The Nationals once again boasted one of the best starting rotations in baseball and once again were one of the least efficient in terms of pitches per inning. A question came up about the catching style of Matt Wieters and his effect on the 2017 Washington Nationals pitching staff which is very subjective. The Nationals pitching staff was the 7th best in baseball this season with a 3.99 FIP and 4th best in baseball with a starter’s ERA of 3.63 which included the bloated numbers of the part-timers who appeared on the mound during the season. Wieters posted a 3.61 catcher’s ERA which was well ahead of the staff ERA of 3.88. The Nationals had a 3.51 ERA in 2016 overall just for comparison and Wilson Ramos last year caught the Nats at a 3.46 ERA.
What is troublesome as a staff, the Nationals got worse in pitch efficiency overall at 1.70 pitches per game this season, and Tanner Roark ranked as the worst pitcher in efficiency at 17.7 pitches per inning. In fact, the Nats top 4 starters all ranked in the Top 25 worst for pitch efficiency. Much of the inefficiency could be attributed to the bullpen.
The figure of 1.70 extra pitches per game is so small until you start factoring in wear over a full season of 30 starts is 51 extra pitches per starter on average, but when you drill down in the numbers the Nats starters were more efficient this season except for Roark. For further comparison, Gio Gonzalez was actually more pitch efficient this year in pitches per inning because he faced more batters and was at the same 4.06 pitches per batter he faced. Max Scherzer actually improved from 15.6 last year to 15.5 this year for pitches per inning and Stephen Strasburg improved in his efficiency from 16.2 to 15.6. The main culprit clearly was Tanner Roark who went from 16.0 to 17.7.
The comparisons of Wieters to Ramos was startling when it came to base-stealing as the starting staff both had was virtually the same. Wieters only threw out 25% of base stealers which was below the MLB average of 28% while Ramos last year threw out 37% of base stealers and 44% the previous year which was the best in baseball and was an emphasis by the manager at the time. Good baserunners steal off of the pitchers, but great catchers control the running game. Wieters had 76 stolen base attempts compared to only 51 against Ramos.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Wieters was second from the bottom of full-time catchers in their pitch framing stats and they calculated that it cost the Nats 7.1 runs.
Arguably, Stephen Strasburg moved into the elite status of pitchers and proved that in the post-season this year. How much of that could be attributed to Matt Wieters?
The enigma Gio Gonzalez turned in one of his finest years in baseball only to falter at the finish line, but underlying stats have to concern us with Gonzalez. He has been on a 3 year decline on throwing strikes going from 63.4% to 59.9% and in that same timeframe his FIP went from 3.05 to 3.93 which is the wrong direction while his ERA went in the right direction from 3.79 to 2.96.
Maybe the issue overall was how the staff finished the season. Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark all finished on sour notes and Roark never appeared in the post-season. Scherzer had a superb start in a no-decision giving up only 1 earned run in game 3, but 4 runs (2 earned) in 1 inning as a reliever in that fateful game 5 of the NLDS. Gio Gonzalez started 2 games in the NLDS and gave up 6 runs over 8.0 innings.
Gonzalez finished September with a 5.47 ERA and Scherzer had a 1st half ERA of 2.10 versus his 2nd half ERA of 3.24. Scherzer’s September ERA was 4.05.
Gonzalez’s career has shown he has his best numbers in the month of April at a 3.07 ERA compared to his season at a 3.53 ERA nearly a 1/2 run per game worse. Is it a stamina issue where Gonzalez hits the wall towards the end of the season? Scherzer’s issue appeared to be his leg injury but we will never know what happened in his routine or the issues in his relief appearance in game 5 that led to command issues.
A common denominator in all 4 post-season losses was Gio Gonzalez. His 1.481 WHIP in the post-seasons is a warning sign. The Nats starter ERA this year was 2.22 including Gio’s 6.75 ERA.
Dusty Baker did have a choice to start Tanner Roark in game #5 of this year’s NLDS and chose to go with Gio Gonzalez. His reasoning to go with Gonzalez had to do with redemption.
“As you know, Gio had gone Game 5 a couple years ago, a few years ago, and didn’t do too well,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “So I’m sure redemption is on his mind, as well. All those factors went into choosing today’s starter.”
Something has to change for the future.