Nats In Depth: The Pitchers
By Dennis King Capitol Dugout Correspondent
Date: Mar 4, 2005
People, I am the anomaly. Let's get that out of the way.
I've cheered for the Montreal Expos for over 20 years.
But that's not the point. There were lots of Expos fans. One year over two million of them brushed the turnstiles at the Big O. Every spring I'd mark the calendar with all the pertinent dates: pitchers and catchers report, all players report and finally the first game of the exhibition season. Oh and my girlfriend's birthday. And in that order of importance. To wit, I know Larry Walker's Double A stats. Yet there are days I'd be hard pressed to tell you what my girlfriend's middle name is.
But what makes me unique is I've decided to follow his team to Washington and I'm willing to get back in the ring again and give it another shot. I expect the annuity to amount to its usual paltry amount. But I just can't turn my back on the team and all the players I've lived and died with for the last few years. It's not a switch I can turn on and off.
The point is I know and love this team. But from reading message boards and both dailies out of Washington I can tell that many of you are in need of some in-depth knowledge about this team, the type of information that only a long-time observer can provide.
So maybe I can shed some light on your new heroes and you will know what to look for and when to close your eyes.
We'll start with the pitching staff.
Acquired as insurance shortly before the start of the '03 season, Livan started out slow with the Expos and looked like a guy who was feeling the effects of the 682.2 IP combined that he'd had logged his previous three season for the Giants. But something funny happened on the way to mediocrity.
That year the Expos annual visit to Toronto brought Livan in contact with his old coach Carlos Tosca who was then manager of the Jays. Hernandez has never given the particulars of what Tosca told him but after their meeting he was lights out the rest of the season. He's been the ace of the Expos staff ever since and his arm is, as they say, rubber.
He's the best fielding pitcher outside of Kenny Rogers and he handles the bat better than some utility infielders. He throws a sneaky fastball and an array of breaking pitches among them a slow breaker that looks impossible to miss but is often impossible to hit. He does give more than his share of home runs but the renovated RFK projects as a slight pitcher's park so that should work to his advantage. The only thing to worry about is that his K/BB ratio did dip last year after he'd posted a better than 3/1 mark in the '03 season.
Tony Armas Jr.
This guy is a favorite topic of mine but for all the wrong reasons. Injury prone and moody to a fault he's nevertheless the golden child of all Nationals prognosticators. But there was once a time when he actually warranted such praise and inspired such faith. He debuted in 2000 shortly after his 22nd birthday and with only four starts in Triple A Ottawa to his credit. He had a decent showing but the next season at the tender age of 23 he made 34 starts and logged 197 innings. His K/BB was just below 2/1 and there was a reason to be excited.
It appears, however, that all the innings he pitched as a 20 and 21 year old caught up to him. Armas threw 303 innings combined in 98-99, and Tony’s effectiveness dropped off in '02 when he made five fewer starts and his ERA rose by nearly half a run. This was also the year he had an infamous run-in with Robinson when the veteran manager attempted to pull him from a home start versus the Phillies.
Armas sulked and pouted and was insolent to the point that Frank went in tears to then GM Omar Minaya and promptly resigned. Robinson recanted later that night before it was released to the press but a new tag had been attached to Armas.
Since then he hasn't made enough starts to be on the radar screen. He started out on fire in the '03 season but was shelved after just five starts with shoulder problems. Last season he returned but was mostly ineffective and his K/BB ratio had sunk to a level disappointingly comparable to his rookie season.
Armas’ main problem is he's a two-pitch pitcher, with the typical power portfolio of fastball and slider, who nibbles and constantly misses high in the zone. His pitch counts are almost always high and he's never matured into a pitcher you believe can go past the sixth inning. He's still a young guy so maybe he'll put it all together but he's shown considerable wear already so expectations should be lowered.
He's just about to turn 29 years old and is a very solid and dependable pitcher, very workmanlike and not in the least flashy.
Ohka’s first full season with the club was in '02 and he posted a sparkling 3.18 ERA and his K/BB ratio was 2.6 while making 32 starts and logging 193 innings. The following season was disappointing with his hits per nine innings rising from 9.1 to 10.5 as he threw six additional innings and allowed 39 more hits. He also surrendered five more homers, yet his K/BB ratio remained exactly the same.
The 2004 season was looked upon as a “show me” season for the understated right-hander. After four straight rough outings to begin the season he was in at the beginning of his eighth straight impressive outing when a Carlos Beltran line drive broke his forearm. That put in on the shelf until late September but was mostly ineffective. Still, finished with a 3.40 ERA though his hits per nine innings projected almost exactly as his disappointing '03 season. Ohka’s hits allowed per nine innings may be troubling but his K/BB ratio has remained strong and last year's slow start was quickly eaten up by a great May and promising June before the injury. He also hasn't exhibited any particular wear and tear when it comes to his arm. He uses a sneaky fastball and a big breaking ball.
You can tell I like numbers and I use them to try and prove a point or point you to a trend. The best I can do for Zach Day is tell you that his ERA wound up being 3.93 and that he'll turn 27 in the middle of June so there's reason to believe he'll actually get better.
Day won't excite you but the fact is that when he's going good he'll bore you to applause. When he's on his game you'll see grounder after grounder rolled over to the middle infielders and if you happen to be in the bleachers you won't have to feel bad about chatting up the outfielders because they won't be busy. He debuted with the Expos as a reliever in the '02 season after coming to Montreal in the Milton Bradley trade (one that even Peter Gammons knew was coming).
In his first season as a starter in 2003 he posted a 4.18 ERA in his first season as a starter in '03 logging 131 innings in 23 starts. Last year he broke down a little more making just 19 starts and compiling only 117 innings. But he is what he is and that's a fastball and sinker pitcher and if he had a third pitch that was comparable to the first two then he'd be much more effective and better known. On the numbers side he was on his way to improving on his initial season as his hits and walks per innings were down and his strikeouts per nine innings was up. But he still struck out just 61 while walking 45. If you start to watch a Day outing and his pitchers are up in the zone then he will be rocked and his night won't be long.
There is a Patterson backstory that involves the Expos. He was a fireballing high schooler and the Expos made him their first round pick and sixth overall in '96. He would eventually use a loophole to declare free agency and the Diamondbacks would give him a huge signing bonus. (Sure it wasn't as damning to the franchise as not being able to sign Mark McGwire and Pete Incavaliga but I just thought I'd bring it up.)
Anyway Patterson jumped into the Arizona organization and began chewing up innings in the early levels of their chain before his arm predictably blew up and he underwent Tommy John surgery. He still throws gas and his curveball is fun to watch but when you look at his numbers it's been since he was a 20 year old pitching A ball that he sustained success over a long period of time. In 2004 Patterson made 19 starts and logged 98 innings and only pitched more than five innings seven times. He did strike out more than a batter per inning but he allowed 18 home runs so that should quell any thoughts that he could be an effective reliever.
I was excited to watch him as an Expo but the more I watched the less hope I held out. He's an option as a starter but I wouldn't get excited about him breaking out or even being able to go six innings on a consistent basis for that matter. He pitches deep in the count like a lot of strikeout pitchers and that hurts his overall stamina.