Nationals Rotation #1 - #5, Part 2

Welcome back to another look at the Washington Nationals rotation. In Part 1, I looked at how our rotation performed in terms of ERA in 2010. This time I pulled out a different stat, xFIP, and we are going to use it to get a very rough feel for what our starting pitchers might be capable of in 2011.

ERA is a great stat, but all it does is measure actual production – earned runs scored per nine innings that a given pitcher pitched. Eventually someone invented FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching = (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP) to measure those things that the pitcher actually has control over. Luck is taken out of the equation. Pitchers aren’t rewarded or penalized for the defense behind them. xFIP improved this formula by normalizing the home run component by fixing it to 11 percent of fly balls.

The result is an ERA-esque stat that is far more predictive of a pitcher’s future performance.

In today’s chart, our pitchers are ordered by xFIP, and in the right and column you can see the difference between their ERA and their xFIP. Negative numbers are happy numbers (that mean they had bad luck last year).

2ND Craig Stammen

Pitcher #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 xFIP vs. ERA
Stephen Strasburg 12 -0.76
Matt Chico 1 -0.03
Craig Stammen 19 -1.22
Jordan Zimmermann 7
Scott Olsen 15 -1.17
John Lannan 10
J.D. Martin 9 0.45
Livan Hernandez 8 25 1.10
Jason Marquis 7 6 -1.57
Ross Detwiler 5 0.90
Luis Atilano 16 0.05
Yunesky Maya 5 -0.12
Garrett Mock 1 2.84
3.24 4.36 4.59 4.82 5.34
-0.14 0.35 -0.19 -0.33 -0.68

Overall, our staff seems to have underperformed by just a little. This may be due to bad fielding, or just bad luck. Unfortunately, luck is not enough to be a game changer for us though, but we can hope.

Livan Hernandez is the clear over performer here. In real life, he was a #1 starter for us. His xFIP tells us we should have expected a #4 starter. In case you’re wondering, his xFIP in 2009 was just about he same as it was in 2010 (4.77 avg), while his ERA dropped from 5.44 to 3.66. I hope for good luck as much as the next person, but Livan’s numbers tell us that we shouldn’t bank on that kind of performance two years in a row.

Top surprise of the day belongs to our unexpected projected #1 starter Craig Stammen. His xFIP of 3.91 suggests that not everything that went wrong last year for him was his fault. Stammen is not expected to start in the rotation this year, but it is good to know his numbers are as solid as anyone, Strasburg aside.

As you can see, even Strasburg was the recipient of some form of bad luck last year. His BABIP was .338, well above average, but whatever the cause, his xFIP suggests that he is better than he looks. Stephen Strasburg’s xFIP in 2010 was 2.15, the lowest xFIP of any starting pitcher in the major leagues. Yes, Strasburg is special, very special.

So, our theoretical #1 starter would/could have been Strasburg, Chico and Stammen. Our #2 starter projects to be Zimmermann, Olsen and some filler by Lannan.

Every Nats fan is waiting for Jordan Zimmermann to show his potential. His xFIP says he already is pitching pretty well, though in real life his HR/9 of 2.62 really hurt him. Will he put up a sub 4.00 ERA this year? He very well could. All he needs is a little good luck this time around.

Scott Olsen is gone, so we may not know whether this #5 pitcher really had #2 stuff. He signed with the Pirates, if anyone cares to follow his progress.

John Lannan may not be a very exciting pitcher, but he produces. He produces exactly what you would expect. Luck mostly ignored him, and he finished sixth on the team in both ERA and xFIP. He was a solid #2/#3 starter, and chances are he’ll give us that much again.

You might remember that J.D. Martin produced like a #2 pitcher last year. His numbers suggest he should have been a #3, but I won’t begrudge him his good luck. If nothing else, there is nothing to suggest that J.D. Martin is a worse pitcher than Lannan, and I personally hope he isn't stuck in AAA all year. Martin did allow a lot of fly balls, which is troubling, but then it worked for him.

The theoretical #3 starter is rounded out by Livan, whom we already covered, so let’s move on to the #4 slot, which Livan shares with Jason Marquis.

You may remember from Part 1 that Marquis was our very worst pitcher in terms of ERA last year. His xFIP begs to differ. His xFIP of 5.03 is not pretty, but there is every expectation that he will improve on last year now that he’s healthy, so while he lands in the #4/#5 slot here, he may well land higher in time.

Our true #5 starters last year were Detwiler, Atilano, Maya and Mock. There is nothing we can read from Mock’s single start, but let’s take a look at the other three.

Ross Detwiler struggled with various issues and some injury last year, and still put up a healthy ERA of 4.25. His xFIP of 5.15 suggests he had some good luck there. I don’t know whether to attribute it to his command issues, or something else, but his high xFIP hints that regaining a spot in the rotation may be an uphill battle for him. We’re all rooting for him.

Atilano’s xFIP suggests that he is as bad as he pitched. There is not much to redeem him, and unless he really turns things around in AAA, don’t expect to see much of him this year.

Yunesky Maya pitched worse last year than even Atilano and his xFIP of 5.76 does not help his case much at all. He’s coming off a strong showing in the Dominican winter league, but he will still need a strong spring to prove he belongs on the mound at Nationals Stadium.

Because I'm sure many of you are wondering where Tom Gorzelanny would fit into all this, his 2010 xFIP of 4.49 put him right in line with Lannan, but his 4.09 ERA means his production was much better despite a high BABIP. Past xFIP's for Gorzo are 5.84 in 2008 and 3.73 in 2009. He ended up with an ERA within .40 of those numbers in the following years respectively. Expect a solid 4.XX ERA out of him if you dare.


2011 will be a make or break year for the Nationals starting rotation. If enough of these young arms thrive this year, we will have the foundation for a strong rotation going forward. If too many of them flop, it may break us and we will end up asking the Lerners to spend $10 million a year on a Pavano or two. God forbid that we end up there.

I wish the best of luck to all our pitchers. We have a good number of pitchers who have the talent to be solid contributors in 2011. With a little luck, they may amaze us all.

This is by no means a complete or even fair prediction of our pitchers' 2011 production, but I hope it is helpful as a very rough guide to what they may be capable of.

Part 3 compares the rotation of all NL teams using xFIP.

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