Joe Drugan: Comparing Nationals’ starters to some elite competition

Blogs across NatsTown have spent the better part of a week bemoaning the lethargic offense that the Nationals have shown throughout the season, and they probably deserve it. The team has scored just 74 runs, or just 3.36 runs per game, which is sixth worst in all of baseball.

Yet the Nationals are still 14-8 heading into May, and they hold a half-game lead over the Atlanta Braves for first place in the National League East. Everyone’s heard how awesome this team’s pitching rotation has been, but now it’s time to compare them to some other stars that toe the rubber in the bigs.

Stephen Strasburg has posted 1.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which is the best in the National League and tied for second in baseball with Justin Verlander and Jared Weaver. This is some pretty good company for the 23-year old starter. He has the lowest ERA (1.13) of any starter with at least five starts. Perhaps the most impressive is is 1.66 FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, which tries to more accurately predict the runs he’ll give up than his ERA would. The fact that these two numbers are close mean that Strasburg hasn’t been lucky, he’s just been really good.

You don’t have to look too far down the list of best FIP in baseball before you find the next National: Gio Gonzalez is No. 2 on the list. That’s right, the Nats have the two starters with the best FIP rating in all of baseball. Gonzalez’s is a measly 1.87, and again, compared to his 1.82 ERA, it means it’s probably not luck. He is just that good. His 1.1 WAR is good for No. 2 in the NL behind Strasburg and is the third-highest in the major leagues just ahead of Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner.

If you look at the top 10 ERAs in baseball you’ll find three Nationals starters: Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler. If you expand it to top 20, you can add Gonzalez to the list. Sabermetricians are always looking for ways to more accurately predict the success of pitchers, and SIERA - or Skill-Interactive ERA - is one of the newest and most accurate ways to do that.

SIERA is viewed on the ERA scale like FIP, so a number that is a good ERA would be a good SIERA and vice versa. If you look at the top 15 starting pitchers by SIERA, four of the Nats’ five starters are there: Strasburg (2.57), Edwin Jackson (2.86), Detwiler (2.93), and Gonzalez (3.00). The only two pitchers higher than Strasburg are Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies.

This is just a sampling of stats that show how elite (ERA) the Nationals starting pitching has been this season compared to star pitchers from across baseball and how good (SIERA, FIP) it can be. April was a great pitching month for the Nats, and if they can keep this going in any way, this is going to be a historically good pitching rotation.

Keep your fingers crossed for health, and it could actually become more fun to watch this staff throw than they’ve already been.

Joe Drugan blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

blog comments powered by Disqus