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I'm the Same as I Was When I Was Six Years Old: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Washington Nationals

Talk about bouncing back!  After getting swept at home against the Florida Marlins, the Jays managed to bounce back strongly in Philadelphia, braving the rain and sweeping the interleague rival Phillies in the three game set, in spite of Brad Mills's disappointing debut yesterday afternoon, behind strong performances from Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond and just enough late-game hitting.  The team has now won seven of its last 11 games and looks poised to improve on that against the lowly Nationals this weekend, 19 - 21 June, in Washington, D.C.

The series opens tonight at 7 pm Eastern Daylight Time.  The Jays turn to Brian Tallet, who looks to bounce back from his disastrous performance on Sunday, and the Nationals will give the ball to Jordan "The Nationals Other" Zimmermann, an up-and-coming righthanded pitching prospect who just happens to share his last name (though with a different spelling) with Ryan Zimmerman.  Maryland native Brett Cecil makes his return to the Big League club (hopefully triumphantly) on Saturday evening, and the Nationals counter with southpaw Ross Detwiler.  The series closes on Sunday, when Ricky Romero will hopefully be rewarded with a win after two good starts with nothing to show for them and the Nationals send out Shairon Martis, another up-and-coming righty.  The Jays do manage to avoid Jon Lannan, who has held offenses at bay (3.38 ERA this season) despite his striking out just 42 in over 80 innings.  After sweeping the Phils, hopefully we can keep things rolling against the worst team in all of baseball.

Hugo stole my thunder when he titled his post after Modest Mouse's "Never Ending Math Equation" but I am leaving it as is to honor the trifecta of 22 and 23 year-old starters the Nationals send to the hill this weekend.

19 June

Jordan Zimmermann (2-3, 5.37, 1.351 WHIP)

This past February, Baseball America ranked Zimmermann as the 41st best prospect in all of baseball, so we are not talking about a nobody here, but at just 23 and with only a year and half (and less than 200 innings pitched) in the minors, the 2007 draftee could probably use a bit more seasoning.  However, since the Nationals are the Nationals, they don't really have anyone else to turn to and Zimmermann entered the rotation in 2009.  Although his record, ERA and WHIP indicate a below-average pitcher, Zimmermann's peripherals are strong, which bodes well for him going forward.  In 57 innings over 10 starts, Zimmermann has struck out 60 (9.7 K/9) and walked just 16 (2.6 BB/9), while allowing 8 HR (1.29 HR/9).  Nationals Park is quite spacious, which should suppress his HR-rate, but an astounding 20% of flyballs hit against Zimmermann have gone for homers.  Zimmermann has also had some bad luck with balls in play, as his BABIP of .349 shows (though hitters have hit him pretty hard, when they've made contact, as his 25% line-drive rate suggests).  As his HR/flyball and BABIP come back down a bit, Zimmermann's ERA should more closely resemble his very tidy 3.87 FIP or even tidier 3.23 xFIP.

In his 10 starts thus far, Zimmermann has PQSed 4, 3, 2, 4, 4, 3, 5, 3, 5 and 4, for a very nice mean of 3.7 and a 60% Dominance-rate against no Disaster starts.  However, this highlights one of the shortcomings of PQS -- Zimmermann has managed to pitch more than six innings just once so far.  Pitching six innings, as Zimmermann has done four times, optimizes PQS because it allows for a HR-rate of 1.5 HR/9 and a strikeout-rate of just 6 K/9.  That being said, as his peripherals suggest, Zimmermann's been quite good this year, though with the Nationals bullpen he needs to get deeper into games if he wants to see his win total climb.

So far Zimmermann's been very tough on righthanded batters, (.263 / .314 / .484; 5.80 K/BB), whose OBP is inflated by their .345 BABIP.  He's had more trouble with lefties, losing them to walks much more frequently (.290 / .350 / .452; 2.80 K/BB), but his solid strikeout-rate (28 Ks in 138 Plate Appearances) suggests that he isn't afraid to try to make his pitches against them.  His performance with regard to platoon split at the major league level is consistent with his minor league performance as well.

Zimmermann relies heavily on a good, hard two-seamer in the low-90's, which he uses to generate grounders.   He occasionally mixes in a change that breaks away from lefties to keep both lefties and righties off-balance.  He also throws a tight slider with good movement that he uses to great effect against righties and a big curve that also serves as a change-of-pace.


20 June

Ross Detwiler (0-3, 5.23, 1.531 WHIP)

The big lefty (6' 5") was the sixth overall pick of the 2007 draft and is just 23 years old, but hasn't quite met the Nationals expectations yet.  Detwiler's pitched 32 2/3 innings over six starts so far and his peripherals have not been terribly impressive, striking out 23 (6.0 K/9) and walking 14 (3.7 BB/9).  He has done an excellent job keeping hitters in the ballpark (just 0.52 HR/9) but that has probably been influenced by good luck on fly balls (just 6.2% of flies have left the park, a rate that is probably unsustainable).  Obviously, at just 23, he still has plenty of time to improve and he's made quite a jump to pitching in the majors after just 29 innings at AA this season, following a solid season in high-A ball in 2008.

In his six starts so far, Detwiler has PQSed 4, 4, 0, 3, 5 and 3 for a mean of 3.17 and a Dominance-rate of 50% vs. a Disaster-rate of 17%.  However, Detwiler, like Zimmermann, has not pitched very deep into games, so his PQS-scoring is probably a bit inflated, particularly when you include his abnormally low homerun-rate.

Detwiler has faced righty-heavy lineups so far, and they have hit him hard (.301 / .368 / .456; 1.64 K/BB), thanks in part to a .349 BABIP.  He's limited the damage against lefties (.172 / .273 / .241; 1.67 K/BB), but a .208 BABIP suggests that his success against them is luck-driven (just 33 Plate Appearances).  Luck-driven or not, Detwiler has yielded just two extra-base hits (both doubles) against lefties, so it does not look like they hit him all that hard.  Detwiler did not have much of a platoon advantage against lefties in the minors, but his minor league sample size is quite small as well.

He throws a four-seamer in the mid-to-low 90's and a two-seamer just a few clicks slower.  He's still working heavily on his change-up, which he's had trouble locating thus far.  He also throws a true curve (not a slurve-type pitch).  With such a limited arsenal, the Jays should be able to sit fastball against him, but you never know.


21 June

Shairon Martis (5-1, 4.76, 1.361 WHIP)

The Curacao native and Netherlands WBC team member has managed a great record with the worst team in baseball, in spite of an ERA of 4.76 and a K/BB-ratio of 0.85.  Over 75 2/3 innings and 13 starts, Martis has struck out just 29 (3.4 K/9) and walked 34 (4.0 BB/9), which should be a recipe for disaster, but he has managed to escape thanks to a low homerun/flyball-rate (8.7%) and an unsustainably low 67.5% strand-rate, as well as a quite-low .245 BABIP.  Translation?  Martis is primed to come back down to Earth big-time, let's just hope it's on Sunday and not later on.

The Netherlands national has PQSed 0, 3, 3, 2, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 0, 2, 3 and 3 so far, for a mean of 2.31, a Dominance-rate of just 8% and a Disaster-rate of 16%.  The Disaster-Rate is not too bad, but unless Martis can strike out some batters (particularly in the NL, where he faces a pitcher each time through the lineup), he won't last too long.  He hasn't struck out more than two batters in a game since 8 May, so hopefully that trend continues.  After being promoted to AAA last season, Martis's K-rate jumped to 9.1 K/9 from 6.9 K/9 at AA, so the league might have needed a bit of time to catch up to him.

The 22 year-old Martis has been shelled by lefthanded batters (.312 / .397 / .532; 0.72 K/BB), so look for Lyle Overbay to have a big day against him.  He has kept righties to a miniscule line (.146 / .233 / .299; 1.82 K/BB), but a .148 BABIP is probably indicative of Lady Luck smiling upon him more often than not.  BABIP differences notwithstanding, Martis's platoon splits in the majors have been indicative of his minor league record.

Martis has a pretty decent fastball, which he can throws in the low-90s, but he may rely on his changeup too much, especially if he has trouble locating it.  He throws a pretty good, tight slider and mixes a curve in sometimes, but he has had a lot of trouble locating the slider.  Unless his fastball starts moving a little more and he starts locating his other pitches better, Martis should be back in the minors soon (though his W-L record, coupled with the Nationals' perennial futility, will probably keep him up in the bigs longer than is necessarily good for his development).