Yesterday I looked at three players who started out 2008 slow, but finished with a bang. From the point that I picked at random until their final game of the season, three potential future stars on the Nat’s had the following numbers:
- Lastings Milledge – .299/.355/.448, 7 HRs, 246 PAs
- Elijah Dukes – .291/.412/.529, 13 HRs, 296 PAs
- Ryan Zimmerman – .306/.370/.455, 6 HRs, 246 PAs
That is all well and good, but if you paid attention in the first half of the season, the stories were revolving around the emergence of two players. Both came out of nowhere to grab starting roles, both performed exceptionally well early on, and both faded as the year went on. There are different stories behind their fade, but with both, there is hope that the endurance will build upon last season and those strong first halves will translate to strong totals in 2009.
Lannan was a relatively unheralded pitcher coming in to 2008, and didn’t even start the year in the majors. But after Shawn Hill needed a fill-in starter in early April, Lannan didn’t let the Nats send him back down. He started out the season strong, and by July 19 he had made 19 starts with an impressive 3.29 ERA. He didn’t have many strikeouts, 63 in 112 IP, and his is K/BB ratio wasn’t good at 1.65. But he was getting people out. Part of the reason was that he was getting people to hit ground balls. He had induced 211 grounders compared to 159 flies and liners. That’s 57.0%, a very high ratio. But after the 19th, he started to falter. From his next start to the end of the season, he started 12 more games. But his ERA was an unimpressive 4.89. He struck out more per inning – 54 in 70 IP, but he also walked more and ended that period was a lower K/BB ratio of 1.59. His GB percentage also lowered to 54.5%. Neither of these drops seem huge, but together they may have been just enough to make the difference.
Regardless, he picked it up again at the end of the season for his last 3 starts. If you take those final starts out, he had a stretch where he made 9 starts, with a 5.82 ERA, with a 1.48 K/BB ratio but a higher GB percentage of 57.4%. Was he fatigued? Physically? Mentally? Who knows? The fact that he picked it up again at the end of the seasons probably shows that his first half wasn’t a fluke, and he should be an adequate pitcher. If not, the fact that Bowden didn’t trade him last July (when it was reported that the White Sox were on the verge of acquiring him) would be yet another failure of his regime. For now, we’ll hope that his 4 remaining years before free agency look similar to his first 4 months of 2008.
Flores wasn’t quite an out of nowhere guy, as a Rule 5 pick, he was stuck on the major league roster throughout 2007 in order to keep him. He started out 2008 like gangbusters, hitting .750/.800/1.250 in his first – oh, 5 PAs. Alright, maybe one game isn’t an indicator, it’s a bit of a small sample size. But throughout the season, his was a story of a descending OPS. He missed most of April, only playing 4 games in the majors, but came back May 10 when both Estrada and Lo Duca went on the DL. From May 10 through June, he hit .287/.350/.450 in 143 PAs, and that was the best long stretch. But extend that out to even July 23 (the last day of the season his total OPS was .800 or higher) he was still hitting .282/.335/.442 from May 10 through that date, in 200 PAs. Those are great numbers from a young catcher. Unfortunately, the rest of the season was downhill.
From July 24 to Sept 2, when he was shut down for the season, he hit .202/.214/.294 in 112 PAs. This may have been caused by fatigue, he had started as the catcher in 53 games with the squad, plus another 15 in the minors. That’s 68 games starting for a young catcher. It may not seem like alot considering he did catch 101 games in 2006 in the minors. But in 2007 he had only caught in 52 games all year, spaced out over the season. This may be a young catcher still learning how to adjust to the workload of catching full time. His OPS for the season was a downhill slope: 1.010 on May 28, .932 on June 17, .804 on July 23, .755 on August 13, and finished up the season on September 2 at .698. Maybe this means he needs a little bit more rest this early in his career – a viable backup catcher would help Acta allow that to happen. Or maybe pitchers figured him out. But even if they did, if he’s a good player himself, he’ll adjust and hit again.
Now maybe you’re sceptical about these players. Maybe you’re thinking “Oh, good for you!” in an extremely sarcastic manner. But remember, just as we don’t know for sure if fatigue was a factor on these players, or finally putting it all together helped yesterday’s guys, we don’t know that the mixed results are what to expect either. Only more playing time will give us those answers, but, today there is hope that the answers will be something we like.