Who will be out of the Nats’ rotation?

The Nationals’ acquisition of Gio Gonzalez gives them six major-league pitchers vying for five spots in the 2012 rotation. Gonzalez joins a crew of starters that includes Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, and veteran Chien-Ming Wang, who is returning to Washington on a one-year contract.

In a conference call on Friday, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo implied that the rotation jobs of Gonzalez, Zimmermann, and Strasburg are safe; according to Rizzo, it is “fair to say” that Lannan, Wang or Detwiler will end up in the bullpen at the beginning of next season.

Purely speculation, but Lannan and particularly Detwiler could net some value if the Nats decide to go that route. Anyway, the point is that either by a move to the bullpen, a demotion, or a trade, there’s going to be an odd man out somehow. But which one should go?

First, ponder some splits for all three pitchers. Throughout their careers, all three are similar at bat-missing and strike-throwing (not great); Detwiler is average at getting groundballs, while Wang and Lannan have been well above-average.

pitcher       No. of pitches   Ball/pitch  Wwhiff/swing   GB/BIP
Wang          11,008           .377        .143           .599    
Lannan        11,835           .379        .145           .543
Detwiler       2,791           .382        .147           .442

Lannan, 27, has been solid in the Nationals’ rotation since 2008, averaging 179 innings per season with an ERA around four . Wang, who will be 32 before Opening Day, is trying to revive his career after injuries put things on hold from him from 2008 to 2010. When he’s right, he’ll kill a lot of worms with his sinker, but his lack of a true out pitch has always prevented him from being an ace.

Detwiler is the youngster of the group, turning 26 in March. He’s bounced up and down between the majors and minors since 2007 (the year he was drafted) and has posted unspectacular numbers during his minor league career (3.97 ERA, 3.8 BB+HBP/9, 7.7 K/9). His 2011 stint in the rotation featured lower strikeout and walk numbers and, ultimately, a similar K/BB of around two.

Of the three, Wang had the most impressive peak, though it was half a decade ago. He’s a clear injury risk. Lannan is the most established, which probably gives him a bit of a head start in front of the other two, even if he has the least upside. Detwiler has the most impressive velocity, often at 91-92 with his two-seamer, with the ability to bump it up into the mid-90s, but he’s been unable to find much success.

At this point, my guess is that Detwiler will be the one out of the rotation at the beginning of the season, but there are certainly many options to weigh. What do you think the Nationals’ rotation will look like in three months?

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  1. Todd Boss said...

    The one point left out of this article is Ross Detwiler’s option status.  As in, he has none, thanks to an ill-advised cup of coffee in Sept 2011.

    So the Nats really do have a conundrum.  Detwiler is clearly coming in 3rd of these 3 pitchers in terms of salary commitments for 2012 and in terms of capabilities.  However, Detwiler wasn’t that great out of the bullpen.  But they can’t assign him to AAA without clearing waivers, and he’s not going to clear waivers (not with all the teams out there willing to give a shot to a high first round draft pick lefty starter who can reach 93-94).

    My guess what happens; Detwiler suffers a “soft tissue” injury at the end of spring training, starts on the 15-day DL and stays in Viera to protect him from needing to be optioned.  Then, the team breaks camp and sees if their 5 starters stay healthy for a few weeks.  Eventually Detwiler joins the pen as a 2nd long man next to other deposed starter Gorzelanny.

    The team literally can not afford to trade any one either; their two starter insurance policies just got moved in the Gonzalez trade, so suddenly we have almost no rotational cover.

  2. Jim G. said...

    It seems to me the only “reliable” guy is Lannon. Maybe Gonzalez after him. Maybe. I wouldn’t count on Zimmerman and Wang, and still be careful with Strasburg. Since 2010, only Zimmerman has pitched 150 innings in a season. This is a staff that looks great on paper, but may not be available in reality. They should hold on to everyone they have.

  3. D Leaberry said...

    Detwiler will likely be a long reliever at first but a starter at season’s end due to injury and/or an abreviated season for Strasburg.

  4. Will said...

    @Jim: Zimmermann (two Ns, btw) made a logical progression in terms of number of innings after a near full season recovering from Tommy John, and the next logical progress would be a full season, so I don’t really see why he couldn’t be counted on.

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