over a month ago. But it always lagged behind the league average.

Speaking of which . . .

2006 NATS VS. 2006 NL

CAT       NATS    NLAv    RNK
ERA 4.88 4.57 14
IP/GS 5.56 5.85 13*
StrERA 4.97 4.70 13
RlfERA 4.74 4.29 13
OppAVG .273 .269 11
OppOPS .786 .770 12
WHIP 1.49 1.42 14
K/BB 1.61 1.68 15
BB/9IP 3.83 3.44 N/A
K/9IP 6.18 6.59 12
FUP/9IP 4.70 4.15 N/A
HR/9IP 1.09 1.10 N/A
SV% 52% 63% 15

*Subject to error; I figured it out myself. As you can see, I lost my motivation farther down the list. But I think the point is made.

Right off the top, let's factor in that the home park was great for pitchers last season and isn't as great this season. Factored it in yet? Good. Man, that pitching sucks. Sucking, sucking, sucking.

Again, this is no great insight, and let's give the staff credit for one thing: It's better at preventing homers than the NL average, at the rate of one-hundredth of a homer per nine innings pitched. It accomplished this playing half its games in a park that is apparently still pretty tough on homers, Soriano notwithstanding.

Well, the less said about this, the better. One last thing before I close up shop. I recalculated the F-UP/9IP figure to take out intentional walks, since those have been the subject of some recent discussion. The adjusted figure: Nats 4.12, NL 3.84.

The F-UP gap is cut straight in half: from 0.55 per nine innings to 0.28 per nine. It is then apropos---intuitively, at least---to note that, when it comes to intentional walks, the Nats (52) just about double the league average (28; I figured that one out). Hey, thanks for that, Frank.