July 22, 2014

Statistically Speaking: Bullpen Efficiency

The Washington Nationals bullpen as a unit are having a fantastic season in support of their more acclaimed starting rotation brethren. While the actual ranks differ by which all-encompssing statistic you prefer to use—the bullpen ranks tied for second in MLB with 2.8 wins above replacement (WAR) and fourth in RE24 at 27.53—the overall sentiment that the team’s relief corps is among the best in the business is not lost without the statistical confirmation.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride throughout the course of the season overall, with the likes of ever-dependable setup man Tyler Clippard and immensely talented former starter Ross Detwiler taking their lumps in the form of blown leads and inherited runners scoring. Yet, these shaky outings have been countered and exceeded by the efforts of Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, and rookie Aaron Barrett, among others, and has kept the bullpen ledger in the black and the team in whispering distance of first place in the NL East.

Looking further at the polarizing outings of Clippard led me to come to this particular stat last week:

With the polarizing outings of Clippard to go along with the some similar clean outings by polarizing personality of Soriano, the Nats have a pair of relievers that face the minimum number of hitters half of their outings, which goes a long way to accruing the WAR and RE24 values the bullpen has thus far. It also speaks to how efficient the guys in the ‘pen are in getting hitters out and preventing the big inning for the opposing team. Do the rest of the Nats relievers follow suit and could this ability to keep additional runners (and potential runs) at bay be a reason for the success of 2014 from a group that hasn’t changed much in terms of roster from last year’s staff that finished 18th and 20th in MLB in WAR and RE24, respectively?

First, let’s outline what bullpen efficiency means. Efficiency is essentially how many batters a pitcher faces over the number that was expected from an outing. From there, we will also look at ‘clean outings’, where a pitcher faces the minimum number of batters for a given outing, with game situation considered. The fewer batters faced over the minimum, the better, as this obviously keeps runners off the base paths.

Let’s look at some data.

Name G IP xIP IP, Diff TBF xBF BF, Diff Efficiency(%) AppClean/Pct. RE24
Aaron Barrett 28 25.2 26.2 1 108 77 31 59.74 13/46.4% 2.77
Craig Stammen 22 38.1 39 0.2 152 115 37 67.83 6/27.3% 6.72
Drew Storen 29 24.1 26.2 2.1 93 73 20 72.80 16/55.2% 5.94
Jerry Blevins 33 27 29.1 2.1 116 81 35 56.80 16/48.5% 2.82
Rafael Soriano 31 31 31 0 114 93 21 77.42 17/54.8% 9.83
Ross Detwiler 20 29 31.2 2.2 137 87 50 42.53 4/20% -7.08
Tyler Clippard 37 34 36.1 2.1 137 102 35 65.70 19/51.4% 2.11

 

The table above is a little busy, but the explanations of the various columns are very straightforward and on the lighter side, mathematically. Aside from the standard games, innings pitched, and RE24 values, we also have a couple of variables that were calculated to help capture efficiency.

The first of these is expected innings pitched (xIP), which is the number of inning pitched that were expected from a pitcher, with game and outing specific information included. For example, if a pitcher has an outing where he pitched 0.2 IP, he could have an xIP of 0.2 if he came in relief with one out in the inning—he was only expected to get the other two outs to complete the inning.

Conversely, he could have a xIP of 1, but failed to get the third out of the inning before being pulled. Calculating xIP and confirming game situations was dine using game log data from Baseball Reference. Total batters faced (TBF) is simply that and expected batters faced (xBF) is calculated similar to xIP, with game situation taken into account. With xIP and xBF, care was taken with the Nats bullpen members who are more situational relivers, in particular, Jerry Blevins, to account for how they were pulled.

If they left an outing due to poor performance with runs scored or runners put in scoring position, then they were allotted the full inning of work expected and the batters faced. If they were pulled due to situation—bringing in Blevins to face a tough lefty, for example—then a full inning pitched was not assumed. Differences between actual performance and expected data re capture with the ‘Diff’ categories. From the game log data also comes the clean outing data (AppClean/Pct.), where the number of clean outings specific to game situation were tallied, with percentages also provided for comparison.

With the variables exhaustively described, let’s talk results. Not surprisingly, the Big Three of the Nats bullpen—Clippard, Soriano, and Storen—lead the way in clean outings, with Soriano and Storen also showing the most efficiency in terms of batters faced over the minimum (BF, Diff.).  Percent efficiency was calculated by taking the percentage difference between xBF and TBF and then subtracting this value from 100 and again shows how well both Soriano and Storen have been, not only in terms of performance, but in terms of being economical.

Not to be forgotten are the performances of Barrett and long man Craig Stammen, who both show a high rate of efficiency, despite subpar clean appearance numbers. Despite some encouraging recent outings, a very rough start to the season skews Ross Detwiler’s numbers greatly and shows a propensity for big innings and difficulties in keeping hitters off of the base paths.

Does this idea of efficiency trend with performance?

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.45.04 PM

In our very small sample, it indeed does, as the above graph of RE24 by number of batter faced of the minimum (BF, Diff in our table above) shows. As the number of extra hitters faced rises, RE24 drops, which makes this a negative correlation with a very strong R-squared of 0.72, providing us confirmation of good fit of the data. However, with seven data points, it would be very unwise to make any grand inferences out of these results. Despite this, we do see an interesting aspect of the bullpen’s success that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score or in the formulas of the numerous advanced metrics available—not only are they keeping runs off of the scoreboard, they’re doing so in tidy fashion.

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and current through 6/24/2014.
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Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Statistically Speaking: Detwiler falls short

The decision to move lefty Ross Detwiler to the bullpen wasn’t one made lightly or with much joy by the Washington Nationals. Beset by injury and a 2014 spring training showing that found him working through a rough patch with respect to harnessing his secondary pitches (including a new one, a cut-fastball), inevitably, Detwiler got caught up in numbers games; games involving him being one of a number of capable pitchers vying for the fifth spot in the starting rotation and also those revolving around Det and his particular talents.

Talents that made him a first-rounder in the 2007 MLB Draft and led him to a breakout 1.6 fWAR 2012 season. Talents that have frustratingly been hampered by injury and a concomitant drop in fastball velocity, which, along with a lack of a reliable secondary pitch, has made Det a bit of a one-trick pony, something that is difficult to maintain in the starting rotation. As his reliever cohorts and former starting prospects Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano, and Craig Stammen can attest, the need for more than one effective pitch (and in reality, more than two) is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to survival in the rotation.

Let’s look at what Detwiler did as a starter last season in comparison to starters with 150 or more innings pitched to see how far off he was in terms of providing effective innings as a back-of-the-rotation starter. We use the 150 inning criteria with the assumption that this number is roughly what is required from a number five starter.

First, the repertoire. Per FanGraphs and PITCHf/x data, Detwiler threw four pitches: a four-seam fastball (FA), a sinker (SI), a slider (SL), and a changeup (CH). Below, we see how often he threw those pitches in comparison to the NL average for pitchers with 150-plus innings, with standard deviations (SD) included to see how Detwiler slots:

FA% SI% SL% CH%
NL Avg±SD 36±17.4 32.0±12.9 18.1±9.3 12.0±7.1
Detwiler 51.1 36.7 8.2 3.6

When summing up his fastball and sinker percentages into one value, we find that Detwiler threw hard stuff 87.8% of the time last year; when doing the same math for the average NL starters, we find the closest pitcher to that percentage is St. Louis Cardinal Shelby Miller, who threw some form of a fastball 73.6% of the time. Not surprisingly, Detwiler fell well below the average for secondary pitch percentages as well.

Now that the pitch frequency caveat has been beaten to death, let’s shift gears a bit and discuss how good a pitch was. Again turning to FanGraphs, we can use pitch type linear weights to help determine how successful a pitcher was with a given pitch. Below, we have Detwiler’s pitch type linear weights per 100 pitch basis (hence the ‘/C’ notation) for his 2013 offerings in comparison to the aforementioned NL starters with more than 150 IP:

wFA/C wSI/C wSL/C wCH/C
NL Avg±SD 0.19±1.05 -0.32±0.39 0.06±2.07 0.04±1.53
Detwiler -0.12 -0.65 -3.55 -4.23

While me must be careful with how we interpret Detwiler’s offspeed results due to sample size and the potential for misclassification, we find that his fastballs (FA and SI) were both slightly below average, but still were within a standard deviation our NL averages. With the additional information the standard deviations give us, we find Det’s heaters were roughly average. We are also inclined to think that Detwiler’s secondary offerings were penalized somewhat by not only throwing so few of them, but also not being successful pitches when thrown in the form of high run expectancies. Simply put, even when he threw a secondary pitch, it more often than not led to a less than desirable outcome, be it a walk or a run scored.

So far, we have Detwiler relying heavily upon a pitch that was average and not throwing much else. Where did pitches end up once hit and was it any different than our average NL starter population?

LD% GB% FB% HR/FB%
NL Avg±SD 21.6±1.8 45.7±5.2 32.8±5.1 9.7±2.2
Detwiler 23.0 45.6 31.5 6.4

In general, Detwiler profiles as a starter here and more encouragingly, fares better than most in keeping homers at bay. The only red flag would be his line drive rate, which is borderline high.

Taking one step back in the process, let’s now look at where in the zone Detwiler pitches and how well hitters make contact, on average:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Zone% SwStr%
NL Avg±SD 30.5±2.7 62.5±2.7 63.3±6.3 88.2±2.5 49.5±3.5 9.3±1.7
Detwiler 32.2 66.9 75.6 92 50.7 6.6

For the above, ‘O-’ stands for outside the zone, while ‘Z-’ stands for inside the strike zone; SwStr% is swinging strike rate. By the looks of it, hitters swing a little more at pitches outside the zone on Detwiler. Contact rates against Detwiler are above the NL average in and out of the zone and at the same time, Detwiler does poorly with regards to getting hitters to swing and miss.

To paraphrase our findings, Detwiler is a one-pitch pitcher with said pitch being average in comparison to NL starters with at least 150 IP and his secondary offerings, while not seen often, are not up to par with other starters. With this, we also find Detwiler inducing higher than average amounts of contact, with below average swinging strike rates. While none of this completely dooms Detwiler and his chances of ever starting again, let’s discuss another piece of the starting pitcher puzzle that has escaped the lanky lefty, especially in 2013—success beyond the first time through an opponent’s batting order:

Time through order Detwiler wOBA NL Avg wOBA*
1st PA 0.302 0.309
2nd PA 0.393 0.317
3rd PA 0.413 0.336
4th+ PA 0** 0.310

*averages for all NL starters, no IP criteria used

**based on 2 PA

Using weighted on base average (wOBA) as our metric for the amount of offense against a pitcher, we find that NL starters tend to get hit a little more by the time they see a hitter a third time. Detwiler also displays this tendency, but in a more dramatic fashion, showing a 100 point swing in wOBA from the first and third plate appearance (PA) and a nearly 80 point swing in the third PA, in comparison to average NL starters. Here lies most of the damning evidence towards explaining sending Detwiler to the bullpen.

While these averages are from a 2013 season shortened by injury, the trends still stand; using Detwiler at his face value—a one-pitch pitcher—in shorter appearances more frequently lend him to be more productive and effective. Add to his difficulties in maintaining his health or consistent command of a second and third pitch and we see where the decision made shows the dedication that Nationals have in making the most of Ross Detwiler’s talents—talents that will serve him and the team well from the bullpen…for now.

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Data courtesy of FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com

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Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Nats send Detwiler to pen, speaks to his long-term viability as starter

The Washington Nationals have decided to move Ross Detwiler to the bullpen. The oft-injured left-hander was reportedly “not happy” with the decision, and you could hardly blame him. This type of move, to a pitcher who should be in the prime of his career, signifies a team “giving up” on him as a starter and can [maybe unfairly] label him the rest of his career in the big leagues.

It’s no secret that relievers make less money in arbitration and free agency than starters, and this could potentially cripple Detwiler’s long-term earning potential.

But that’s a side effect really of the big picture. This move has been coming for a while.

Make no mistake, this decision isn’t about Matt Williams’ desire to have another lefty in the bullpen. This is a clear indication of how the organization feels about Detwiler’s long-term viability as a starting pitcher.

In his most complete season as a starter in the bigs, Detwiler went 10-8, 3.40, 1.223 in 2012, making 33 appearances and 27 starts at age 26. The baseball card stats showed promise that Detwiler could fulfill the potential everyone saw for him as a first round draft pick — No. 6 overall — in 2007.

But the underlying numbers then, as it’s always been for Detwiler, were underwhelming. The middling strikeout rate. The dip in velocity. An unusually low BABiP. An unnatural dip in line drive percentage, accompanied by an unexplainable rise in ground ball rate.

All those factors conspired against Detwiler when the GB% and LD% went back to career norms last season. Detwiler hadn’t taken a step up; he got lucky for a season. It happens. A lot.

Detwiler has two big things going against him as a starter. His inability to stay healthy (which as this point is as much of a “skill” as anything) and the fact that he only throws two pitches.

Fangraphs has Detwiler at 51.1 percent four-seam fastballs and 31.4 percent sinker, which is really just a different type of fastball. He threw 7.2 percent sliders and 5.7 percent changeups last season. That’s not the arsenal of a starting pitcher. In 2012, he threw the slider 12.6 percent. He’s all but abandoned it. Whether that’s his own doing of a team directive is an open question.

He was more hittable last season too. Contact against him both inside and outside the strike zone went up appreciably, which speaks to his lousy strikeout rate as his swinging strike rate plummeted from 7.2 percent in ’12 (not high to begin with) to a downright lousy 6.6 percent last season.

In the past three seasons, Detwiler’s four-seam has gone down from 93.0 in ’12 to 92.4 last season. The sinker lost 0.6 MPH as well. Is this due to the combination of injury he went through last season? Is it a compilation of injury throughout his career? Either way, one shouldn’t be losing velocity going from age 26 to age 27.

Which brings us to the injury problem. Detwiler has never had an arm injury, despite landing on the D.L. in the majors in both ’10 (hip–110 days) and ’13 (back, neck-116 days). Detwiler has always used a pronounced cross-body delivery, stepping towards the dugout instead of home plate and throwing across his body during his delivery. As an amateur, it allowed him a better whip motion and generated velocity for him.

Through the years, though, that same delivery has created a myriad of problems, as it’s very violent to several body parts, including the hip area. Accumulation of injury may have finally caught up with him, robbing him of just enough velocity to keep the action on his fastball less deceptive than his sinker.

A switch to the bullpen may allow him to generate that extra half-mile an hour that he needs to separate the fastball and sinker. Or, this may just be the first step in Detwiler fading to obscurity. Some starting pitchers (see Stammen, Craig) make the transition from starter to long reliever easily. Some not so much. It’s up to Detwiler at this point to salvage his baseball career.

But it’s clear that despite his previous amounts of success and his high draft pedigree, the Nats think (and probably rightfully so) that they can do better in the rotation.

Washington Nationals Spring Training: Nats fall to Yankees off Detwiler’s shaky start

After tossing a 1-2-3 first inning, Ross Detwiler gave up all the runs the New York Yankees needed in the second inning of the Washington Nationals’ 4-2 loss at George M. Steinbrenner Field Monday afternoon.

Detwiler retired Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Brian McCann in order in the first but gave up back-to-back singles to Brian Roberts and Francisco Cervelli in the second inning. It quickly became evident that Detwiler struggled with location, as several of his fastballs fell away from his inside targets.

The poor fortune continued when Kelly Johnson doubled in Roberts before Ichiro Suzuki reached on a throwing error by Nats’ shortstop Zach Walters. On the play, both Cervelli and Johnson scored to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead before an out was recorded.

Then, Zoilo Almonte hit a ground-rule double on a fly ball down the right-field line and soon after, Corban Joseph singled on a grounder that plated Suzuki.

Despite his struggles, Detwiler had no issues facing New York lead-off man, Gardner, as he struck him out a second time before the Nats called upon a replacement.

Detwiler finished his Grapefruit League debut in just 1 ⅓ innings of work, during which he allowed four runs, three earned, over five hits.

Left-hander Danny Rosenbaum stopped the bleeding, by simply forcing Yankee captain Jeter to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Tanner Roark took the mound for two uneventful innings, during which he allowed just two hits.

In fact, the Nationals’ relief corp prevented the Yankees from tacking on additional runs, from Xavier Cedeno and Christian Garcia to Aaron Barrett and Manny Delcarmen.

In the top of the fifth, the Nationals finally put a run on a board, via a home run by the red-hot Zach Walters. Walters is now 6-for-7 with two doubles, a triple and the solo home run this spring.

The Nats tacked on a second run in the sixth after Eury Perez and Denard Span led off with back-to-back singles. Danny Espinosa then reached on a fielding error by Jeter, which allowed Perez to score Washington’s second run.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part IV: The Rotation

Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg pitched five innings and earned his fourth win, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Stephen Strasburg delivers in May 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

THE ROTATION

Stephen Strasburg, RHP: Some will look at his W-L record last year and decry Strasburg a bust. Au contraire. His ERA went down as his innings went up. His hit rate went down and his walk rate remained steady. He traded a few Ks for more ground balls (from 44% in ’12 to 52% in ’13), though he struck out just six fewer in 24 more innings, and his homer per fly ball rate stayed level. He’s the very definition of elite skills and getting better with age. This could be the season he puts it all together – dominance with patience, pitching not throwing, winning and leading a top-rate pitching staff. The only thing he needs now is to eclipse the 200 inning mark to finally establish him at the top of the hill, if you pardon the pun.

Gio Gonzalez, LHP: Gonzalez’ ’13 season wasn’t nearly as good as his breakout ’13, but so what? It’s not like he fell off a cliff. His ERA jumped 0.40, but that can largely be attributed to his home run rate popping back up to his career norm. It’s all about limited walks with Gonzalez, and he held the gains he made in ’13 when he came over to the N.L. He takes the ball every fifth day and has done the same job for the past three seasons. He’s as dependable an asset in the big leagues as there is in the game right now. It might not be upper-level, top-five-in-the-game elite production, but he’d be the staff ace on a LOT of big league teams.

Jordan Zimmermann, RHP: Zimmermann was the same pitcher last season as he’d been for the previous two, only this time he was the beneficiary of league average run production and his win total exploded to lead the N.L. and garner enough Cy Young votes to finish seventh. Zimmermann had a rough July (7.18 ERA in five starts) but bounced back to post a 3.36 ERA the rest of the way. His walk rate (1.7 per nine) is elite and there are more Ks there if he wants them. But he’s steadily excellent as he is. He is scheduled to hit free agency following the ’15 season (as is Desmond), and he’s going to be expensive to sign to a long-term deal, as he’s already stated in the media he won’t settle for a “hometown” discount.

Doug Fister, RHP: Acquired in December from the Tigers for INF Steve Lombardozzi and LHP Robbie Ray, Fister has toiled mostly in anonymity for most of his career, first in Seattle, then in Motown. But Fister’s main skills are hardly those of a second fiddle. Fister is a command and control specialist who generates a ton of ground balls, almost never gives up home runs (0.6 per nine) and possesses an elite K/BB ratio. Fister should thrive in front of a defense that, while not quite elite itself, is far and above what he’s been used to in Detroit. He’s the No. 4 in D.C. only by default.

Ross Detwiler, LHP: Detwiler will be given the first opportunity to claim the No. 5 starter spot in Spring Training. The Nats would love to have a second lefty in the rotation, but it all depends on if Detwiler, not young anymore at 27, can stay healthy and show the gains he made in ’12 were real. His K rate, which has never been all that good, plummeted last season to 4.9 per nine innings, even though his walk rate was down too. The hip injury of two years ago robbed him of several miles an hour off the fastball, and he dealt with back and neck problems all last season. It’s incredible the amount of injuries this guy has gone through, but none to his arm. A move to the pen might help with velocity and longevity.

Taylor Jordan, RHP: Jordan took everyone by surprise last season, called up for an emergency start or two and ended up sticking around for nine starts to a 3.66 ERA and 1.355 WHIP. He’s another ground ball specialist with good control and middling strikeout rates, so he has a limited ceiling. But he certainly had the look of a big leaguer last season.

Tanner Roark, RHP: Ready for a stat? Roark threw 141 sliders to right handed hitters last season. The number of hits he gave up on that pitch: 0. As in zero. Roark is already 27, so the former 25th round pick is making up for lost time, but in 14 games and five starts he went 7-1 with a 1.51 ERA and 0.913 WHIP. That’s silly. He’s not going to repeat those numbers, obviously, but he’s stingy with free passes and keeps the ball on the ground. Noticing a pattern?

Ross Ohlendorf, RHP: Ohlendorf, he of the old-timey windup, resurrected his career last season. After consecutive years of ERAs over 7.50, Ohlendorf was probably on his last big league chance. He practically ditched his slider and relied on several different fastballs, changing speeds and locations enough to keep hitter honest most of the time. His “stuff” doesn’t compare to most of the arms the Nats have on staff, but he survived on the edges and got himself another shot this season. Is willing to work from rotation or pen and won’t be overwhelmed if the Nats have to plug him into any one of a variety of roles.

Sammy Solis, LHP: Solis, now 25, returned from Tommy John surgery to make 13 starts last season between the Gulf Coast league and Potomac. He was considered a fast riser with middle ceiling when drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, so Solis will need to show very quickly at Harrisburg to regain the luster of a mid-rotation starter. If not, look for the Nats to quickly convert him into a bullpen arm, a role that he could enjoy a long, healthy MLB career at. It’s all up to his K/9, which took a hit last year in the first year back after surgery.

A.J. Cole, RHP: Mike Rizzo loves A.J. Cole. He drafted him in the fourth round in 2010, traded him to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal, then traded back for him in the Michael Morse trade. Cole was okay at the start of the year in Potomac last season, but really took off upon his promotion to Harrisburg, where in seven starts he went 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 0.904 WHIP and 4.90 K/BB ratio. If Cole can get his breaking ball on par with his big, heavy fastball and MLB-average change, he could challenge for the rotation in 2015.

Matt Purke, LHP: Purke is still young, just 23. But he’s only made 21 starts in the past two seasons while dealing with the same impingement in his shoulder that cost him his last year at TCU and a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Purke’s issue is a lot like Detwiler, a cross-body action with his arm that generates a lot of torque, which in turn causes body parts to revolt and destruct. His fastball and changeup are both fringy right now and he needs innings to prove he’s still worth the effort, but it looks more and more like the Nats $4 million gamble on him in the third round of the 2011 draft will end up bust.

Chris Young, RHP: The 6’10″ Young didn’t pitch in the Majors last season. Shoot, he hardly pitched at all, making just nine starts in the minors, including seven in Syracuse, where he went 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA and almost walked as many (3.9 per nine) as struck out (4.5 per nine). So why is he listed here? I’m not sure. The Nats invited him to Spring Training again and since he’s a MLB veteran I’m giving him all due respect by listing him here, but at 35, he’s done. He never had much of a fastball to begin with, relying on guile and his impressive frame, but I’ll be shocked if Young makes it through Spring Training.

Washington Nationals Game 70 Review: Nats fall two below .500 after 4-2 loss to Lee, Phillies

Ross Detwiler and Cliff Lee put on quite the pitcher’s duel Tuesday night, but the Washington Nationals failed to play catch-up yet again as the Philadelphia Phillies rounded out a 4-2 win.

Washington (34-36) has dropped three in a row and five of eight so far in their nine-game, three-city road trip, with one to play. The Nats fall to a season-worst two games below .500 and are tied with the Phillies (35-37) for second place in the NL East – seven games behind the Atlanta Braves (42-30).

The Nats had a golden opportunity to pick up as many as two games against the Braves, as Atlanta was swept by the New York Mets in a double-header, but Washington was not up to the task.

Detwiler (L, 2-5) looked sharp in his first five innings pitched, allowing just one run on three hits. But the Nats lefty, making just his second start off the disabled list, ran out of gas in the sixth inning, marring his final line. By the end of his night, Detwiler allowed four runs in 6.0 innings on seven hits — though he did not walk a batter and struck out four. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 65 Review: Zimmerman and Desmond rake in Nats 5-4 win over Rockies

As the Washington Nationals slowly get guys back from the disabled list, and their hitters warm up with the summer weather, they are starting to look more like the team that was heralded in the pre-season as legitimate World Series contenders.

In the series finale in Colorado, the Nats used big days at the plate from Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, and a return to the mound from Ross Detwiler, to beat the Rockies 5-4 and raise their record back above .500 at 33-32.

Detwiler, returning from an oblique injury, was going to be limited to about 80 pitches, and he didn’t do himself any favors out of the gate as got behind right away in the first inning. After the Nats went down 1-2-3, Detwiler’s first pitch was ripped by Dexter Fowler into right field for a lead-off double. Fowler went to third on a groundout by Jordan Pacheco, and came in to score on Tyler Colvin’s pinch-hit single to left.

Yes, pinch-hit in the first inning. Carlos Gonzalez, an early N.L. MVP candidate, was hit in the lower left leg by a foul ball off the bat of Pacheco while standing in the on-deck circle and had to be removed from the game.

Zimmerman got the Nats on the board in the top of the third. Detwiler led off with his first hit of the season, a soft live drive to right. Two outs later, Zimmerman crushed a fastball from Francis to the bleachers in left field for his seventh homer this season and extends the Nats team record with a home run in 78 consecutive series.

Lifetime, Zimmerman owns a .365 average with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 28 career games at Coors Field.

The lead didn’t hold long though. The Rockies pushed tow across against Detwiler in the bottom of the fourth. Troy Tulowitzki singled to lead off and scored on Michael Cuddyer’s double that Jayson Werth then misplayed into an error in right field, allowing Cuddyer to go to third. Detwiler coaxed a grounder out of Wilin Rosario, but it was enough to bring Cuddyer in to make it 3-2.

Detwiler made it through five innings in his return to the rotation. He gave up three earned runs on six hits, without walking a batter, and struck out two. He threw 77 pitches, 51 strikes. Craig Stammen (W, 4-2, 2.94) took over for Detwiler and provided two innings of scoreless relief.

The Nats got a gift run to tie it in the seventh. Ian Desmond led off with a single and stole second as Kurt Suzuki struck out for the second out of the inning. Then, with Steve Lombardozzi hitting, Desmond was awarded third, and then home, when Rockies reliever Wilton Lopez was called for back-to-back balks by second base umpire Bob Davidson, widely known across baseball as “Balkin’ Bob” due to his proclivity for making the anomalous call.

Zimmerman delivered again in the eighth for the Nats. After Roger Bernadina’s one-out double, Zim cranked a double the other way which plated Bernadina, who appeared to jam his shoulder on the head-first slide on his double and was seen grimacing and being attended to by trainers in the dugout after he scored, though he did take the field the next inning.

Jayson Werth moved Zimmerman to third with a ground out and the Rockies inexplicable walked Adam LaRoche to face the Nats hottest hitter, Ian Desmond. The shortstop came through again for the Nats with his fourth hit of the day, an infield single in the hole that Tulowitzki gloved but could not make a play on. Zimmerman strolled home to make it 5-3.

Xavier Cedeno and Drew Storen combined on a perfect eighth inning in relief, and while Rafael Soriano gave up a run in the ninth, he held on for his 17th save of the season.

THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman. He loves hitting in Coors Field. 2-for-4 with a homer, double, three RBIs and two runs scored. His yearly averages are up to .274/.350/.458.

THE BAD: Denard Span took another 0-fer in Colorado, going 0-for-4. Werth and Suzuki joined him today taking the collar.

THE UGLY: The Rockies lost Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Troy Tulowitzki, their three best players and NL All-Stars all this season, to injury.

THE STATS: 9 hits, 4 BBs, 9 Ks. 2-for-5 with RISP, 6 LOB. E: Werth (1, fielding). 1 DP.

NEXT GAME: Friday at 7:05 pm ET at the Cleveland Indians. Gio Gonzalez (3-3, 3.59) faces RHP Justin Masterson (8-5, 3.68)

Washington Nationals injury updates: Harper to see Dr. Andrews; Strasburg to D.L.

Before Thursday’s game against the New York Mets, manager Davey Johnson gave a few updates on the Washington Nationals walking wounded.

– Bryce Harper experienced swelling in his knee after running in a pool earlier in the day and is scheduled to see Dr. James Andrews to get a further opinion on Monday.

– Danny Espinosa received a cortisone shot in his broken right wrist and is expected to start baseball activities in five days or so.

– Ross Detwiler will pitch in a rehab game at Potomac on June 8. He’ll throw about 50 pitches and is on target to return on June 13.

– Stephen Strasburg was officially placed on the 15-day D.L. and LHP Xavier Cedeno was recalled from AAA-Syracuse. It’s expected that RHP Ross Ohlendorf will be called up to start in Strasburg’s place Saturday.

Washington Nationals to D.L. Detwiler, call up Xavier Cedeno

Following the Washington Nationals 6-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, manager Davey Johnson told the assembled media the team would place LHP Ross Detwiler on the disabled list, retroactive to May 16, and call up LHP Xavier Cedeno from Triple-A Syracuse. Detwiler had a bullpen session Saturday, but Johnson said Detwiler’s side was still “very tight” following the workout and will be put on the D.L.

Cedeno, picked up on waivers from the Houston Astros, is on the 40-man roster so there doesn’t need to be a corresponding move. The 26-year-old lefty has made 52 appearances at the big league level, with an 0-1 record, 6.00 ERA and 1.744 WHIP over three seasons with the Astros. This season for Syracuse, he’s pitched in 10 games. He has a 1-0 record with one save, a 1.74 ERA and 0.968 WHIP in 10 1/3 innings. he’s walked three and struck out 14 batters.

In other injury news, Johnson said OF Bryce Harper re-aggravated a knee injury sliding into second base in Sunday’s game and will probably miss a couple of days, though Harper told reporters he doesn’t think he’ll have to miss much time. Harper also told reporters it’s an issue he’ll have to deal with this season and get fixed once the year is over.

Washington Nationals Game 40 Review: Detwiler, Ramos suffer injuries in Nats’ 3-1 loss to Dodgers

The Washington Nationals (21-19) have unquestionably struggled on offense as of late and, in his first start since April 11, right-hander Zack Greinke (W, 2-0) showed little remorse, leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 3-1 win Wednesday night.

The matchup marked Greinke’s first start since he fractured his left clavicle in a brawl with San Diego Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin. Greinke showed no signs of a struggle as he allowed just five hits and one run over 5.1 innings pitched. He struck out four batters and tossed 50 of 83 pitches for strikes. [Read more...]

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