Handicapping the NL East
The Washington Nationals, today, have a 4.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves. They have done this with outstanding starting pitching, mostly. Heck, they lead the NL across the board. It’s been impressive, and they have also been fortunate enough to use their five core starters (Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jackson, Zimmermann, Detwiler) for 106 of their 112 games. That generally is a good thing (he asserts). The Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds has the Nats at 77% chance of winning the division. It is quite the rosy picture for Nationals fans. But is it?
There are plenty of pieces written and discussions had around the Nationals limiting Strasburg to just 180 innings. He’s had serious surgery and certainly never worked this many big league innings. Will Strasburg re-injure his arm? Can he handle the workload? If he is going to get “shutdown” at 180 innings, will he be able to get loose again for the playoffs? Does that 180 IP include what they would want for the playoffs? These are all fun questions, and the Nats do have, in my opinion, the right guy at the helm to creatively manage the situation. At least he would have that creativity if he only had to worry about Strasburg.
The Nats have two other pitchers that have only thrown 160 innings in one season in the majors. Detwiler and Zimmermann are also staring at big jumps in arm wear. Sixty percent of the Washington rotation is approaching a wall, or a cliff. Detwiler has made it to 150 innings between the minors and majors, but these are tougher innings. Zimmerman had TJ surgery and threw a handful of innings two years ago, and then 160 last year. So, can Zimmermann make the leap to 200? Is he going to run out of gas?
I want to be clear - I am not talking about these guys getting injured - I am talking about them getting worn down. That just means less effective. History is filled with pitchers getting the dreaded “dead arm”, or loss in velocity. The brainy types like to roll that into a large group and call it “regression to the mean”. Sometimes it is more than that - it is a pitcher that is tired because he is young and hasn’t developed the staminato throw 200+ innings in the major leagues. I know what you are saying - everyone doesn’t need to get to 200 IP by a step process. I agree. Unfortunately for the Nats, they have three key starters that are looking to make this step, without getting tired and without regressing to the mean too much.
What that means to me is that the Nationals have too many eggs in the baskets carried by inexperienced arms. If the Nationals have to get too many starts from other pitchers - maybe it is just one a week, it could spell trouble. With seven weeks to go, 50 games, I think the Braves will chase them down, and win the division. Will Washington drop all the way out of the playoffs? It will depend on how they start handling their staff, if they pick anyone up to help shoulder the load, or just how creative Davey Johnson gets to hold the line.
Posted: August 10, 2012 at 07:47 PM | 77 comment(s)
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