The Washington Nationals have one of the most intriguing and fantasy relevant starting rotations in the major leagues.
Theyâ€™re not replacement level guys like the individuals littering the Astros rotation nor are they hired guns brought in off the free agent market for huge dollars like the Dodgers staff. These guys are mostly homegrown or at least achieved their biggest success in a Nationals uniform. There is one notable exception of course (looking at YOU, Dan Haren), but all of these guys are worthy of being discussed for use in any applicable format.
These guys matter and they all matter for very different reasons. Their advanced metrics also matter and they also matter for very different weekends. That’s why we’re going to take a long, hard look at the five men pitching in Washington in this week’s edition of Lies, Damn Lies and Advanced Metrics…
Nationals starter Jordan Zimmerman is off to the kind of start Stephen Strasburg wishes he had. Heâ€™s already managed to, erm, earn five wins. He has a rockinâ€™ 1.86 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. This is probably the best time to sell high on Jordan Zimmerman. Heâ€™s been getting by on smoke and mirrors. It has to be frustrating for a guy like Strasburg to have such phenomenal stuff, but heâ€™s posting ugly results like last nightâ€™s seven inning, four earned run affair. Meanwhile, Zimmerman has two straight starts with zero runs allowed.
Zimmerman owns a .188 BABIP. Thatâ€™s almost 100 points below his .286 career average. Oh, and he owns a 51.2% ground ball rate. So, heâ€™s giving up a lot of ground balls and almost all are finding gloves…for now. Zimmerman is unlikely to continue to find that many gloves during the rest of the season and his numbers will likely rise.
Zimmerman hasnâ€™t experienced a drop in velocity or movement, but his K/9 is down to 5.52. Heâ€™s never posted a K/9 under 6.92 at the major league level. Heâ€™s striking fewer guys out, putting more balls in play and happens to be finding gloves. Zimmerman is a prime sell-high candidate. His trade value has probably never been this high and it is absolutely time to strike while the iron, and Zimmerman, are hot.
Speaking of Stephen Strasburg…Stephen Strasburg, ladies and gentlemen! Honestly, there really isnâ€™t a lot to discuss here. There really arenâ€™t any red flags with Stephen Strasburg, sabrmetrically speaking. His .277 BABIP is slightly below his .301 career average. The eye test would say that Strasburgâ€™s BABIP would be higher than average, not lower, but clearly thatâ€™s not whatâ€™s going on here. His 11.4% HR:FB ratio is basically the same as last yearâ€™s 11.5% mark. The only difference is that heâ€™s allowed fly balls at a slightly higher rate this year (35.8%) compared to last year (33.1%).
His velocity hasnâ€™t dropped off from last season. Heâ€™s even getting similar movement to yearâ€™s past according to Brooksbaseball.netâ€™s usage and movement charts.
He does have a funky home/road split right now. Strasburg is, well, Stephen Strasburg at home with a 1.35 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and 7.65 K/9, but he has been knocked around on the road. Strasburg owns a 5.18 road ERA with a 1.48 WHIP. He is getting the majority of his Kâ€™s on the road as he owns a 9.99 road K/9. Heâ€™s allowed four of five home runs on the road and 11 of 13 unintentional walks. Could unfamiliar circumstances really being dooming the young ace? It hasnâ€™t traditionally. Strasburg owns a 3.03 road ERA and a 1.17 road WHIP for his career.
Strasburg got rocked at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, but heâ€™s also struggled in Pitcherâ€™s parks like Cit Field and PNC Park. These will likely look like outliers at the end of the season. The walks are a concern, but this is actually normal for Strasburg. He posted a 2.71 BB/9 last year, but owns a 2.64 mark this year. His K/9 numbers are skewed by his first start against the Marlins. His first start is the only game in which he hasnâ€™t struck out at least a batter per inning. Strasburg is fine, both health-wise and ability-wise and he will likely prove that over a 162 game season.
Gio Gonzalez is another guy that fantasy GMs probably shouldnâ€™t worry about. Gio is striking out a ton of batters this year. His 26.1% K% would be a career high if the season ended today. The problem is that his 13.0% BB% would also be a career high if the season ended today.
Whatâ€™s likely the cause of his inflated ERA is his LOB %. Gonzalez has suffered through a statistical variance with runners on base. He owns a career LOB % of 73.6%, but heâ€™s only stranding runners at a 65.1% rate so far this season.
Heâ€™s also been battered on balls hit in the air. Gonzalez is only giving up fly balls 30.0% of the time this year, but fly balls are leaving the park at a 16.7% rate. Gio posted a career low 5.8% HR:FB ratio last year and was due to regress towards his career average, but his current rate is almost double his 9.6% career rate.
The statistical variances Gonzalez is going through will likely correct at some point and his ERA should end up closer to his 3.51 xFIP than his current 5.34 actual.
Ross Detwiler is probably the least interesting of this bunch from a fantasy standpoint. Detwiler is a journeyman who has never journeyed. He has all the characteristics of a guy who should have worn multiple uniforms in his career, but heâ€™s spent his entire professional life as a member of the Nationals organization.
Heâ€™s never posted a K/9 over 6.00 at the major league level and he never will, but he has outperformed his xFIP every year since his mediocre rookie season. He fits into that soft tossing, put-the-ball-in-play-as-much-as-possible mold that tends to defy a lot of the advanced metrics. Heâ€™s able to generate a lot of ground balls (46.8% GB % for his career), not get murdered on fly balls (8.4% HR/FB ratio for his career) and not walk too many (BB/9 under 3.00 for the last three seasons). Heâ€™s mixed league relevant, but an avoid in any league with an innings cap. His lack of Kâ€™s will hurt more than it will help in a league with limited innings available.
Dan Haren has been discussed ad nauseum in fantasy baseball circles this year. FP911 Editor Emeritus Patrick Dicaprio likes to tell us that May is the great equalizer and Patrick is on the correct side of the ledger more often than not.
Haren was bad in April. His ERA was 6.29. His WHIP was 1.73. Somehow, he managed to nick twice as many wins as Stephen Strasburg (two).
It was little consolation to those who chose to invest in Haren, but the underlying metrics indicated that better days were on the horizon. Haren owned a 20:4 K:BB ratio in 24 1/3 innings. He was getting murdered with a .386 BABIP. Six of the 38 fly balls he allowed managed to find the bleachers and left Haren with a 15.8% HR:FB ratio. All of these factors seemed to be working against Haren, but his velocity was actually better than it was during a mediocre 2012 season stuck in the American League. Something was wrong.
Then the calendar flipped to May and Haren threw eight innings of one-run baseball against the Braves. Haren needed only 91 pitches to limit the Braves, a real offense, to four hits and one walk while striking out four. Dan Haren isnâ€™t the anchor of a fantasy staff that he used to be. Well, â€œAnchor for the first half of the seasonâ€ the way he used to be, but heâ€™s still a guy worth having on a fantasy baseball roster. Heâ€™s not going to end the year with an ERA over 6.00. May will likely prove to be the end to the statistical variance Haren dealt with in April. Heâ€™s worth using in fantasy leagues as long as he has a reasonably decent matchup.