Were it not for the several feet of snow that has blanketed Washington D.C., you would be able to see Nationals’ fans jumping up and down with glee at the news that their team has just agreed to terms with free agent pitcher Jason Marquis.
Maybe they can make snow angels instead.
Since their first season in Washington five years ago, the Nationals have signed just three free agent starters of consequence, and all three were pitchers that no one else wanted.
In 2004 Esteban Loaiza went 10-7, 5.70 with the White Sox and Yankees and signed a minor league contract in February, just days before the Nationals went to spring training. A year later, Ramon Ortiz had a record of 9-11, 5.36 with the Reds, and Odalis Perez came off an 8-11, 5.57 season with the Royals in 2007 before signing with Washington.
Marquis, then, is the first real free agent starter the team has ever signed. His two-year, $15M contract is real money. He is a native New Yorker and I imagine the New York Mets—badly in need of starting pitching—made a strong run at the 30-year-old. The Orioles, Phillies, and Seattle Mariners were also very interested in Marquis.
And yet the Nationals signed him. How about that.
Born and raised in New York, Marquis was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves in 1996. He never fulfilled his promise in Atlanta, however. In parts of four seasons, Marquis had a record of 14-15 with an ERA of 4.45.
In December of 2003, Marquis was traded along with Adam Wainwright and Ray King to the St. Louis Cardinals for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero. Since then—pitching for the Cardinals, Cubs and Rockies—Marquis has won 65 games, 7th most among National League pitchers.
Marquis throws a two-seam fastball that can reach 94-95 mph but with a good deal of sink. His overhand curve is excellent and his third pitch—a changeup—is average. He is a plus defender and has won a Silver Slugger award for his prowess with the bat.
Marquis is exactly what the Nationals needed; a veteran pitcher who can be counted on to pitch 200 innings and win 12-14 games. And I am elated that he is now part of our team.
However, Jason Marquis is not a star. He is a solid, hardworking middle-of-the-rotation kind of guy who will become an anchor in the Nationals’ rotation.
But his All-Star selection notwithstanding, Jason Marquis isn’t even the best pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation.
That honor belongs to John Lannan.
To give you a better idea of the kind of pitcher Jason Marquis is, I decided to compare his internal numbers with Lannan, a known commodity to Nationals’ fans. I expected this comparison to show that Marquis was markedly better than anyone currently in the rotation.
What I found out is that it’s going to take a much better pitcher than Jason Marquis to topple Lannan from his top-spot in the rotation.
Take a look at these side-by-side comparisons. The numbers represent their statistics based on a full 162 game season. I used their numbers from their full seasons only (Marquis: 2004-2009, Lannan: 2008 & 2009):
Category Marquis Lannan
Starts 34 34
Innings 209 209
Hits 217 203
HR 26 24
Walks 78 75
Strikeouts 115 110
WHIP 1.41 1.34
Hits/9 9.3 8.9
Walks/9 3.4 3.2
Strikeouts/9 5.0 4.9
BAA .269 .260
OBPA .339 .328
SLGPA .429 .412
ERA 4.39 3.89
WHIP indicates the number of base runners allowed per inning. BAA is the opponents’ batting average, OBPA is the opponents’ on-base percent, and SLGPA is the opponents slugging percent.
John Lannan won or tied every head-to-head comparison with Marquis with the exception of total strikeouts and strikeouts per nine-innings. Other than that, Lannan has been the better pitcher.
This tells me two things. First, John Lannan is a much better pitcher than I realized, and second, though Jason Marquis is a quality pitcher, he is not the team’s savior. He’ll give the Nationals a much better chance of winning on the days he starts, but he never has—and never will—dominate the National League.
The Nationals are headed towards respectability and Jason Marquis will help create a more stable and more able team next year. But the real payoff could come in 2011 when the team’s young pitchers will be ready. Marquis, Lannan and a healthy Scott Olsen could easily win 40 games. Stephen Strasburg could chip in with 10 and the fifth member of the rotation should be able to win at least nine games.
If we add those 59 wins to an average number of bullpen wins (the 2009 Nationals’ bullpen won 24 and the average bullpen won 28), the Nationals could win 83-89 games in 2011.
Nationals’ President Stan Kasten has been insistent that when the team was ready to win, the Lerner family would provide the resources needed to begin to sign free agents that they saw as the final pieces to a contending team.
That seems to have started.
It has been a tough four years for Nationals’ fans, but the end of bad baseball in Washington is finally in sight. Hopefully, we can all look back to this day as the moment the team’s fortunes finally changed.