Monday, June 25, 2012

Nats Lead the Majors in ERA at 2.95

“They have all been great. When you have talent, work quick, challenge hitters, strike out a lot of guys and have good defense behind you, that always works,” said pitching coach Steve McCatty. “This is a power-arm staff, but with great off-speed pitches that can strike people out inside the zone, not just on ‘chase’ pitches.”
Washington Post:
As the Baltimore Orioles came to bat in the eighth inning here on Sunday, they saw a scoreboard bearing a familiar ugly sight for teams that face the Washington Nationals: a “0” beside their team’s name.

After 70 games, the Nats not only lead the majors in ERA at 2.95, but they lead it by a huge and startling margin. Nobody is close. Only one team is less than four-tenths of a run behind. And most clubs are so far behind you can’t see them over the horizon. The Nats’ ERA is more than a full run lower than either the major league (3.98) or National League (3.96) ERA.

More times than not, the first-place Nats, 41-29 after going 18-14 in 32 straight games against AL East and NL East teams, have held on to win.

How good are they? Or, at least, how amazing have they been so far?

ERA+ is the best single statistic for measuring the excellence of a team’s pitching staff. It adjusts for the run-scoring levels of different eras and also factors in the influence of a team’s home ballpark. It’s not perfect, but it’s really good. And it seldom lies. The Nats’ current ERA+ is 135, which means, adjusted for fairly neutral Nats Park, they are 35 percent better than the major league norm in 2012. Where does that stand?

If the Nats maintain their current pace, they would have the second-best ERA+ in more than 100 years, second only to the 1926 Philadelphia A’s led by Hall of Famer Lefty Grove and 247-game winner Jack Quinn. The other teams in the top half-dozen over the last century (excluding World War II years) are the ’39 Yankees (Red Ruffing, Lefty Gomez); the ’97 and ’02 Braves of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz; and the ’54 Indians with Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Hal Newhouser (all Hall of Famers), and relievers Don Mossi and Ray Narleski. Talk about being in good company. (For the record, the Cubs of 1906 were the best since 1901.)

“We plan on doing this the whole year,” GM Mike Rizzo said after he was told his staff might have a chance to rank among the best ever.

As irony would have it, the Nats’ next four games are in Colorado, the worst pitchers park in generations. But after that, sanity should return.

“We’ve got unbelievable pitching. A lot of teams are noticing. How can they not?” said Tyler Clippard, who has been 12 for 12 in save opportunities with one hit allowed. “It’s fun to be part of. Our starters, two or three runs are the most they ever seem to give up.”

The ERAs of the starting rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler are 2.46, 2.55, 2.89, 2.91 and 3.09. Everybody talks about that. But relievers Craig Stammen, Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus and Clippard have a combined 1.73 ERA in 120 innings. And Drew Storen is coming back.

More runs would help, but the Nats’ staff isn’t expecting them — yet. “It’s still early. But what we’ve done so far is such a positive. When we get to August and September [when Jayson Werth returns], then what if we hit our stride [offensively]?” asked Clippard. “We can be dangerous. That could be something."

More information:
» ESPN: Nationals Pitching
» Sporting News: Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout, after 40 days
» ESPN: R.A. Dickey on one of greatest rolls of all time

For comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at some of the elite pitchers in the game:

Zone% Z-Contact% SwStr%
Dickey 53.4 76.9 12.7
Hamels 46.3 79.4 12.6
Strasburg 46.4 82.5 12.3
Verlander 43.1 76.8 11.7
G. Gonzalez 42.7 81.6 10.7
Cain 45.8 85.5 9.9
League Avg. 45.0 88.0 8.5

Here, you see Dickey is getting more swinging strikes per pitch than anyone, while throwing the highest rate of pitches in the zone!  This is the most forthcoming depiction of just how dominant R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball has been through 14 starts this season.

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