In all our talk about next year's rotation, Nats fans have pretty much dismissed the prospect of bringing back Livan Hernandez. On the surface it makes sense. He's old. He's not a top of the rotation guy. If the Nats are going to go "young" and have two open rotation spots (behind Strasburg, ZNN, and Lannan) there is no need to bring him back. If the Nats are going to go "good" and try to get a top of the rotation starter then there is no need to bring him back (they need at least one rotation spot open for trials). Right?
Well there's two arguments that I think can be made here. (1) What if the Nats simply try to go "stable" and sign a FA innings eater. Would they be any worse with Livan than someone else? (2) Why does Livan automatically fall behind Lannan?
Let's attack #2 first. No one is a bigger supporter of Lannan than I. (Usually I hate when people say that but come on, it's true. The Nats screwed him again last night. Screwed!) But there is a kernel of truth here. Livan's last 4 xFIPs are 4.84, 4.72, 4.57 and 4.17. Lannan's are 4.24, 4.64, 4.36, and 4.25. There really isn't any big difference here. Livan will give more innings (though Lannan is no slouch there). Livan will likely strike out more and walk less. Livan is a much better hitter. Livan is cheaper.
Man, that's a lot in favor of Livan. What does Lannan have? Age and the arm he throws with.
Lannan will be 27 next year. He could still improve and it's doubtful that he will suddenly collapse due to an age-related issue. Livan will be 37 next year which means that he almost certainly won't get better and he could very well collapse. I'm not saying it's a good bet to say that Livan will collapse, but it IS a good bet to say if one of these guys is to collapse it would be Livan. This isn't Livan's fault. It's just the way it is. There's a reason there are only 3 regular starters age 37 or older in the majors this year. (Wakefield, Lowe, Colon) The body just breaks down.
Lannan also pitches left-handed and has in the last 2 years become good at getting lefties out. Strasburg and ZNN are both righties. Teams want changes of pace. Could Detwiler or Milone or Free Agent X be that lefty? Maybe. But when you have one on hand that's relatively cheap why go with something unknown?
Because of the last two points, despite having a lower salary it's Livan that needs to be significantly better than Lannan to grab that 3rd spot. He isn't.
Ok so what about #1? The boring old "FA Innings eater" situation. In that I have a hard time reasoning why it shouldn't be Livan. We're not talking Buerhle or Oswalt here. We're talking Marquis or Harang. Is someone like that going to be that much better than Livan to justify the extra money? What about the likely 2nd year they'd want? Livan could almost certainly be signed for one-year and depending on how all those young guys are doing, could be dismissed after 2012 just as easily as now.
It's not cut-and-dried. The age thing is going to hover over Livan until he IS out of baseball. For a team that wants to be better next year again, the slight increase in security that a Jon Garland type will give you a #4 starter year in 2012 might actually be worth those extra dollars. But I'm not that sure. At the very least it's worth looking at more closely if the Nats go down this path.
Extra - Livanonymous brought up that he thought Livan was mostly doing his job (keeping the team in games) and really his stats were being brought down by a couple lousy games. Is this true?
Well one quick and dirty way to look at it is to look at Game Scores. If this is true than by removing Livan's # worst starts we should see more improvement in his average GS than the average pitcher. I looked at him in comparison to Lannan, ZNN, and Marquis removing their 5 worst starts each and what I found was inconclusive. He did see more improvement than Lannan or ZNN but it was Marquis that seemed to be the one that was really having his stats being negatively effected by a few rotten games.
I also looked at just the middle starts which would try to control for the occasional good start as well and that didn't turn out in Livan's favor either. He was actually more consistent than any of the four.
Still I think more work is needed to say anything definitively.
Just saw "Air Screech" video. New plan. Livan retires. Takes golf club to all various Screeches like they were old men standing outside of a warehouse. Becomes new mascot. Eats Dippin Dots in a barcalounger on top of the dugout.