Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pitching, Patching, Putching

There's an interesting thread at Baseball Primer about, of all things, the chances of the Cubs rebounding next year. The Cubs recent struggles mirrored our own. Like the Nats, they were roughly .500 in 05 before the pitching fell apart this year, pushing them towards 100 losses.

In the thread, there's a discussion about what a 'normal' pitching staff looks like. (post 4) The 'ace' of the average staff, for example, put up a 118 ERA+. (ERA+ you'll recall adjusts a player's ERA for the league and the ballpark, putting it on a scale where 100 is average and 110 is 10% better). By contrast, the Nats' best starter, Michael O'Connor (who knew?) put up a 92+. Ramon Ortiz logged the most innings and won the most games, but he put up a dismal 79 ERA+, which, according to that Primer post, is roughly analogous to a fifth starter. Ouch!

Post 8, there, lays out the ugly, ugly truth. If his numbers are right, Washington starters produced a 82 ERA+. No wonder the season sucked. For contrast, the poster notes that the average SP ERA+ is typically 96.

The problem for the Nats last year was a lack of talent, but also a lack of health. Only two pitchers started 30 or more games, and they had 12 different starting pitchers, most of whom fit the very definition of 'replacement level'. Nats '06 team stats are here.

Going into next season, John Patterson is set to be the ace. He's certainly got the talent, but after a year of forearm problems and with a long injury history, there are pretty big questions surrounding him. If the nerve problem he had last year was corrected and won't come back, he's certainly capable of putting up 30+ starts of 120 ERA+ ball, an ace by almost any definition. Of course he's also capable of putting up 8 starts of 100+ ball, as he did this year. But when you're diving in the dumpster, sometimes you've gotta pray for some luck.

The other four slots are wide open. You've gotta think that Mike O'Connor or Beltran Perez have a chance for one or two of them. Counting on one, as a fourth or fifth starter, is fine. Counting on both could be a mistake. (especially with O'Connor missing time last year with elbow soreness)

What this team needs is innings -- near-league average innings.

When last we left, we filled out the lineup, and were now looking for some pitchers.

One of the commenters in my original salary projection post raised a good point. I underestimated what Chad Cordero's salary is going to be. Arb-eligible closers have done significanly better than my estimate. K-Rod got $3.7 million; Joe Nathan made $2.1 his first time; Brad Lidge was just under $4 million.

For ease of math, I'll adjust Cordero up $2 million to $3.5. (It's also worth thinking about signing him to a long-term contract, instead of getting killed at arbitration each year, but that's another post).

So, our new number is about $22 million, and we still need those three roughly league-average pitchers. Should be easy, right? Especially since no other team is looking for pitching. I'll have a look at some of the names later.