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Hardball Times Article: The Nats Are Bad

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I guess one can never speak too soon, but it's nice to go into a season pretty sure that at least a handful of teams will be worse than the Brewers. One of them is Washington, who finds itself three or four starters short of a rotation:

Just how bad could Washington's squad be next year? Barring a Jim Bowden megatrade, the answer to that question begins and ends with the starting rotation. provides a depth chart for all 30 major league teams, and for most teams, that means a list of six or more starters along with 10-12 relievers, the group from which the pitching staff will be selected come March. The Nats chart, however, doesn't deserve the adjective "depth." It lists only three starting pitchers: John Patterson, Michael O'Connor, and Shawn Hill.
You'll be glad to know that I saved my best Nats-related idea for this site--it just didn't fit in the Hardball Times column. If Bowden fails to sign enough mediocre starting pitching, he can always just put a tee out at home plate. I realized a couple of days ago that a tee might not be the worst idea. Here's why.

Many of you are probably familiar with the DIPS theory of pitching: for the most part, pitchers have little control over batted balls. All they have control over are strikeouts, walks, and homers, and to a lesser extent, batted ball types, like fly balls and ground balls. A tee would, of course, strike no one out, but allow no walks. Given that hitters would have to generate all the power themselves (no 90 mph of power to send in the other direction) let's say there wouldn't be any home runs, either.

So, how would a pitcher do if he gave up no walks, no homers, and struck out none? Well, we can use a stat called Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which is a kind of quick-and-dirty approximation on ERA, using only BB, K, and HR. The formula is [(13*HR + 3*BB - 2*K)/IP] + 3.2. (The 3.2 is approximate and varies a bit from year to year, but not by enough to matter much.)

So, a tee's FIP over 200 innings (it wouldn't get tired, of course) would be [(13*0 + 3*0 - 2*0)/200] + 3.2 = 3.2. Do you realize what a breakthrough this is? In a year with a lot of offense, a tee could win the Cy Young Award! Why trade for Jon Lieber when you could just buy a tee? Why shop on the free-agent market when you could shop at Dick's Sporting Goods? Now that OBP is no longer undervalued and defense is getting hot, I think tees are next. That corpulent gentleman next to you outside of Dick's the morning after Christmas? Gord Ash, my friends.

Believe it or not, it gets better. A pitching staff consisting of several tees wouldn't need days off, so the starting tee wouldn't have to go more than two or three innings. That way, every time the pitcher's spot came up in the lineup, we could pinch-hit a real batter. (Hey, 'Rillo! Come back, we found more ABs for you!) Imagine how effective the pitching staff would be, constituted like so:

That staff would have an overall ERA of about 3.75 (you'll have to trust me on the math), and that even allows for one of the starter tees to have a bad year! We wouldn't have to overuse Shouse again, either: I think at least one of those middle-reliever tees is left-handed. The benefits never end: we wouldn't even have to worry about replacing Justin Lehr in Triple-A: just tell Gord to buy a few extra on the 26th and ship a couple to Nashville. Better yet, have some Sounds intern get in line outside the Dick's in Nashville, and save on postage!

The first team to adopt this approach will surely be the object of scorn...until, that is, they win the division with a $45 million payroll. Jim Bowden may be forced into it this year, but if Doug Melvin acts fast, he may be able to take the rest of the central by surprise. Albert Pujols may keep in shape over the winter by hitting off a tee, but do you think he's accustomed to hitting off a tee in a high-pressure, in-game situation? Neither do I.