|How much will Tom Gorzelanny really help the Nationals?|
On Monday, the Washington Nationals sent 3 mid-level prospects to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Tom Gorzelanny. Many people have written informative pieces on this trade. Those can be found here, here and here. I want to take a look at whether or not this move actually improves the Washington Nationals or whether it was a superfulous trade.
Let's start by taking a look at the pitchers the Nationals already have that would be competing for rotation spots next season. Under team control and expected to compete would be Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Yunesky Maya and Chien-Ming Wang. Brian Broderick, one of their rule 5 picks might get a chance to show his stuff in camp. There are also names such as Garrett Mock, J.D. Martin, Luis Atilano and Craig Stammen, but of the group only Stammen seems to still have a chance to make the team and he is more than likely replacing Miguel Bautista as the teams long reliever. While Nats' potential rotation isn't "sexy" this is probably the first time since the team arrived in D.C. they will be able to actually send out a starting pitcher near or above replacement level every game. That says a couple of things about the situation.
1. The Nationals' prior rotations have been dreadful and that is probably an understatement.
2. Any addition of a starting pitcher that adds depth and even more competition to the fold is probably a good thing.
This is where trading for Gorzelanny comes in. While I do not believe he is a huge upgrade over any of the other starters he does offer a few things D.C. was missing prior to aquiring him. The last couple of seasons the Nationals have been one injury away from rolling out a parade of AAAA starters for a lot of innings. Mock, Martin, Shairon Martis, Stammen and Atilano have pitched far too many innings over the past 2 seasons, 624.2 to be exact. They've also accrued an ERA of 5.04 over that time and there hasn't been much redeaming in their periferrals either. A 5.04 K/9 with a BB/9 of 3.17 and a K/BB ratio of 1.59. Now with Gorzelanny in the fold it will probably push Ross Detwiler and Yunesky Maya to Syracuse to start the season and severely limit the chance for any of the others making the roster. That means if another injury happens they have two starters with more "potential" than the usual lot they run out to the mound in these cases. While we do not know for sure whether Detwiler or Maya are major league pitchers, we do seem to have enough info that would support a conclusion that the others are not.
Detwiler, with an albeit small sample size, has an average FIP of 4.33 over his 106.1 major league innings. He could definitely benefit from an extended run at AAA to prove his health and see if he can straighten out his qwerky mechanics. Being only 25 he still has a bit of time to make an impact. Maya was rushed to the majors last season after a long lay off during his defection from Cuba. Those 26 innings should be considered "spring training." Maya went on to dominate in the Dominican Winter League allowing only 27 hits in over 40 innings. While the Dominican Winter League is obviously not the major leagues he did seem to regain his control and should still be worth a look as the potential successor to Livan Hernandez in the Nats future rotations.
Now for what Gorzelanny brings to the table. He might not be much better than the Chris Young, Freddy Garcia and Jeff Francis' (especially Francis) but he costs the Nationals about the same as any of them and they control him through 2013. He has a much higher K/9 rate than the rest of the Nationals pitch to contact staff, excluding Jordan Zimmermann. He is left handed, which will always get you an extra shot or two and the prospects the Nationals gave up, while mid-level, are not significant and did not fit into GM, Mike Rizzo's plans. While he is not a proven innings eater and he walks too many hitters (4.15/9) his work since joining Chicago has shown potential. He has been worth 3.0 WAR (2.3 in 2010) over the past 2 seasons and he only really pitched out of the bullpen in 2009. Over the past 2 seasons he has had a K/9 rate of 8.12 with a K/BB ratio of right around 2/1. His FIP has been roughly 3.92 and a swinging strike ratio of 9.7%. This is something a team that has missed on adding major pitching additions looks at and says okay, we will give it a try.
A lot of people have posed the question "what good is adding 2 wins to a 69 win team?" In the Nationals case Gorzelanny could add 2 wins by pitching and add another half a win to a full win by keeping the aforementioned starters out of the rotation. That puts them roughly around 72 wins and the defensive improvements should also help to add to that total. For a team fighting for respectability getting to 75 to 78 wins next year could be the difference between players like Zack Greinke and others choosing to play in Washington or choosing to go elsewhere.
Just one more side note. While looking at statistics for the article, I found an interesting comparison for Gorzelanny. The age is at the start of next season and the stats are from 2010.
Name Age Innings ERA K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Player x 29 121.2 4.22 8.36 4.07 4.30 1.7
Gorzelanny 28 136.1 4.07 7.86 4.49 3.92 2.3
If you guessed player X is Jorge de la Rosa you would be correct. De la Rosa was a player the Nationals tried to acquire earlier in the off season and missed but Gorzelanny has similar numbers across the board. While it is not a lock that Gorzelanny will repeat this it is also not a lock that de la Rosa will stay healthy. de la Rosa also signed a 2 year $21.5MM contract with a 3rd year option that would pay him over $30MM. Gorzelanny will cost the Nationals about 1 season of de la Rosa's contract for the remaining 3 seasonS he is with the team, unless he breaks out, which I seriously doubt the Nationals would mind. One last point, de la Rosa's rise to significance started in his age 27 season in 2008 when his numbers were once again almost identical to Gorzelanny. I think you might be sensing the pattern that Mike Rizzo may have picked up on when he pulled the trigger on this trade.