Nationals Baseball: Disregarding Livan?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Disregarding Livan?

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.


Lee said...

I see no harm in re-signing Livan for next year. He'll come cheap and do so on a one year contract. If he collapses, we should and can drop him faster than we dropped Matt Stairs. Let one or two of the younger guys start the season as a long reliever. Davey has hinted that he prefers his teams to have 2 long relievers. I figure Stras, ZNN, Lannan, Livan, plus whomever will be our starting five. I'd go with Detwiler if they don't pick up a free agent.

Livo will be the innings eater while the Nats figure out if Detwiler, Peacock, or Milone can hack it. I wouldn't be surprised to see a revolving door there with those guys spot starting and appearing in long relief. If they start performing well, Livo can go to long relief and then eventually into retirement.

Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cory said...

Why not employ Livan as long relief and spot starting, similar to Wakefield's role for the BoSox in many years and postseaons? As mentioned, he's a good change of pace guy, and fits best when facing lefty-heavy teams.

Livanonymous said...

I will now strictly post as Livanonymous. Probably the greatest nickname ever.

How about this: Livo retires, gets hired as the new pitching coach? Then we get his immense knowledge of the game and clubhouse presence without people worrying about his age and ability.

Natsochist said...

@Cory couldn't agree more; I'd love to see him in that long relief role. Also, consider this: Stras will have a fairly significant innings limit next year. He also throws every pitch about 20mph faster than Livo. Can you imagine the confusion that would ensure bringing the big man on in relief of Stras?

michael K said...

Granted, the Nats are looking to improve next year, but this post + Lee's comment seems to be weighted far to much in the "win now" direction. Start 37 year old Livan over Detwiler, Peacock, Milone, and even Wang? Why??? He's been mediocre this year at best.

Of course, more will be known after September when Detwiler and Wang have more starts, and hopefully Peacock and Milone are called up. But I don't see why the Nats, in what will be their last rebuilding year, should start two rookie starters in the pen so 37 year old Livan can put up a 4.50 ERA. Just start them. So they fail - so what? At least then you know what you have. Then you can send them back to the minors, where they will start, and try to earn their way back. IMO, you only put starters in the pen if they've fully failed as a starter or you're in win now mode and doing so makes you marginally better. But perhaps I'm biased because I'm also a Yankee fan and ^%*$&^%$ Chamberlain.

BTW, the reason why I like Lannan better is because of ERA. I know, ERA isn't a better predictor than all the sabermetric stuff. But isn't the POINT of the sabermetric stuff to predict what a player's long-term ERA is? After all, all we really care about in baseball at the end of the day is runs. Normally I'd go sabermetric, too, but Lannan has put up very good ERAs for 3/4 years, and that includes in similar conditions to Livan. I think 4 years is long-term enough to tell you what type of pitcher he is, so in this case I take it over sabermetrics.

Harper said...

mK- quickly I don't think they should bring back Livan for the rotation. I think they should start two rookies. BUT if the team has decided to go the "innings eater, cheap FA" route for one of the two spots - Livan is as good as any.

Wally said...

I come out the same way as Harper's last post: bring back Livo but I really hope that they have better options for the rotation.

Re: Lannan, I think that the thing holding him back from taking the next step is walks, and there is some reason to hope that he can still take the next step. IIRC, Lee took a big step forward on walk rate around this age, after a stint in the minors. Not saying Lannan has the same ceiling as Cliff, but if he got his walks down to 2BB/9, that could probably move him solidly into #3 territory.

Matt/DCNatty/Cory - appreciate the support on the last post. Just caught up on all of it now.

WilsonR said...

I love the way Livo approaches the game. I'd like to see him back for that reason alone. That said, I think the Nats need to go with youth. Maybe Livo can come back as bullpen coach or something.

Livanonymous said...

Exactly WilsonR.

His intangibles are what make him such a great asset. World Series ring, WS MVP, NLCS MVP. He's been there, he knows how to win, he knows what it takes to get the job done. The importance of those things becomes forgotten to some nowadays.

Not to mention, he's one of the smartest pitchers in baseball. How many other guys could have the same success he's had with the stuff he has? 80-85 fastball, 60-65 curve, mid 70s slider. The fact he can get anybody out, nevertheless contribute to a team is a testament to his knowledge of the game.

Froggy said...

I like Livo for those things that Harper and Livanonymous mentioned, and he will probably come cheap, so resign him. You can't put a dollar figure on that experiene and presence in a clubhouse/dugout. Also, I like it when he gets a little lighthearted out there on the mound. Kind of reminds you that this 'is' a game after all, and he seems to really enjoy the moments. That can be contagious.

**Spoiler Alert** and a comment more to the point of the previous days post (Rick Ankiel stinks)...did you see tonights lineup?

Werth in CF
Morse in LF
Nix in RF
Marrero at 1B

Was Davey reading your blog or what?

DezoPenguin said...

Can Werth genuinely play an adequate CF? Because if he can, even in a hellishly down year his bat suddenly looks a lot better then it does for a corner outfielder.

As for Livan...*shrug* He's a low-cost innings-eater, and a known quantity. He's put up numbers that are adequate for a #5 starter for the past two years with the Nats. If guys like Peacock and Milone need more seasoning and Detwiler can't cut it, then Livan's about as good as anyone to plug the hole. A better question is whether they can sign or trade for a genuine #1 or #2 caliber of pitcher, someone who's at least of Znn's caliber, to shore up the front end of the rotation. If they're signing Livan to be #5 because they traded Detwiler as part of a package for a new 2B or CF and Peacock isn't ready for the bigs, great. If they're signing Livan to be the #4 because they couldn't sign anyone better ahead of him and are still fishing in the Wang/Maya/Detwiler/etc. pond for another starter, then we have a problem.

Donald said...

The jury might still be out, but I'd rather have Wang as the innings eater than Livo, based on potential. My guess for the rotation at the start of next year is Strasburg, ZNN, Lannan, Wang, Detwiler with Gorzelanny and Milone in long relief.