Not all the pitching projections are in yet but a quick flip through them shows us a Nats rotation that is... well... not the best. The rough averaged projected ERAs of "Harper's Official Nats Rotation 2010" (+Gorzelanny -Maya) are as follows : 4.00, 4.25, 4.30, 4.45, and 4.60. OK, fine the Nats don't have a great rotation. (though if they got those numbers it would improve on last year's Starter ERA of 4.61). That's not the discussion here. This post is about how that 4.60, the projected worst starter on the Nationals in 2010, is their #1 guy. Livan Hernandez will start Opening Day for the Nationals and could very well be their worst starter in 2010.
This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Livan was headed toward the scrap heap when he came to the Nationals last year. Even those who loved Livan and wanted him back (like me) saw him as 200 inning of 5.00 ERA pitching. He was just someone to soak up innings. His previous 4 seasons went like this
2006 : 4.83 ERA (1.500 WHIP, 5.08 xFIP)
2007 : 4.93 (1.595, 5.53)
2008 : 6.05 (1.667, 4.90)
2009 : 5.44 (1.563, 4.78)
The ERAs obviously show a pitcher who is pitching terrible. The last two numbers - Walks+Hits over Innings Pitched, and expected Fielding Independent Pitching - show that he wasn't unlucky. The fancy stats concur. Livan was a bad pitcher.
All of a sudden though, Livan starts out 2010 as the best pitcher ever. He carried a 1.04 ERA into mid-May. Was it mostly luck? You're damn right it was. But then a funny thing seemed to happen, Livan didn't crash as one would expect he would. Oh his next 6 starts were "normal", and the 6 after that had 4 bad ones mixed in. That looked more like the Livan we expected. Usually bad, with rare instances of brilliance. But then he followed up with 7 starts probably better than the ones to begin the year. It caused some idiots to gush that Livan had become a markedly better pitcher.
Then he crashed.
Three terrible starts and one not much better mixed in with an 8 inning shutout and last start where he gave up one run. A 5.70+ ERA. In other words, classic Livan Hernandez.
So what does this have to do with 2011? A lot. Livan is the one pitcher the Nats are sending out there that they are relying on. Marquis, Lannan and ZNN are all injury returns. Gorzelanny is an unknown. Maya is untested and rushed. The innings they get from these guys could vary wildly. I guarantee at least one will be pulled from the rotation by June 1st for some reason or another. Livan, though, is going to be trotted out to the mound every 5th day simply because they Nats know they can.
The problem is he's very likely to put the Nats in a losing position more often than not. Outside of that miracle run to open last year he's been a bad pitcher for 4+ years now. He's only a year older. The fancy stats agree with what you can eyeball with a look at his starts last year. He was lucky to open the season. Those starts aren't indicative of the pitcher Livan is. I can easily see a season where Livan starts slow and keeps slow, yet starts every time out ("He is our #1 guy" says by-the-book Riggleman) pulling a 5.50+ ERA into the All-Star break.
There's not much the Nats can do about this. They tried to get a dependable good arm and failed. This is what they are left with. And no one should begrudge Livan his Opening Day start considering what he did last year. But Nats fans should be prepared for a season of frustration as Livan gives up 5 runs in 6 and a third, then 7 runs in 4, then 1 run over 8+, over and over. I hope that I'm wrong like last year, but I think the Livan revival was a one year thing. This year we get the Livan we expected last season, someone to soak up innings with a 5.00 ERA. That's not a bad thing, not for this team, but it is probably less than what a lot of fans are expecting.