A lot has been made about the Nats starting pitching this season - that a bunch of really bad starts has lead to a misrepresentation of the Nats true talent level. A lot of people have said stuff like "well if you just take out Marquis they'd be better". Of course that's true but you could say the same thing about every other team in the league. Or can you?
I took a look at games started by Game Score. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it's a real rough way of determining how good a pitcher was in a game. I personally wouldn't use it for any real analysis but for casually looking at stuff I think it's a fine way to machete down to what I'm interested in. Anyway. the Nats have 3 games with a Game Score less than 20. These are horrid games. (In case you are wondering - Olsen's worst, Stammen's worst, and Marquis' 0.0 IP spectacular) That in itself isn't an unusual amount - a handful of teams have 3 and a bunch more have 2. What's interesting about the Nats is the number of innings pitched in these games. The Nats gave up 20 runs in these games in only 3.1 innings pitched. Contrast that with say the Pirates, 25 runs in 10.2 IP, or the Royals, 23 runs in 9 IP, and you see that the Nats games are extreme.
In fact if we stop looking at game score and we look at games started where the starter pitched 2 innings or fewer, the Nats have 3 such games. Only 3 other teams have 2. (well ok Pittsburgh also has 2, but one of those was injury related). These awful games truly have been a touch worse than everyone elses. It's not going to mean the Nats will suddenly be a top 10 team in terms of starters or anything, but it does mean they are probably a bit underrated if you just look at their ERA position. They should be middle of the pack rather than below average.
Another thing people have been noting is that the Nats might be having more bad games AND more good games then other teams. A Schizo personality. It's kind of hard to say. Looking at Game Score can help, but Game Score is looking for domination. It wants no hits and lots of Ks. The Nats don't win that way, but let's take a look for the hell of it.
If we separate out games where the starter had a Game Score <= 30 (bad starts - 124 such games this year), we find the Nats among the league leaders with 8 such games (Pirates have 10, 5 teams have 7). If we look at a similar positive group, those with >= 70 (122 such games this year) the Nats don't show up anywhere near the top. But if we drop it a little to 65... well the Nats still aren't near the top, but their 8 starts are tied for the most among the six teams that had a bunch of awful starts as well.
Another way we can look at good games pitched is to simply put an innings and ER limit on the games and see how many come up. This cuts out the issues with hits and Ks being important. I did a whole bunch of sets and found pretty much what I found with Game Score. The Nats weren't near the top of the league, but compared to those other teams that had a bunch of sucky starts - they were near the tops. So, there is some credence to the idea that the Nats have had lots of pitching over here and lots of pitching over there, with less in the middle than your average team. (interestingly enough Livan has only one truly great Game Score game but if you look at games where the starter went at least 7 and gave up 2 or fewer runs only Halladay has more and only Wainwright is tied with Livan)