Let's set up some guidelines. First off - what makes a staff one of the better ones? For me, I say if you are Top 5 or so that's good enough. Second - for ease of calculation we're going to assume that each starting position throws the same amount of innings. That isn't true (I'm pretty sure it's weighted such that the #1 pitchers throws more than the #2, etc. etc.) but for the sake of a quick analysis I think it's fair enough.
What's been the ERA that could get the Nats a Top 5 rotation in the NL? Over the last 3 years it's been 3.98, 3.71, and 3.80 (before that offense was still killing pitching and the numbers are much different). Looks like the 3.80 that would have done it last year is a fair guess going forward.
What would it take to get a 3.80 starter ERA? An easy way it could happen would be a group of starters with the following ERA set.
3.40, 3.60, 3.80, 4.00, 4.20.
Hmm ok let's tweak that and say...
3.20, ERA2 , 3.90, 4.20, ERA5 (you'll see why I did it this way in a second)
What I said yesterday was that if the Nats staff hit their modest 4.30 starter ERA goal it could bode well for the future. The most likely way the Nats will hit this goal, is for their pitchers to hit their projections. Granted this "most likely" scenario is like <10% given all the moving parts involved but it's more likely than any other combination. In this scenario Jordan Zimmerman is hitting a 4.00 ERA and John Lannan is sitting around 4.30. To me if they pitch this way in 2010. I like them to have a modest improvement in 2011 to 3.90 and 4.20. In other words they fill those #3 and #4 spots above.
The #1 throwing a 3.20 is a returning Stephen Strasburg, of course. Is that too much to expect? I'm not sure. On one hand he will be coming back from injury. On the other hand as a raw rookie he had a 2.91 ERA. I don't think putting up a 3.20 is being overly aggressive.
This leaves two spots (ERA2 and ERA5) for the Nats to fill in a way so the average for all 5 would be 3.80. Simple math tells us any combination that adds up to 7.70, would do it, say... 3.30 and 4.40 pitchers. A 4.40 pitcher is JD Martin terriotry. The Nats haven't been lucky or good in finding this type of mediocre fill-in but they are out there. If you want to give the Nats more leeway at the back of the rotation then a top notch starter with an ERA of 3.00 or lower would give them more flexibility to waste starts on someone with an ERA closer to 5.00.
Having a Top 5 rotation in 2012 breaks down to three steps:
- Have Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan pitch to expectations in 2010 (or have any two pitchers that the Nats have under control beyond this year toss out ERAs of about 4.00 and 4.20 - Maya, Detwiler, Gorzelanny, anyone)
- Have Strasburg recover from injury enough that he's about at average for him in 2012 and have the pitchers in step one show ever so modest improvement
- Get a #1 caliber signing