The Nationals rotation throws harder than any staff in baseball has over the past few seasons, and that just might win them the NL East.
The Washington Nationals haven’t hit very well this season: their .252 TAv ranks ninth in the National League. They haven’t run very well, either: they rank third from last in the big leagues in Baserunning Runs (-2.2). Nonetheless, the Nats have an 11-4 record, good for first place in the National League East and the third-best record in baseball, behind only the 11-2 Rangers and the 11-3 Dodgers. In a tight division like the NL East, a quick start can improve a team’s playoff odds significantly. The Nats’ chances of making the playoffs have risen from 7.9 percent before their first game to 19.2 percent today.
How have the Nats succeeded, if not by outslugging their opponents or regularly taking the extra base? The source of the team’s success has been defense and pitching—starting pitching, in particular. Before Edwin Jackson allowed five runs in five innings against the Astros on Thursday night, no Nats starter had allowed more than four runs in an outing. Through the team’s first 13 games, the starting rotation produced nine quality starts with a 1.65 ERA and a 2.20 RA, by far the best marks in baseball.
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Roundtable discussion of the pressing questions facing the NL East teams as we approach the start of the season
1) After a disappointing sophomore campaign, what can we expect of Jason Heyward going forward?
MJ: Jason Heyward had an injury-riddled sophomore season in Atlanta, but there is a lot to like about his chances at a rebound campaign in 2012. His offensive line was deflated by a .260 BABIP, but his peripherals were once again stellar. His 11.6 percent walk rate represented a regression from 2010 but cannot be considered poor, and his .162 ISO likewise dropped from the previous year but did not experience a precipitous fall.
While fans may be fretting in Boston, nobody should be hasty in evaluating the job GM Ben Cherington has done in shoring up the Sox.
The 2012 Red Sox are a work in progress, Ben Cherington's unfinished symphony. When I set out to write this article, it was from the vantage point of looking back at the weekend's head-scratching swap, which sent shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for sinkerballer Clayton Mortensen. In isolation, it was a dismal return for a player who's been worth 5.5 WARP over the past two seasons, but by dumping Scutaro's salary, the Sox created room to fill other needs. As if on cue, they agreed to a one-year deal with outfielder Cody Ross on Monday night, consigning this article's brilliant original lede* to the dustbin of history and serving as a reminder that very few ballclubs are expected to win games in the dead of January.
The Rangers' recent signing of Joe Nathan ensures that Neftali Feliz will get a legit shot at the rotation, but will he be able to succeed?
On the evening of October 27, 2011, flame-throwing closer Neftali Feliz was one pitch away from lighting the fuse on an explosive World Series celebration. The Texas franchise had never tasted the sweet substance of the ultimate reward, and after nearly 40 years of play, they were only seconds away from the pinnacle experience offered by the sport. The Rangers were going to be world champions.
We all know what happened to Feliz and the Rangers in Game Six, and we all know what happened in the deciding Game Seven, played the following evening. The Cardinals became world champions, and the Rangers were sent back to the drawing board. As of this writing, the Rangers have put pencil to paper on their first off-season sketch, signing free-agent closer Joe Nathan to a two-year deal (with an option for third year). The signing reinforces the speculation that Texas intends to convert Feliz back into a starter. Cue the Whitesnake and let’s take it from the top.
The future suddenly looks a lot brighter in the desert
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski, and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview.
While there is a confusing starting rotation picture for the AL playoff contenders, the NL is much clearer.
With the matter of the playoff participants in both leagues largely settled, on Wednesday I examined the unsettled nature of the playoff rotations of the likely AL representatives. As I showed, each has a considerable amount of unfinished business with regards to identifying their front four, with injuries and matchup issues both playing a part, and there's relatively little separation between the four, at least according to a quick and dirty measure I nabbed from Nate Silver's back pages. By comparison, the NL teams have much less uncertainty as to who will be taking the ball, and much more certainty about whom the fairest of them all is, at least when it comes to post-season rotations.
Does a recent rash of experimentation with six-man rotations make sense, and is it likely to be emulated in future seasons?
People love to label phases and eras, so few periods in baseball have gone without names. The 2010 season will be known as the Year of the Pitcher, if last year’s coverage is any indication, just as the Dead-Ball Era lives on nearly a century later. If the first half of the 2011 season comes away with a nickname, history will have to choose between three compelling options: the Year of the Pitcher II, the Summer of Geriatric Managers, and the Invasion of the Six-Man Rotations. Sequels suck and demographics matter, leaving the latter as the most logical choice. The Yankees have thought about going to a six-man rotation, and the Athletics will use one—at least for a week—and when the rich and smart kids are thinking about making a particular move, then it’s time to talk about it.
The most effective means of using starting pitchers has always been a hot topic in the sabermetric community, and it’s inextricably tied to workloads, which in turn inevitably leads back to a discussion of optimal rotation size. In Baseball Between The Numbers, Prospectus alum Keith Woolner wrote about the advantages in going to a four-man rotation—citing, among other reasons, fewer starts going to poor fifth starters and an extra roster spot (Rany Jazayerli hit on similar points during his series in 2002). Another sabermetric publication, The Book (by Tom Tango, Andrew Dolphin, and Mitchel Lichtman), also addressed the topic. Within, the trio suggests that the optimal rest period is five days, while the worst is three days—concluding that four days of rest, the amount currently employed by most teams, is a good compromise.