Nationals Baseball: Playoff Preview Time - Short Rotations

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Playoff Preview Time - Short Rotations

The Nats are going to make the playoffs. We're ok with that right? I mean there is no one out there that thinks this won't happen is there? No?  Good.  The playoffs are a completely different beast than the regular season. One of the big differences is that the rotations that need to be 5+ guys deep during the year can suddenly go down to 3, if need be. There's a school of thought that this can hurt a team like the Nats whose success is built a large part on being good 1 through 5.  Now the Nats are facing the likelihood of no Strasburg as well.

Certainly, the Nats may lose that distinct depth advantage of having their 4th and 5th starters be much better than their opponents and there's no way to positively spin not using your #1 pitcher.  The Nats won't be as head and shoulders above the other teams pitching wise as they have been over the course of the year. But the Nats 2-4 are among the best pitchers in the league.  Do the Nats completely lose their advantage when reduced to a non-Strasburg 3-man rotation (if the teams choose to go this route)?  Or are they that good that their advantage holds, even then?

Of course the below is all preliminary - there's a quarter of the season yet to be played, guys will get hot and other guys will get cold.  Still, we can get a general idea of the strength of the short rotations the Nats could be facing in October.  First the Nats (using ERA which yes I know is flawed but this is meant to be a rough look):

ZNN : 2.38
Gio : 3.29
Detwiler/Jackson : ~3.50

That's a very good three right there. I know Detwiler's ERA is closer to 3, but his starter ERA is around 3.40.  He put up an ERA < 2.00 in his short time in the pen.  Jackson's ERA is around 3.70 now.  In the end I like that spot to be held down by someone with an ERA of around 3.50 which is good.  I'm more concerned about Gio's mediocre 2nd half but for right now I'll treat him as at least 3.30 ERA pitcher. He has plenty of time to right the ship

Now, let's check out the opponents.

Hudson : 3.59
Hanson / Maholm : ~3.80
Sheets : 2.13

Sheets' pitching won't stay this good but the fact he's done well at all is big plus for the Braves. Hudson hasn't been dominating this year and Hanson with a 4.29 ERA has been disappointing. Maholm is a very solid pitcher but he doesn't scare anyone. This is a good three but the Nats pitchers are better.

Cueto : 2.45
Latos : 3.63
Arroyo/Bailey : ~4.00

There's a big dropoff right now from Cueto to Latos, but Latos has been pitching much better. I think he's a quality #2, as good as anyone. I'd put Cueto/Latos right there with ZNN/Gio. That 3rd spot though is where I think the Nats separate. You getting into guys for the Reds they aren't sure you can count on.  They are going to go with who's hot but the Nats hold the advantage.

Burnett : 3.32
McDonald : 3.77
Bedard/ Kartsens : ~4.00

Very similar situation to Cincinnati except Cueto/Latos > Burnett/McDonald; which means ZNN/Gio are better too.  Even though you can see AJ Burnett post-season hero coming at you like a freight train, you can't like this rotation better than the Nats.

Lohse :  2.72
Wainwright : 3.87
Lynn/Westbrook : 3.65

St Louis is solid 1-3 and Lohse has been that good but again, I don't see how you wouldn't like the Nats three more. Wainwright has been pitching better and has a nice history but he also missed all of last year.  I'm not going to put him above Gio and that seals the deal.

Kershaw : 2.90
Capuano : 3.11
Billingsley : 3.62

This is the first Top 3 that I like to challenge the Nats Top 3.  Kershaw hasn't been as good as ZNN but he is a star. I'd like them evenly. On the other hand, even though Capuano has the better ERA, I like Gio better. Billingsley to me is where I think the Dodgers at least match back up to the Nats. I think he's got to skill to throw a dominating performance in a way that Detwiler and Jackson don't.  I may give the Dodgers an edge.  Luckily their offense is pretty terrible.

Cain : 2.99
Bumgarner : 2.97
Vogelsong : 2.72

You have to like the Giants Top 3 better than the Nats. There's no denying that they've pitched better this year and in a random series against a random opponent I'd take these three to put up fewer runs than the Nats three.  However, this season the Nats seem to have the Giants number. So while the rotation is better I don't know how much I'd be worried about it.

If we were to throw in Strasburg and expand out to five, you'd see why the Nats are where they are.  While most teams are struggling filling out rotations with guys with ERAs closing in on 5.00, the Nats' worst pitcher is probably going to top out in the 3.50-3.75 range.  So cutting down the rotations does even things out a bit. However, it doesn't make up all the ground. You still have to like the Nats 2-4 better than most other teams 1-3 and for the ones you might favor the opponent it's not by much.


blovy8 said...

The 2011 Braves and Red Sox say "wha?"

Part of the issue is going to be off days. Can you imagine the Nats using anyone on short rest? I can't. An advantage the Nats have is in the event of a full 7 game series, Detwiler and Jackson have shown they're versatile enough to pitch well in relief depending on matchups. We're probably going to hear a lot about "experience" in September, I don't necessarily buy it, but I do hope Jackson's experience against the Brewers helps him rather than haunts him.

NatsLady said...

Do you think CIN might use Leake? Or is that too chancy? Can be lights out. Can be terrible.

DezoPenguin said...

Thankfully, Gio's last two starts have been considerably better (the CG, followed by his performance at SF), so it's entirely possible the ship-righting has taken place already. Or at least that even if Gio is going to be last year's Gio instead of first-half-2012-Gio going forward, 2010-11 Gio was a high-quality pitcher anyway. Most importantly, he really does seem to have improved his control this year...

As for the Pirates, it's worth noting that McDonald has flamed out since the break, which has to raise serious questions about injury or overwork or at the very least *something*.

The team that scares me the most is the Cardinals. Maybe it's just the shadow of last year, but the fact that they have the only NL offense that can look at anybody's rotation and not be scared by it is frightening, especially when in a playoff scenario every mistake is magnified. Their pitching doesn't match up with the Nats, but it reminds me of the Nats' offense: not overwhelming, but adequate top-to-bottom and if it all turns on at once can be devastating. The Giants (now minus their best position player for the rest of the year), Dodgers, Pirates, Reds, and even the Braves all have holes that make them imperfect.

WiredHK said...

Of paramount importance is winning the division and winning the overall top slot, and this breakdown highlights that. With the WC teams forced to burn their aces on the all-or-nothing play-in game, the Nats would then get to match up ZNN and Gio vs #2 and #3 on the opposition in games 1 and 2 of the NLDS (on the road, no less). Most of the teams in the WC hunt have a measurable drop-off after #1 (except the Giants).

Winning those first two games or even splitting them is crucial to advancing. After that, if the Nats make the NLCS, I think I'll feel like we're playing with house money at that stage.

Losing Melky is a big blow to SF's already mediocre offense. I feel like the WCs are going to be ATL/WAS and StL at this point (Pitt is fading fast, too).

And the Braves just refuse to lose. These two freight trains are on a massive collision course. I'm pumped.

Harper said...

blovy8 - Red Sox and Braves were both WC leaders holding off a single WC spot and it took epic conditions to get them out. Nats are division leaders and have two WC spots. Would be the new worst collapse in history.

If the Nats are in an elimination game and it's Jackson/Detwiler or ZNN on 3 days rest I'd hope they go with ZNN. Otherwise no - I'd expect a 4 man rotation (which is even more of an advantage for the Nats if teams play that way)

NatsLady - I'd expect Arroyo, experience, what not. But if Leake finished strong, sure why not. I think that 3rd spot is pretty open

DezoPenguin - I don't like the Dodgers - I think they somehow match-up well against the Nats. Can't explain it.

Wired HK - wouldn't mind a game closer by the Braves series (then again I'd expect a Nats sweep then - classic Braves)

blovy8 said...

Harper, did you blog about the Red Sox on August 13th last year? You may as well say, what are the odds of two teams with nine game advantages in separate leagues both choking away leads of that size over the last month of the season? That would be about as locky a lock as you could find, kind of like betting against the Astros as World Series winners next year, or Melky Cabrera being this good without cheating.
I don't want to rehash last season, but the Red Sox had a familiar sounding 73-45 record on August 13th, were in first place, and were the consensus favorites in their division that year. I'm not about to agree that the playoffs are certain. Sure, there's another wildcard, sure, they have better pitching than those clubs did so are less likely to sustain a long losing streak. It is likely. But "going to"? - no. That is hubris to think they can't drop 9 games in the standings when so many teams appear to be above average in the NL. I certainly don't want it to happen, but it DOES happen, right after everyone seems to think it's over.

Kenny B. said...

For what it's worth, we also dominated Cincinnati pretty well earlier on in the season. Based on head-to-head performances this season, I'd be more comfortable with the Nats playing the Reds/Braves than the Dodgers/Pirates. McCutchen in particular is a bonafide Nats-killer.

Don't really know what to think about St. Louis. They seem to get their mojo going late in the season, so I guess you want to avoid them in the post-season.

Anonymous said...

In what fantasy world do you think there will be a 3 man rotation in a 7 game series? This is 2012, every team will use 4 starters in the playoffs.

Nick said...

I would still take the Nats 3 over the Giants 3, because for one, Vogelsong has greatly outpitched his peripherals this year, and two, all 3 of those guys benefit from pitching in a very friendly ballpark in a division devoid of hitting. Besides playing 81 games a year in SF, there are 9 in San Diego and 9 in LA. Cain and Bumgarner are probably equal to our top 2, but I can't buy Vogelsong as better than Jackson/Detwiler.

Froggy said...

Strausburg pitches some games in the playoffs.

Might be the final back against the wall, all-in, hail Mary, what do we have to lose scenario, but he will pitch.

I'm not going away Harper!

Harper said...

blovy8 - sure it does happen but what I'm saying is because of the Nats position and the new WC format it takes the unlikely right into the impossible. Both the RedSox and Braves scenarios required two unlikely events to happen. One team to choke big time and one team to get super hot. The Nats scenario requires not only that the Nats choke but (1) the Braves play 5 games better than the choking Nats (2) The Pirates playing 9 games better than the Nats and (3) The Cardinals (or Giants/Dodgers loser) playing 9 games better than the Nats.

The Combinations of Nats choke and #3 would equal the events of last year. The other two events add more unlikelihood to the scenario. Once you get that many teams the scenarios get harder to figure because they have to win games vs eachother. It's hard to envision a scenario where the Cardinals and Pirates both surge, or the Giants and Dodgers both surge.

Kenny B - But that was all LaRussa right?

Anon - it has happened and for a desperate team it could happen again. Since the Nats big advantage is starter depth, this was a look at the worst case scenario - where their starter depth is minimized in comparison to the other teams in the playoffs. A four man IS more likely and gives the Nats a greater advantage.

Nick - I won't argue with that.

Harper said...

Froggy - I feel like there should be a bet on this.

Jeff Hayes said...

I'm with Harper on the Strasburg pitching in the playoffs bet. I can't even imagine he'll be on the playoff roster, as sad as that is to say. I'd love to be proven wrong - if its for the right reasons - but I'll bet I'm not.

Section 222 said...

Check out the playoff calendar.

I agree with anon@10:10 that the chances of us using only 3 starters in a seven game series are virtually nil. Even if JZnn starts Game 1, which would only happen if we win the NLDS or NLCS in 3 or 4 games, we'll have to use our fourth starter (whether that's E-Jax or Det) in at least one game. The second off-day between games 5 and 6, allows us to use four starters instead of five, but doesn't come soon enough to reduce the needed starters to three unless you're going to pitch your No. 1 on 3 days rest.

The only alternative scenario is if we've lost the first three games of the NLCS or World Series and our fourth starter has pitched poorly in his most recent start. I'd still expect them to simply to go to our No. 5, but it's possible I suppose that JZnn could go on 3 days rest in that circumstance. That assumes, of course that the previous series hasn't gone the distance because, as noted above, if it has, he won't be able to start game 1 of the following series anyway.

And, if you do that in the NLCS, you may have burned him out for the World Series since the NLCS would be a seven game series at best.

Taking all of that into account, I think the Nats will use four pitchers in any series that goes four games or more. Not sure about the other teams, but our staff's advantage definitely increases if we're going four against four, right?

Anonymous said...

I would add a worry factor to the Giants rotation for postseason experience. What the Giants (especially bumgarner, lincecum and cain) did in the 2010 postseason should still be frightening, despite the regular season record against the Nats.

Froggy said...

Harper, the bet will be:

If after they shut him down he either does or does NOT pitch* for the post season.

Winner = choice of a case of beer (shipping included)

Loser = must write very nice words about how the winner is so smart and good looking (even if both are lies)


*I didn'say start, just pitch.

Froggy said...

Correction: ...pitch in the post season (not for)

Anonymous said...

Harper you are the most annoying person ever. ITS AUGUST, why dont you talk about the game that just passed and the game that is coming up. Wow.

ff said...

Nick, they also play 9 games in Coors field and 9 games in Arizona, 2 of the best hitters park in baseball so it evens out.

Nick said...

True, but the 18 games in SD/LA are a small part of the overall point. The Giants have lower ERAs in part because they play in a very pitcher friendly ball park in the worst hitting division in all of baseball.

Harper said...

Sec 222- Agree with everything you said including Nats 4 vs other 4 being a greater advantage for the Nats (Dodgers and I think Cards hold strong - bigger drop offs for other teams at 4) - as you see in my previous comment to Anon 3-man scenario is "worst case"

Now if the Nats go 4 and the OTHER team goes 3 - that a big ?. Cain on 3 days rest or Edwin Jackson?

Anon - I'm not a huge believer in post-season experience being a bid deal (check out WS teams over the past decade) but it certainly can't hurt.

Froggy - a case - you mean like 24 beers? That's a heavy load to ship. What about a 12 pack, can prefereable for weight and fragility, of local brew. Not sure where you are so I don't know if that'd be feasbile. And yes - pitch at all in a game. One pitch for fun in the 7th game of the WS Nats up 23-0 - you win.

Anon - I rarely if ever write about single regular season games. I probably will do it for the upcoming Braves series since it's so impt but otherwise at best you are going to get a couple preview/review series paragraphs from me. If you want game stories I think federal baseball does a lot of that. I'm sure others here can recommend other sites.

ff/Nick - Nick is right. ARI/COL balances out LA/SD, but SF itself is a big pitchers park and all 3 pitch much better at home. That being said (1) half the playoff games will be in SF and (2) E Jax and Detwiler especially also pitch much better at home. Basically if the cards line-up right for the Giants in a SF v WSN series home field might balance completely out.

Anonymous said...

can someone tell this moron the braves have a new starter to challenge for the #2 spot? his name is kris medlen. 2.04 era. lower as a starter.