Pitching On The Brain

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, March 25, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

I've got pitching on the brain this morning. Specifically, starting pitching.

Let's start with what we have.

Shairon Martis looked good yesterday. He went six shutout innings, allowing just three hits and one walk, striking out four. He got out of a bases loaded jam and retired seven of the last eight batters he faced.

His ERA for the spring is 1.23. He has struck out 11 and walked four in 19 innings thus far in Florida. Spring training stats need to be taken with copious grains of salt, but they are useful for comparison purposes.

Competition, Mike Rizzo will have you believe, is a good thing.

When we saw Martis pitch last week, he looked like a completely different pitcher than his tryout at the end of last season, when he was erratic and easily flustered, although despite a high ERA and WHIP, his K rate was still very good (23 Ks in 20.3 IP). If his command continues to improve, the Nats may have something with this soon to be 22 year old (born 3/30/87).

Jordan Zimmerman has received a lot of ink this pre-season, and rightfully so. He was dominant until his flu-ridden start last week. Even factoring the beating he took against the Cardinals (and it wasn't really as bad as the stats), for the spring he had throw 14.1 IP, with five earned on 13 hits and just two walks, striking out an impressive 22 along the way.

Last year split between Potomac and Harrisburg, he K'd 134 in 134 innings. Even I can do that math. The only thing that can hold Zimm back this year is his arbitration clock, explained eloquently here. If the Nats wait to call Zimmermann up until roughly Memorial Day, they can keep his arbitration clock from ticking for another season.

What it boils down to is two months of his career on the front end for another year on the back end. Should Nats fans be made to wait that long? Every pitch he throws could be his last, should he be throwing them in DC? And shouldn't the team be more pro-active in signing it's young stars to long-term contracts instead of worrying about arbitration dates? All questions Stan Kasten and Mike Rizzo need to wrestle with.

Collin Balestar is still in the running for the fifth spot in the rotation as well. The Nats won't need a fifth starter until April 20 anyway, so if they decide to start Zimmermann in Syracuse he won't miss too many big league starts anyway.

Balestar has struggled this spring, allowing 11 hits and six walks with eight runs in 11 innings pitched. He was clobbered last Friday by Detroit's C-team and Gary Sheffield, who hit a monster homer off Bally in the first. Bally sandwiched two good innings with two lousy ones, so it's hard to pinpoint why he can't be more effective on a consistent basis.

Last year in 80 innings, Bally went 3-7 with a 5.51 ERA, striking out 50 and walking 28. Should Bally lose out on the job and be sent to Syracuse, he need to cut down on the walks and concentrate on keeping the ball down in the zone. He has good natural movement, but it loses its effectiveness up in the zone.

Let's take a peek at what we haven't got (yet). Stephen Strasburg dominated college hitters again Friday night. He went seven innings and allowed no runs on two hits and 2 walks, striking out 15. For the season, he's 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA. He's thrown 34.1 innings and allowed six earned runs on 20 hits and seven walks, and has struck out an astronomical 74. That's an average of 19.4 K/9 and 10.6 K/BB. How silly are those numbers?

In MLB history, Randy Johnson is the career leader in K/9 with 10.6. The best single season K/9 recorded was 13.4 by the Big Unit in 2001.

You want K/BB? Career it's Tommy Bond, at 4.44. Bond played from 1874-1884, so maybe that's not fair. Curt Schilling is second on the list, at 4.38.

I realize I'm comparing the numbers Strasburg is putting up against West Coast Conference hitters to the numbers Unit and Schilling had against major leaguers. But for illustrative purposes, Strasburg's numbers are awfully dramatic.

The other Strasburg number that's going to be dramatic is his final contract numbers. Peter Gammons cites "club officials" saying Strasburg's agent, Scott Boras, is looking for Dice-K money (6/$50M), which is just plain silly. But who is to say?

There was a good deal of traffic on this the last couple of days, and Federal Baseball has an excellent round-up and interview with a Sports Illustrated writer who profiles Strasburg this week. Keith Law of ESPN.com also wrote on Strasburg yesterday, and has video he took while scouting the San Diego state junior last week.

The title of Law's blog post says it all to Nats fans: Strasburg Ready For the Majors Right Now. If you're a Nats fan, and read nothing else this week, you should read Law's report, keeping in mind Law used to scout for a living.

Strasburg photo (c) K.C. ALfred/SD Union-Tibune. All other photos (c) C. Nichols 2009. All rights reserved.