Nats Rotation Taking Shape: Will GM Rizzo Take Chance On Free Agent?

Farid RushdiAnalyst IDecember 15, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 10: Starting pitcher Joel Pineiro #35 of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game Three of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Busch Stadium on October 10, 2009 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The baseball dominoes are beginning to fall, and it won’t be too long before the Washington Nationals know which free agent(s) will bolster their starting rotation.


Now that John Lackey is destined for Boston, and Roy Halladay is about to become a Philadelphia Philly, the rest of that second tier of starters is about to play their own version of musical chairs.


You better grab your seat now, because if you wait too long, you might not have a place to sit down.


As of tonight, only John Lannan is assured of a spot in the Nationals rotation. A healthy Scott Olsen should be the number-three starter. The last two spots should be filled by in-house from the following list:


Ross Detwiler:  1-6, 5.00

Yes, that’s pretty ugly, but he was the team’s best pitcher in September. In five starts, Detwiler pitched 23 innings, allowing just 18 hits. He had a .220 batting-average against, a .319 on-base percentage against and an amazing .268 slugging-average against.


The Nationals, after two years of trying to clean up a very ugly delivery motion, gave up and told him to go back to his college style that gave him so much success.


J.D. Martin: 5-4, 4.44

Martin came out of nowhere and impressed in half a season with Washington. Like Detwiler, he was great in September. In seven starts, Martin was 2-1, 4.02 with a .265 BAA, .337 OBPA and .449 SLGA. He allowed 9.9 hits per-nine innings, walked just 2.8 and struck out 4.3.


Craig Stammen: 4-7, 5.11

Stammen’s numbers are misleading. He began to complain of elbow soreness after a win on July 22. To that point he was pitching very well, going 3-5, 4.14 with a .254 BAA, .297 OBPA and .398 SLGA.


For the season, he allowed 9.5 hits per-nine, just 2.0 walks and 4.1 strikeouts. Several teams asked about him during the just completed winter meetings; several major league teams believe he is a major league starter.


Matt Chico: 2-4, 3.96 (Minor League Rehab)

I am a firm believer that a player shouldn’t lose a starting job because of an injury. Given that, Matt Chico should be assured of a starting job in 2010 unless he proves he doesn’t deserve it.


Chico had a good rookie season in 2007, going 7-9, with a 4.63 ERA. Granted, those aren’t spectacular numbers, but in 31 starts, he gave up three runs or less 20 times. Like most rookies, when he wasn’t pitching well; he got clobbered, making his statistics misleading.


He was 0-6, 6.19 in 2008 before it became obvious that he was hurt. He’s returned from Tommy John Surgery and seems to be close to 100 percent.



Any combination of those four pitchers should provide the Nationals enough quality at the back of the rotation to improve in 2010.


I’m just guessing, but I think that Detwiler and Martin will start the season in the rotation, with Stammen and Chico in reserve. It might benefit Chico to be—at least temporarily—a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, giving him the chance to build his stamina against major league batters.


So it’s very possible that the rotation will include John Lannan Scott Olsen, J.D. Martin, Ross Detwiler, and an as yet unnamed, unsigned free agent.


There are many free agents available, but the three that we here the most about are Jon Garland (11-13, 4.04), Jason Marquis (15-13, 4.04) and Joel Pineiro (15-12, 3.49)


Garland and Marquis are known commodities. Plug ‘em in, send ‘em to the mound, and you’re going to get 10-12 wins with an ERA a little above four runs a game. Either would be a safe and satisfying choice for Nationals’ fans.


But Pineiro is hard to figure at this point in his career. He could either be a steal for the Nationals or the biggest free agent embarrassment since Paul LoDuca.


I was a big Seattle Mariners’ fan in 2001, the year they won 116 games. Pineiro was a young rookie who seemed to have stardom written all over him.


Take a look at his numbers from 2001-2003, his first three years in the major leagues:


Record: 36-20

ERA: 3.20

Hits per nine: 8.1

Walks per nine: 2.8

Strikeouts per nine: 6.4

Batting average-against: .240

On base percentage-against: .302

Slugging average-against: .367


Those are the statistics of an all-star pitcher. But something happened, and over the next five years (2004-2008), he was simply horrible:


Record: 35-47

ERA: 5.34

Hits per nine: 9.5

Walks per nine: 4.1

Strikeouts per nine: 5.4

Batting average-against: .294

On base percentage-against: .347

Slugging average-against: .476


Then, inexplicably, he got good again in 2009:


Record: 15-12

ERA: 3.49

Hits per nine: 9.1

Walks per nine: 1.1 (led the league)

Strikeouts per nine: 4.5

Batting average-against: .258

On base percentage-against: .297

Slugging percentage-against: .377


Do you see the problem? He was a star for three years, a bust for five, and he’s a star again.


If he continues to be as good as he was last season with St. Louis, he would strengthen the rotation far more than either Garland or Marquis could. But if he reverts back to that bum from 2004-2008, the Nationals will have taken a giant step back.


So will General Manager Mike Rizzo—if he has the choice—take the safe bet and bring in a sure 10 game winner in Garland or Marquis, or will he take a chance that Joel Pineiro still has some upside, that he perhaps has reverted to the form that made him a star in the American League?


Some are suggesting that the Nationals will sign two of these three. If they sign two, then it would most certainly be either Marquis or Garland and Pineiro. If they just sign one, my guess is that Rizzo goes safe and chooses Jon Garland.


I think Jason Marquis is too good right now not to accept an offer from a contending team.


No matter what, this will be a far better rotation than last year, and we haven’t even mentioned Stephen Strasburg, who will most certainly make his debut sometimes in 2010, and Jordan Zimmermann, who will be 100 percent healthy and ready to go by 2011.


Dare I say this, but it would seem that the Nationals have enough pitchers for 2010, especially if they sign that coveted free agent pitcher.