Having secured his first win in four tries as manager of the Washington Nationals, Davey Johnson has shifted his focus to creating a better machine. Today's topic: giving his starting pitchers "a longer leash"
For longtime Nationals fans (let's just presume such a description applies to fans of a club created in 2005), the subject of getting more innings out of the starters this season
might seem a bit peculiar. For the past five seasons, the Nats weren't getting a decent amount of innings out of the starting pitching, owing to a continually shabby collection starters who couldn't go deep into games and some risk-averse managerial tendencies (especially under Manny Acta). A quick review:
- In 2006
, Nats starters averaged 5.4 innings pitched/per game start; the National League average was 5.8 IP/GS;
- In 2007
, Nats starters averaged 5.3 IP/GS; the NL average was 5.7 IP/GS;
- In 2008
, Nats starters averaged 5.5 IP/GS; the NL average was 5.8 IP/GS;
- In 2009
, Nats starters averaged 5.6 IP/GS; the NL average was 5.8 IP/GS; and,
- In 2010
, Nats starters averaged 5.5 IP/GS; the NL average was 5.9 IP/GS.
This year, however, Nats starters are outpacing
the league average in innings pitched per start; they're averaging 6.1 IP/GS, compared to an NL average
of 6.0 IP/GS. As you can see, the NL average for IP/GS is increasing somewhat (corresponding to some degree with this season's decreased scoring environment), and the Nats are mixed in with a bunch of teams averaging about 5.9 to 6.1 IP/GS. In other words, Washington's starting pitchers have been strong thus far -- especially when you factor out the outlying Phillies, whose Halladay/Lee/Hamels one-two-three punch has pushed their team average to 6.5 IP/GS.
Obviously, IP/GS is merely one way of looking at things. It's useful in considering how much of a burden a team's bullpen must shoulder, but it's a measurement of only one factor -- innings. There are other ways to measure how much "leash" a starting pitcher is given.
For instance, Nationals starters are actually averaging fewer
than the NL average in pitches per game. Looking at things a little bit more deeply, Nats starters have more than their share of 80-99 pitch outings, but comparatively fewer 100-119 pitch outings. Hey, let's look at this in handy chart form:
The Nationals have a long and decidely uninteresting history of being the kings of the 80-to-99-pitch start. This tendency was especially strong in the Acta years, when the starting pitching sometimes bordered on replacement-level and, even when that was not the case, Acta had a rather robotic tendency to pull his starter before the 100-pitch mark. I looked into the matter years ago, but there's no sense boring people again with this trivia. Anyway, there can also be other reasons for not getting a lot of 100+ pitch starts, such as falling in love with a reliable and/or durable middle reliever or two. We've seen a couple of those over the years. Whatever the reason, Nationals starters have never really tended to rack up the 100-to-119-pitch starts, even this year (and anything about 120 pitches is a rarity for any team, except perhaps the Phillies).
Of course, 80-to-99 as opposed to 100-to-119 is simply the cut-off Baseball Reference uses, and this can be a blunt instrument. If Johnson is going to allow his starters more "leash," then that that decision might be reflected a little more subtly in the pitch counts. For example, it's not really the case thatJohn Lannan
is lasting 80 or 85 pitches per game, and that's it -- and it's also not the case that Lannan is now going to became a 115-pitch-per-start warhorse. But, if we look a little more closely, we might
see some of his 85-to-95-pitch starts turn into 95-to-105-pitch ones.
It's something worth watching, I suppose, especially since the perception from some of the starters seems to be that Jim Riggleman had a quick hook this year.