National Soft-Tosser Association

Radar guns are not fans of the Washington Nationals’ makeshift pitching rotation. As a unit, they have an average velocity of 87.9 MPH. Big league lineups know that when they are facing Washington, it’s soft-tosser after soft-tosser after soft-tosser. While there is much more to pitching then just rearing back and throwing fastballs in the upper-nineties, there is a correlation between velocity and striking batters out. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to see the Nationals’ staff sitting at a dangerously low strikeout rate of just 4.67 K/9. When you’re missing this few bats, you’re relying on your defense to make a lot of outs. And for the Nationals, that can be a bit of adventure at times when you’re fielding Adam Dunn at any position.

The Head Master of the slow fastball is Livan Hernandez, whose heater comes in at a breakneck speed of 84.1 MPH. More than a handful of pitchers throw change-ups faster than that, but it’s Livan’s calling card. Livan has a magical ERA of 1.04 right now despite a K/BB ratio of 2.91:2.91. His 5.18 xFIP tells us the cold, hard truth of about Livan, as if we didn’t know it already.

Lefty Scott Olsen is the only one out of the bunch with an above-average strikeout rate at 8.36 K/9. His slider has been a put away pitch for him so far in the season, and he has a decent change-up to keep opposite handed batters off-balance. While he’s off to a great start, we’re still talking about Scott Olsen, and a pitcher that’s not far removed from labrum surgery, so I’d expect some regression.

Craig Stammen throws the ball harder than any of his other rotation mates, with an average fastball velocity of 90.4. Whoa, there. He does however have some good control working in his favor. He’s walking only 1.13 batters per nine, and while that low rate won’t stay that good, he has had a good walk rates throughout his minor league career.

John Lannan had an ERA of 3.88 last year despite a K/9 rate of …3.88. That just doesn’t even seem possible, unless we’re talking about a different generation of pitchers. Lannan is predictably getting rocked by batters so far this season (45 hits in 32.2 innings). He’s also hurting himself by walking 4.96 batters per nine.

Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Chien-Ming Wang are all expected to come off the disabled list sometime this year for the Nationals. I also heard this rumor about a guy they have in the minors named Stephen Strasburg who throws the ball really, really hard and is supposed to be really, really good. He should be up when his general manager is done manipulating the service time rules. Uh, I mean when he decides that he’s major league ready. So there is a reason to believe that radar guns will soon be lit up in our nation’s capital.




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Erik Manning is the founder of Future Redbirds and covers the Cardinals for Heater Magazine. You can get more of his analysis and rantings in bite-sized bits by following him on twitter.


69 Responses to “National Soft-Tosser Association”

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  1. AndyS says:

    Huh? What’s your definition of a soft tosser? Wang’s fastball (at least when healthy) throws the ball at 94-95 MPH.

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    • R M says:

      Did you read this article?

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      • AndyS says:

        Yes? I just don’t understand why he didn’t qualify the pitchers who are returning from the DL. Nor do I understand why he talks about correlation between MPH and K/9 at the beginning, only to never talk about it again when analyzing pitchers other than Stammen and Livan.

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    • Erik Manning says:

      The others sit in the 88-89 range, didn’t think it was worth mentioning each one. The point is, they don’t throw very hard, they don’t miss many bats and they’re not very good. But the rotation will be quite respectable if they can get everyone healthy. Strasburg-Zimmermann-Wang-Marquis-Detwiler as a potential starting 5 is pretty stout.

      Again, I just found it fascinating that a 5 man rotation could have such an average velocity in Suppan territory.

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      • Scott says:

        Again, why not write about the Brewers, who are underperforming BECAUSE they built themselves a soft-tossing rotation, rather than the Nationals, who have a soft-tossing rotation because of injuries or youth?

        Just because the Nationals are an easy target?

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  2. Neil says:

    Is there a point to this post other than to pick on the Nationals for the two billionth time in print media?

    In particular, is there a reason you dismiss the pitch-to-contact approach here by simply throwing Adam Dunn’s name out there? The Nats defense has been greatly improved out there, due in large part to the addition of Desmond at short and a plus-defensive platoon in RF. Adam Dunn, however, is not going down in flames at first like some were predicting. Willingham has also been decent in left.

    Also, while I realize John Lannan is a whipping boy for the statistical crowd, he was pitching through pain all April and admitted he could not get his signature late movement on his pitches, and also cost him some control, as seen in his increase in BB.

    And finally, with regard to Livan, I didn’t realize that xFIP told us the “cold, hard truth” about anybody. He’s obviously not going to pitch to a 1.04 ERA all season, but nobody else will get close to that, either. If you take his word for it, he was pitching with pain since 2006, but now feels better than any other point in his career. I’d say that’s at least as responsible for his great start as any luck.

    Disclaimer: I’ve sat through two consecutive 100+ loss seasons, and my team is finally winning some games. Keep your clouds off my parade.

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    • nothingxs says:

      It simply tells you that the ERA is unsustainable in the long run and doesn’t paint an accurate portrait of the pitchers themselves. Soft-tossers rely on their defense to put the opposing offense out.

      That said, maybe it’s a testament to the Nationals’ defense this year that they are helping to keep their pitchers’ ERA so low with their good defense. The Rays are almost exactly in the same kind of situation, with FIP quite a bit higher than their ERAs, but they’ve been playing such great defense that you could almost hope for them to finish the year with their entire staff under 4 ERA.

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    • Erik Manning says:

      Don’t misunderstand me, I actually like the Nats defense once you get past Dunn. The main point of the piece wasn’t about Dunn’s defense – which was horrible at 1b last year – but about the soft-tossing, low K Nats pitching. Zimmerman, Kennedy, Harris and Morgan are good defenders, and Desmond seems to be; I don’t have a scouting report I can look at off hand. I think once their pitching gets healthy and Strasburg comes up, this team could be a lot better, and they’re already been playing well now, albeit they’ve lucked themselves into a few wins.

      No matter how good the defense is, striking out less than 5 batters per nine spells trouble. The good news is this rotation isn’t set in stone, and should get better if their guys coming off the DL don’t experience any sort of set back.

      I just found it particularly interesting how all of their current starters throw in the eighties, with the exception of Stammen, who only throws 90 on average.

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      • Alan says:

        Thanks for replying to our complaints about your short-shrifting the defense as a whole.

        Worth noting that Luis Atilano seems to have cemented a place for himself in the rotation for at least the next two weeks, what we in D.C. are calling the B.S. (Before Strasburg) era, and he helps your case. Another soft-tosser who doesn’t miss a lot of bats.

        Honestly, what’s happened so far is just shy of a miracle, as you point out. The good news is that it doesn’t need to go on forever- the rotation four or five weeks from now could well be Strasburg, Wang, Olsen, Lannan, Stammen/Livan/Detwiler. Nothing to sneeze at there.

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  3. Lintyfresh says:

    I’ll put my flame retardant suit on right now… but Adam Dunn is not terrible in the field, so far this year.

    The big man has put a ton of work into playing first base this year, and so far, his UZR numbers prove that. He’s currently on pace for a -6.4 UZR/150. That’s a massive improvement over anything he’s put up in the past.

    Hell, nearly the entire Nats lineup has improved on their defense.

    Desmond is top 3 in UZR at SS. Zimm is #4.

    Last year the Nats finished 25/30 in UZR at -29.7; currently the Nats are 13th with a UZR of 3.7.

    The pitch to contact strategy isn’t ideal by any stretch… but when you have guys that can cover a lot of ground it can work. So sure, most of the pitchers are out performing their FIP, but is that really a surprise when the team has improved their defense so much?

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    • PeteJohn says:

      “I’ll put my flame retardant suit on right now… but Adam Dunn is not terrible in the field, so far this year.

      The big man has put a ton of work into playing first base this year, and so far, his UZR numbers prove that. He’s currently on pace for a -6.4 UZR/150. That’s a massive improvement over anything he’s put up in the past.”

      Put down UZR, you are abusing it. In a sample size smaller than two years, yes years, UZR is pretty unreliable. The nature of batted balls is unpredictable, to say the least. It simply isn’t useful to look at a guy’s UZR through a month and a week and say, “Gosh, he’s improved!” He could have, but he also could have been really, really lucky. That’s just how it is.

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      • Not David says:

        One month of UZR is what, the equivalent of 35 or 40 plate appearances?

        I certainly wouldn’t proclaim a hitter has improved after a sample of that size.

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      • RobBob says:

        That’s why it might help to actually watch some games. I have, and I can tell you that Dunn is vastly improved at short. I don’t need UZR to tell me that.

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      • Zack says:

        Just like how Boston fans proclaimed Ellsbury an elite defensive CF?

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      • PeteJohn says:

        RobBob

        I watch the games is the absolute worst argument anyone can ever make. I also refuse to believe that you’ve watched every game so intently and with such focus that you can accurately assess the defense being played by Adam Dunn, grading him on reflexes and hands while adjusting for positioning, mandated from the bench or otherwise.

        Our brains remember the patterns we want them to remember and filter out the rest, and we seek these patterns at seemingly all cost. Once we’ve set on a pattern of thought, say for example that Player X is a fine fielder due to the two diving catches he made, it’s nearly impossible to break that pattern until something dramatic happens. Say Player X has a game like Starlin Castro did the other night, with erratic throwing and a mental breakdown… that’s grounds to break the old one and start a new one, and the cycle starts over. It’s this eye test that has gotten Derek Jeter and Nate McClouth Gold Gloves.

        Now, I’m not calling you a liar, nor am I saying that Adam Dunn hasn’t improved. What I am saying is that I trust the judgment of nearly no one who sits at home or in the stands just watching a game, because their analysis is likely to be crowded by distractions and basic human psychology. Honestly, I’ve always liked Dunn a lot and hope he truly has improved… However I have no particular reason to believe that yet.

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  4. Alan says:

    I agree with the others- not sure what the point of this is. Obviously Livan has been exceedingly lucky this year and doesn’t throw the ball hard. But one could make the argument that the other two guys with six starts have been, if anything, unlucky- Lannan’s been struggling with control and hasn’t been getting Ks, but his results show it and then some, and Stammen’s 19/4 K/BB ratio and 4 HRs over 6 starts suggest a guy who deserves far greater than a 5.6 ERA and a 1-1 record.

    Meanwhile … you ignore the fact that a third of the game is pitched by non-starters, and the Nats’ four top bullpen guys (Capps, Clippard, Bruney, Walker) all average over 8 Ks per nine.

    Finally, as others have said: for a website dedicated to cold, hard statistical analysis, saying the Nats shouldn’t rely on their defense simply because they run Adam Dunn out there every day is just plain silly. There’s nine defensive positions out there, and while Dunn’s no Gold Glover at 1B, the Nats are above-average at most of the other spots; Zimmerman, Morgan and Pudge being prime examples at key spots,and Desmond exceeding all expectations at short.

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  5. The Hit Dog says:

    Yea Rizzo is manipulating the service time rules, but if any non-contender brought up a premium prospect in April, you guys would call them out as retarded, and rightfully so. This is the way the rules are; teams have to take advantage of them to maximize the amount of time their best players are with the club. It’s as simple as that.

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah, can’t have it both ways. It’s hypocritical to criticize the Nationals for manipulating service time when anytime an organization doesn’t do it, they are criticized for trading a month or two of big league production for team control a few years later. Anyway, I think we all know Rizzo is doing the right thing here.

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  6. Scott says:

    Agreed, what’s the point of this article, besides piling on the Nationals (surprise, surprise)?

    Why not write this about the Brewers, who as a club throw softer than the Nationals and include in their starting rotation: Yovani Gallardo (91.9), Randy Wolf (87.6), Doug Davis (84.4), Dave Bush (85.9), and Chris Narveson (89.2).

    How do the Nationals deserve to be singled out: John Lannan (88.8), Livan Hernandez (84.5), Jason Marquis (88.6), Scott Olsen (89.2), and Craig Stammen (90.4).

    If you line the two teams against each other from fastest to slowest, Only Gallardo beats Stammen. Olsen ties Narveson, Lannan beats Wolf, Marquis beats Bush and Livan actually BEATS Davis.

    So what is this besides Nationals bashing?

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    • Jason B says:

      Lord, Nats fans are *touchy*! He’s simply marvelling at how well the Nats’ pitchers have performed to date, given their average velocities. Certainly no big things were expected from the staff or team as a whole, whereas the Brewers were expected to be in wild card contention, so its worthy of discussion when a team’s actual performance deviates from its expected performance.

      Everyone breathe into a paper bag and step back from the ledge…

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    • Erik Manning says:

      You’re right, I hate Nationals, mom and applie pie. I want them to move back to Montreal so we can hear baseball being announced in French again, like it ought to be. That would certainly make Jonah Keri happy.

      Kidding aside, this isn’t a Nats bashfest. I want them to succeed. It just so happens that injuries have forced them into using a soft-tossing, contact heavy pitching staff and it’s not going to work very well for long. It might not have to.

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      • Jason B says:

        You can definitely put this one down under “perceived slights” rather than “real slights”. That said, the inevitable landing (whether a crash landing or soft landing) doesn’t at all detract from their solid start to the ’10 season.

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      • Jason B says:

        And as a Blue Jays fan that witnessed their best ever start in 2009 followed by the inevitable fade to fourth, I know all about unsustainable starts and crash landings… =)

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      • JCA says:

        Erik – I’ve only looked at the pitch/fx graphs on Livan, but there might be a bit more than luck involved in some of his improvement this year. I’ll buy his BABIP is unlikely to stay below .200, and that, if anything, his K rate has deteriorated this year from prior years. I just wonder if it is a little glib to expect his ERA to regress all the way to his xFIP. It may be real that he is inducing softer contact with pitches that are tougher to distinguis from each other.

        Compare his cutter and his change up from 2009 to this year on the graphs. In 2009, his cutter seems to be more clearly from 3/4 and distinguishable from his “fastball” and other stuff. In 2010, the purple dots in his release point seem to overlap more with his fastball and other stuff, which might mean it is tougher to pick up. It also seems to have had more inconsistent movement in 2009, which I’d think is a lack of command. The change too seems to overlap more with his fastball in his release and also seems to cluster more on its movement, which again I think means more deception and command. Add in substantially improved defense, and you would expect weaker contact and a lower BABIP due to improved defensive efficiency. Also, weaker contact might mean a reduction in home runs. Last year, he showed a low HR rate, returning to the levels he had prior to 2006.

        FWIW, he does say that he is in “the best shape of his life” and over a knee problem that he incurred in the 2d half of ’05. You folks I think had a running gag total on players in the best shape of their lives in the spring, so normally I’d chuckle. But if a stronger knee contributes to a better delivery and better shape leads to fewer breakdowns and blowups, then maybe there is something less than flukey about some, but not all, of Livo’s improvement. A 4.30 ERA and 200 IP is nothing to sneeze at.

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  7. A Houstonian says:

    Strasburg’s fastballs are averaging only about 97 right now. Speculation is it’s the effect of having to throw every five days, rather than seven. That’s the kind of adjustment which makes it eminently sensible for a hard-thrower to stay in the minors for a while. Let him pitch a few more weeks in AAA to get him used to the regiment, and maybe he will hit 100 a couple times when he starts throwing in DC.

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    • Scott says:

      Even though I assume you’re joking, I think the reason he’s throwing a little softer is that he’s throwing mostly 2-seamers right now to keep the ball on the ground. He said in college he would just throw the four seamer by hitters. So unbelievably, he might just be holding back.

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  8. A Houstonian says:

    Oh dear, I spelled “regimen” wrong. That’s what you get for being a Civil War historian.

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  9. Millertime says:

    A 7th grade C- English student could find the point of this article, namely, that the Nats have a number of soft-tossing starters and don’t get a lot of K’s, and that this lack of K’s will lead to a regression of ERA. His thesis is right in the first paragraph. I guess since I’m not a Nats fan, I’m less sensitive to the “Nationals Bashing” that I’m sure takes place every day all over the internets. Cause if there’s one team that has the title of Most Hated/picked on Team in America, it’s the Nationals. Go back to Canada, you jerks!

    Also, maybe I’m just reading this wrong, but I don’t think Erik was “bashing” Rizzo for not calling up Strasburg, as much as he was making fun of the situation. Everyone knows that Strasburg is being kept in the minors to delay the service clock, but the team can’t just go out and officially say that that is the reason, so they use the old cliche of “He’s not major league ready”.

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    • Alan says:

      The problem is that the first-paragraph point is incorrect, or at least wrongly argued, in that it’s based on soft-tossing and a lack of Ks PLUS poor defense leading to regression, and the author didn’t make the latter point effectively in the first paragraph or elsewhere- mostly because it’s not true. He doesn’t need the second part of the argument to make his point- the runs allowed will likely regress until the cavalry arrives even with above-average defense , so maybe he could have just left it out entirely.

      That said, he is getting too hard of a time from us D.C. sports fans who want so desperately to believe in something other than abject failure and misery.

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      • Not David says:

        Or maybe you’ve got a bit of a bias issue, read what you wanted it to read, and are taking it a little too personally?

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  10. DJ says:

    Well said Neil.

    Love how some people keep trying to beat the old NATS FAIL drum, when that isn’t the music being played in DC anymore. Nats are legit this year and just face it!!!

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    • Jason B says:

      Will you come around in late September and fess up to an incorrect prognostication if they finish below .500?

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      • don says:

        The Nats will most likely finish below .500 but people were talking about them before the season as if they’d challenge the Pirates/Royals/Astros triumvirate for worst record in the bigs, when it should have been pretty clear, to stat junkies at least, that they weren’t nearly that bad. They’ve got a middling offense and now a middling defense. The pitching is still poor, but they’re better than they were last year and last year they were pretty unlucky too.

        (not a Nationals fan)

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      • Jason B says:

        I don’t disagree at all that they’re better than many expected, and better than the worst of the worst. I just took from the tone of DJ’s post that they should contend for postseason play and top .500 given that they are suddenly “legit”.

        Again no one is “hating on them” or “disrespecting them” – they’ve had an unexpectedly good start and should be given credit for that, and it’s doubly good if it generates some local buzz and some fans going out to the park who might otherwise not attend. But I’m not yet ready to pencil them into the postseason just yet – particularly with the pitching regression around the corner, as Eric-with-a-K extensively addressed.

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  11. pm says:

    Why don’t you mention how unlucky Lannan has been. Or that Stammen is the 13th best pitcher in baseball in the stat you guys cherish the most ahead of guys like King Felix, Verlander, Hanson, Santana but you won’t see it in his ERA because of luck.

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  12. PeteJohn says:

    Dear me, some touchy folks around here. Erik has argued that the Nationals do not have very big fastballs as a team, and also don’t strike many out. This suggests they, as a group, do not throw anything particularly nasty. As such, their performance should probably be expected to decline simply because defense is fickle and ERAs can’t be kept low indefinately with mediocre stuff. Why is that “bashing?” Why is it insulting to say that a guy who throws slow throws slow, and to say that someone who doesn’t strike many out doesn’t strike many out?

    Sure, Erik threw in a little joke about the Strasburg situation and Adam Dunn’s fielding. Again, I say so what? If Mike Leake, with his array of 91 mph cutters and sinkers can pitch in the majors now, Strasburg is probably ready too, but it also makes sense to hold the guy out to stretch his service time and there’s a good chance that’s going on. And if not, it’s a fun joke, not an insult. Adam Dunn is not a good fielder historically and will probably continue to be mediocre with the leather. Maybe he won’t be an abject disaster. Maybe he’ll be WORSE. Who knows? Again, it’s a joke, not an insult.

    You want to know how he could have written this as an insult or a bashing? This is how:

    “The Nats pitchers couldn’t break glass with their fastballs. Gosh, they throw so slow it’s painful. How could any organization be so stupid as to throw a team of DII pitchers out there? And Adam Dunn… what a thoroughly pathetic fielder. He clearly hates baseball and is just in it for the damn money. Gosh, what a pathetic organization….”

    That is a polemic. What Erik wrote was a light-hearted appraisal of the manifest truth.

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  13. mockcarr says:

    It’s actually possible to miss a bat with something that isn’t thrown fast. And it’s also possible to get weak contact that is easy to field when you stay away from the hitter’s strengths and the fat part of the bat. The real problem the Nats have right now, is more typical for good teams – middle relief.

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    • PeteJohn says:

      “It’s actually possible to miss a bat with something that isn’t thrown fast.”

      But they’re not, minus Olsen.

      “And it’s also possible to get weak contact that is easy to field when you stay away from the hitter’s strengths and the fat part of the bat.”

      Of course it is, but when you don’t throw bat-missing pitches eventually you’re going to start hitting barrel. It’s just how it goes, unless you’re the 2009 version of Joel Piniero who did it by throwing a filthy sinker.

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  14. Brandon says:

    Wow. I didn’t realize there were this many angry Nationals fans out there.

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    • DJ says:

      It’s just we’ve been torn apart time after time by everyone and there are those of us who a) do care about the team and b) truly believe this team is going to compete this year. At what point will others start believing that as well?

      At the beginning of the year, the Nats strength of schedule ranked as one of the most difficult. Now 30+ games into the season people are still trying to find excuses for the Nats record (“oh they are lucky”) and areas that they are failing in (“oh sabremetrics this sabremetrics that”).

      They are 18-14 in 2nd place in the NL East … they are doing it on solid starting pitching and solid defense. The offense isn’t too shabby either.

      This team is for real – they are locked and loaded – and have more weapons coming.

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    • Alan says:

      As I said above, we’re just desperate to cling to anything other than the usual misery and depression we get from our sports teams.

      Also, Fangraphs has shown what some could perceive as anti-Nats tendencies before. There was the article that claimed the Marquis signing was a total waste of money because the Nats aren’t a win or two away from being a contender … as if the only thing worth spending money on was contending, and avoiding another 100 loss season (and the resulting ire of the fanbase) weren’t worthwhile goals in and of themselves. There were the anti-Lannan articles, which I happen to think were correct. There was the organizational talent rankings- again, not necessarily wrong. But it’s a lot of negativity.

      Or look at it this way- we’re just happy people are actually writing about our team, so we’re consuming every word voraciously, and when that happens you’re bound to get more replies.

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  15. mockcarr says:

    Hey, Livan hasn’t hit like he usually does either, and he’s still doing ok.

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  16. CJames0569 says:

    At first glance this article is nothing more than the same old “pile on the Nats” type of article I’ve read time and time again, but the one thing that sets this apart from the others is that it points out some of the weakest and least meaningful statistics that I’ve seen from any other article on this site. Not to mention it seems to be written as a back handed type of compliment to Nationals success so far this season. You use simple statistical analysis such as K’s, K/9, BB, and for goodness sakes fastball speed to talk down our starters and proclaim the blatantly obvious that Livan Hernandez can’t possibly maintain his 1.04 ERA this season while also maintain a negative K/BB ratio. Then you designate a short paragraph to include several upgrades to the starting rotation that are coming starting with Strasburg in June.

    Here is an idea, since you are a writer for Fangraphs how about using a little more advanced statistics and analysis to solidfy the claim made in your article and to make sense of their early success that you call a fluke. Rather than use such broad, dense statements to try and refute their success without any real basis. Such as the quote below describing Olsen or Stammen…

    “While he’s off to a great start, we’re still talking about Scott Olsen, and a pitcher that’s not far removed from labrum surgery, so I’d expect some regression.”

    “[Craig Stammen]’s walking only 1.13 batters per nine, and while that low rate won’t stay that good,he has had a good walk rates throughout his minor league career. ”

    Also we already know Fangraphs doesn’t like John Lannan because in the past two seasons he’s disproved them time and time again, yet you dump on him in the quote below without mention that he’s been pitching injured this season and missed his last start.

    “John Lannan had an ERA of 3.88 last year despite a K/9 rate of …3.88. That just doesn’t even seem possible, unless we’re talking about a different generation of pitchers. Lannan is predictably getting rocked by batters so far this season (45 hits in 32.2 innings). He’s also hurting himself by walking 4.96 batters per nine.”

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  17. tom s. says:

    erik, i am deeply wounded by your insistence on pointing out actual facts relating to the nationals pitching staff, such as their low overall velocity and low K rate. the incessant attacks by fangraphs writers on pitchers by noting the biased K/BB rates and xFIPs for livan hernandez and john lannan.

    to add insult to injury, you note that craig stammen also is an okay pitcher. how long must national fans stand this kind of pap, this cold analytical bias of numbers against our pitchers?

    why don’t you point out some of the non-biased facts out there, like the fact that our team tries really hard? and ian desmond is awesome? and why is there not a single mention of josh willingham in the whole article? people who don’t hate the nationals discuss josh willingham in their articles about pitching.

    take your statistics and your anti-nationals agenda elsewhere, please.

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    • pm says:

      He basically implied that Stammen is a fluke. He never mentioned that Stammen is better than Tommy Hanson by a decent margin according to Fangraph’s favorite stat, but not so surprisingly they ignored it. Why don’t they mention the bad luck that Stammen, Lannan and Marquis had to endure this year? If you mention the guys with good luck (Livan) you have to mention that bad luck pitchers (Lannan and Stammen). Plus, strikeouts are overrated while groundballs are underrated.

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      • tom s. says:

        the only suggestion of luck that he threw out there was that he would not continue to allow only ~1 bb/9 – which is almost certainly true. he didn’t label his whole performance as a fluke.

        and i highly doubt a guy who uses a cardinal as his icon needs a reminder on the value of groundballs.

        maybe you would have written the article differently, but this was a pretty even-handed look at a rotation that has the slowest average velocity, lowest K rate in the majors, and 3rd worst K/BB rate in the majors. groundballs are nice, but they won’t fix these fairly significant problems.

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      • Lintyfresh says:

        Tom, the Brewers have the lowest velocity of any staff. They weren’t written about.

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      • tom s. says:

        in point of fact, the nats STARTERS have the slowest fastballs of any starting rotation, which was the point of this article. the brewers have the slowest fastballs of any pitching corps in total, starters and relievers. the nats are 29th in fastball velocities among all clubs for pitching corps as a whole.

        still, i don’t see how that’s a problem – whether the nationals are 29th or 30th among clubs, the team pitching has problems. erik didn’t say that the nats are the only club in baseball with pitching problems, and i think the brewers problems with pitching are fairly well chronicled. i don’t know of any fangraphs writers who say the brewers have a good or even okay pitching staff.

        there’s certainly no rule that says that one must say bad things only about the absolute worst club out there. the fact that one team is arguably worse off by some metric does not mean that erik is wrong to have written about the nats, nor that he’s writing because he hates the nats or wants to pile on.

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      • Jason B says:

        If you really believe Stammen > Hanson because of one month of one single stat, well…I’m sure you can find 99.9999996% of Stammen’s fantasy owners and the Nats real owner willing to swing that deal. Doesn’t mean they’re all right, of course, but talk about cherry-picking the available evidence to suit one’s pre-conceived notions…

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  18. A DC Wonk says:

    What’s the Nats average speed if you take out Livan?

    Also, in the first paragraph you talk about “average velocity”, but then the only two individual speed stats you cite are average _fastball_ velocities. So, I’m very confused.

    Also missing from the article: what’s the average for the league? Nats have 87.9 (for all pitches, or just fastballs?) — what’s the league average?

    And if, when you remove Livan from the calculations, you end up with something much closer to average, then what’s this story even about?

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  19. JCA says:

    I would like to see some sort of side by side of the prior 2 years staffs for the Nats and the current year’s staf. My recollection is that last year’s staff included a few harder throwers (Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Cabrera) at this point, but was already featuring the likes of John Lannan and Craig Stammen / Shairon Martis, as well as a soon to be lame Scott Olsen. The prior year had Tim Redding and John Lannan, as well as Ramon Ortiz. Why is it with the same type of pitchers or even more contact prone pitching the Nats are experiencing more success. Answer A is “it’s a dream, but hey, don’t wake me until June when the cavalry arrives.” Erik seems to be in that camp. Answer B might look at the obvious upgraded defense. This year, Nats have upgraded every defensive position* except the one carryover, 3d base. Essentially, it is the Seattle / Tampa Bay strategy being applied to an NL team. One would expect the same / similar pitchers to get better results in front of a better defense. Erik’s suggestion that “for the Nationals, that can be a bit of adventure at times when you’re fielding Adam Dunn at any position” kind of misses the point about why better perfmance than in prior years might be sustainable.

    * Even Dunn has been an improvement over last year’s Nick Johnson so far. Nick was a good defensive player, but he had a lot of problems in the field last year, especially on pops and fielding throws, due probably to his injury recovery.

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  20. Neil says:

    As others have suggested, I don’t think us Nats fans would be jumping on this article if it had included more advanced analysis and less snark.

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    • Jason B says:

      Yes Erik, how dare you interject levity and personality into your (even-handed, thoughtful) writing. For shame. Give all the kids first place ribbons, pat ‘em on the head, and let’s call it a day. 100 wins for ALL the NL teams!! 16-way tie for first!

      Again, breathe into a paper bag and step back from the ledge…

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  21. Marcus says:

    If you need advanced analysis to understand why Ks are important, then i don’t think there’s much that anyone can help you with about the game of baseball.

    That said, the only one of those pitchers i actually trust going forward is Olsen. He may have just turned a corner somewhere between last year and this year. He’s not being lucky in BABIP or LOB% and his HR/FB rate isn’t incredibly lucky. He is only 26 and has always been talented, he’s just always been a headcase.

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  22. Grammar Nazi says:

    Livan’s LOB%: 98.9 %

    That might just be in for some regression.

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  23. JMW4th says:

    Sounds to me like Fangraphs is trying to come up with a million reasons why the Nationals aren’t 3-27 right now like they are supposed to be. How dare those lowly Nats win games early in the season.

    I’m quite sure the Nats are apologetic for not having 6 starters who can strike out 9 batters per game in order to please the Fantasy Baseball players.

    I don’t think any sane Nats fan has notions of a serious playoff run at this point in the season, it is still early as heck. But come on, Fangraphs. focus your venom on someone else for a change. Seriously.

    How about ripping on the teams who are supposed to be good, but are playing like crap, instead of ripping on the teams who are supposed to be the laughingstock of all sports but are actually playing decently.

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    • Jason B says:

      Yes, that’s what FanGraphs is doing. It’s an orchestrated campaign to bad-mouth the Nats and sully their otherwise wondrous accomplishments. it’s certainly NOT a single, even-keeled, well-constructed article with supporting stats. That’s just ludicrous.

      They’re on to you Erik!! Close up shop and move two towns over!

      /warms up the car/

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  24. pm says:

    Fangraphs is bullshit to me. Livan had a 99.2% LOB% before his last start. The only problem is that Livan didn’t allow 99 baserunners or even face 99 batters. It’s a bullshit stat with made up variables attached to it. Pretty much useless.

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    • BlackOps says:

      What’s better? Wins?

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    • Jason B says:

      I like to argue and cuss at things that don’t make sense to me, too.

      Damn sun, I don’t even know where the f*ck it goes at night…WHAT ARE YOU HIDING FROM!!

      Apple fell RIGHT out of a tree and hit me on the noggin. What the hell. That tree hates me, those things just don’t fall on their own.

      It’s probably a gay tree, too.

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    • Zack says:

      Not sure if this is sarcasm or not?

      You tried to bash LOB%, but you just supported it by saying the small sample size.

      LOB is a PERCENT, just like AVG is a PERCENT. You can use % whether you have 10 base runners, or 10,000 base runners- yu just take the bigger sample size more seriously.

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      • don says:

        Hernandez has given up 29 hits and 14 walks. That’s 43 guys on base. I don’t know whether or not the home runs reduce that or guys reaching on error add to it, but there aren’t really enough of them to change the main point. 42/43 is 97.x% – so any strand rate between that and 100 doesn’t make sense, because obviously you can’t strand half a baserunner. There’s something wonky in the calculation to come up with that number, although obviously his strand rate is unsustainably high one way or another.

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