Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Square Pegs and Oranges

Silly rumor season has started, and some of the buzz has been about the Nats hoping to find a leadoff hitting centerfielder like Mr. Bourn.

All I think of when I see that? AAIEIEIEIEIEEEEEEEE

Ever since the Nats moved here in 1987, they've tried EVERY SINGLE YEAR to find a lead-off hitting centerfielder. Here's the problem: there just aren't that many leadoff hitting CFers. Lemme qualify that. Of tonight's 30 teams in action, 8 had leadoff hitters who played center. How many should be? Maybe half that total.

The problem with the Nats -- and it's true of their entire roster -- is that they just don't have enough good players. Don't focus on the role. Focus on getting good players, then figure a slot for them.

When you cast your net into something so narrow as a leadoff hitting CFer, you're artificially narrowing the pool of potential players.

Sure, Mr. Bourn would look great in the Nats uniform batting leadoff. But then I'd be even happier with Mr. Kemp beatting cleanup.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Innings, Pitches, Bananas & Pears

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:

CategoryNationalsNL Average
GS 80-994437
GS 100-1192836

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 that
John 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.