Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Look at the Nationals Starting Pitchers

Never such a thing as too much pitching...

As I write this, the Washington Nationals lead the National League East which is something people couldn’t have imagined just a few short years ago.  

Through the draft, trades, and free agent signings, the Nats have built a rotation with the ability to win now and in the future.  We’ll start with their current rotation.

Stephen Strasburg-In 2009, there was little doubt he was going to go first overall in the draft and that he was going to have success.  Not only has he pitched well, he’s dominated.  So far this season he has a K/BB ratio of 4.33 and a FIP of 2.63.  For those of you who think wins are an individual statistic, he has seven on the season.  

After having Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2010, he proved he was back when he came back to the bigs 12 months and three days later and pitched to a 1.50 ERA in five starts.  He’s under team control for years to come and he’s the type of guy Washington can’t let walk away.

Jordan Zimmermann-For a guy who never pitched at the division one level in college, he sure has shown there are hidden gems all around the nation.  Another Tommy John survivor, he has pitched to a career 3.53 ERA and this season he has a 3.01.  

Though he isn’t the strikeout machine as Strasburg, he sports a 3.70 K/BB ratio in 164.2 innings pitched.  He’s under team control until the 2016 season when he certainly will command top dollar with good health.

Gio Gonzalez-Another pitching sale by A’s GM Billy Beane brought this hard-throwing lefty to Washington in a blockbuster trade which involved a lot of Washington’s top prospects.  He was certainly worth it.  

So far through 27 starts he’s averaged over seven innings per start and strikes out more than one per inning pitched.  He keeps the ball on the ground and out of the park.  In 2012 he’s only given up eight long balls and has a ground ball percentage of 47.2 percent, which is close to his career mark of 47.5 percent.

He signed an extension after the trade for five years worth $42 million.  He’ll be in Washington at least through 2016.

Edwin Jackson-For a journeyman starter, he has done quite well.  This season he’s pitched 158 innings and has 15 quality starts in 25 starts.  

His agent, Scott Boras, had an interesting idea by advising Jackson to take a one year, $11 million deal.  Not only has this set him up for a chance at a lucrative contract for 2013, but it benefits the Nations by giving their top pitching prospects a chance to develop.

In the minors:

The Nats have a ton of talent in the minors.  I’ll touch on three prospects I find intriguing.

Alex Meyer- Baseball America ranks Meyer as the sixth best prospect (going into 2012) in their system and the top pitcher still in their organization.  Out of high school, he was drafted by the Red Sox in the 20th round and turned down a bonus in the neighborhood of $2 million.  After his first two seasons at the University of Kentucky, that looked like a mistake because he posted an ERA of 5.73 in 2009 and 7.06 in 2010.  

He put it together for the Wild Cats in 2011 though and had a 2.94 ERA in 101 innings.  Meyer wound up getting drafted 23rd overall and a $2 million bonus.  Striking batters out has never been his problem and now in pro ball, he has started to limit his walks compared to his amateur days.  In the minors thus far, he has posted above-average ground ball numbers which is promising.  I got to see part of his appearance in the futures game and he was bringing cheddar.  He was on top of the ball (I mean he is 6’ 7”) and showed a good slider and left me thinking he could be a potential number two guy.  

Matt Purke- Oh, where do I start?  Out of high school Purke was a hot commodity.  Left handed and an arm slot that is difficult to pick up plus a fastball in the 90s and a slider that was wicked made him a first rounder in 2009.  After the Rangers couldn’t match his bonus demands, he went to TCU and put up one of the best freshman seasons, ever.  16-0 with a 3.02 ERA in 116.1 innings with 142 punch outs made me believe he was going to be selected in the top three picks of 2011 as a draft-eligible sophomore.  

When 2011 came around and I saw a few of his starts, I thought my eyes were broken.  Though he posted a 1.71 ERA and struck out 61 batters in 52.2 innings, he wasn’t the same guy.  He missed half the season with shoulder woes and the velo was down in the mid-to-upper 80s and the slider lost its snappiness.  

The Nationals took Purke in the third round of the 2011 draft anyway and dished out $2.75 million to lure him away from TCU.  To date, it doesn’t look like he is going to be the pitcher he used to be.  Because of signing late, he did not appear in a pro game until the Arizona Fall League and in limited action (SSS) he put up a 13.50 ERA.  2012 has not been much kinder to him as he has only made three starts (more shoulder woes) and in those starts he walked nearly as many as he K’d (12 BB to 14 K) in just 15.1 innings.  

Washington may have to eat this investment and try to do anything possible to get some kind of return.  Maybe that means a move to the pen or maybe it means giving him as much time as he needs.  Personally, I don’t see a future big leaguer anymore. 

Lucas Giolito- 2012 could have been the year.  The year a right-handed high school pitcher became the first overall selection in the draft.  After a promising summer following his junior year in high school, it appeared the top few selections would be Mark Appell (we’ll save that for another blog), Byron Buxton and Giolito.  

His senior year did not go quite as planned.  Reportedly, scouts saw Gio up to 100 MPH and throwing above-average offspeed offerings.  Then the news no pitcher wants to hear pops up.  Sprained UCL.  

Giolito was able to rehab his elbow back to throwing and the Nats took a gamble and paid him $2.925 million to pass up a chance to pitch at UCLA.  He was only able to throw two professional innings before his elbow acted up again, this time resulting in Tommy John Surgery.  

It’ll be about a year until we see Giolito suit up in a game again but what’s the worry?  TJS has a 93 percent success rate and the Nationals must do an alright job rehabbing pitchers because both Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman had the surgery and were back to normal in a year.  Giolito is going to be a top of the rotation guy.  Maybe not quite Strasburg, but I believe he’ll be an All-Star caliber player for years to come.

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