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Is Ross Detwiler better suited for the bullpen?

Mar 18, 2014, 2:02 PM EST

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On Monday Nationals manager Matt Williams made the surprise announcement that Ross Detwiler will begin the season in the team’s bullpen. Though Detwiler was pitching poorly through three spring starts, he was the favorite heading into the fifth starter competition, and was only given three outings to prove his case.

So, now that Detwiler is starting the year as a reliever, what’s next for him? Will he succeed in his new role?

There is a bit of a sample size for Detwiler who has 16 relief appearances to his name. He made five in 2011 and a career-high six in 2012. Those 16 games sort out to a total of 32 1/3 innings pitched out of the bullpen.

Here are how his splits look between starting and relieving:

Starter – 69 G, 17-29, 4.02 ERA, 1.395 WHIP, 375.2 IP, 5.3 SO/9, 1.89 SO/BB, .414 SLG%
Reliever – 16 G, 1-0, 1.11 ERA, 1.052 WHIP, 32.1 IP, 6.4 SO/9, 1.53 SO/BB, .255 SLG%

As you see, it’s not really even that close. Detwiler has been a more effective pitcher so far in his career when coming out of the bullpen.

There may be good reason for that, as when Detwiler has started, there has been a steep drop-off in his effectiveness after the first two innings. Look at his numbers broken down by the specific innings he’s pitched:

Innings 1-2 – 1.82 ERA, .230 BAA
Innings 3-6 – 4.68 ERA, .297 BAA

Also consider his numbers by pitch count:

Pitch 1-25 – .226 BAA, 2.41 SO/BB
Pitch 26-50 – .266 BAA, 1.73 SO/BB
Pitch 51-75 – .306 BAA, 1.97 SO/BB

Of course, most pitchers get tired as the game wears on, and it’s often pitchers will become less successful as their pitch counts get higher. But the difference between Detwiler and other Nationals starters, for comparison, is significant.

Look at how Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez have progressed through games during their careers:


Innings 1-2 – 3.20 ERA, .224 BAA
Innings 3-6 – 2.86 ERA, .215 BAA

Pitch 1-25 – .226 BAA, 3.31 SO/BB
Pitch 26-50 – .219 BAA, 4.36 SO/BB
Pitch 51-75 – .211 BAA, 4.72 SO/BB


Innings 1-2 – 2.91 ERA, .228 BAA
Innings 3-6 – 3.43 ERA, .254 BAA

Pitch 1-25 – .234 BAA, 3.46 SO/BB
Pitch 26-50 – .249 BAA, 4.83 SO/BB
Pitch 51-75 – .253 BAA, 4.31 SO/BB


Innings 1-2 – 3.86 ERA, .245 BAA
Innings 3-6 – 3.50 ERA, .226 BAA

Pitch 1-25 – .240 BAA, 1.88 SO/BB
Pitch 26-50 – .216 BAA, 2.79 SO/BB
Pitch 51-75 – .254 BAA, 1.98 SO/BB

All three maintain good numbers through the first six innings. Strasburg, in particular, gets significantly better as the game wears on.

As Detwiler moves later into games, however, opponents tend to find more success off him. While it’s common for batters to fare better the second and third time they see a starting pitcher in an average game, the breakdown for Detwiler by plate appearance shows dramatic results.

Times facing Detwiler in game as starter:

1st PA – .225 BAA, .631 OPS
2nd PA – .300 BAA, .787 OPS
3rd PA – .324 BAA, .873 OPS

Detwiler is much better against batters the first time around, and that also shows in relief situations. Opponents have hit just .178 against the lefty in their first plate appearance against him out of the bullpen.

Detwiler has also always relied heavily on his fastball, and has been using it more and more over the years. Last year he threw it 88 percent of the time, that’s up from 80.3 percent in 2012 and 73.5 percent the season before.

The sample for Detwiler’s career as a reliever is still relatively small at 32 1/3 innings, but he has enjoyed obvious success out of the bullpen in the past. The Nationals could be banking on that premise and see him as more valuable as a lefty reliever than out of their rotation as a starting pitcher.

  1. veejh - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Reliever – 16 G, 1-0, 1.11 ERA, 1.052 WHIP, 32.1 IP, 6.4 SO/9, 1.53 SO/BB, .255 SLG%

    If Ross can come close to matching the ERA and WHIP this season, he’ll end up being the top man in our pen.

    • bowdenball - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:03 PM

      Those ERA, WHIP and SLG numbers are completely unsustainable at a 1.53 SO/BB ratio. No chance. And for a reliever, SO/BB is the most telling number.

      He might be an effective reliever but there is no point in discussing him as anything close to a 1.11 ERA or 1.05 WHIP reliever for a full season unless he gets closer to a 3/1 ratio. Even then a 1.11 ERA is unsustainable once he starts coming in to start innings instead of inheriting outs and men on base.

      • David Proctor - Mar 18, 2014 at 8:22 PM

        Perhaps, but judging Detwiler’s relief appearances (in any category, including those ERA, WHIP AND SLG numbers, but also the SO/BB) off of 31 innings doesn’t make sense. Need a larger sample.

  2. ehay2k - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    I have no issues putting a guy where he will help the team most. Quite a vfew people on NI have noted that Ross might do better as a reliever, in part because of his small repetoire of pitches. But Det was working on a new pitch this ST, because he needed something else to throw to keep batters off balance, especially in later innings. Is it safe to surmise from his move to the pen that the new pitch wasn’t quite polished yet? Or is the pitch good, but he is going for other reasons like concerns about stamina or durability?

  3. Danny - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    From Kilgore: Tanner Roark looks like Roger Clemens against this Tigers minor league team. Giolito hit 98 in his start.

  4. Doc - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    Good stats run down, Chase.

    Hopefully, the Nats must have looked at similar results

    His 88% FBs correlates more with the game’s relievers, than starters. End of argument!

  5. micksback1 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    probaby a good move for as we head into the season. what it tells me is that Ross is still not cabable of lasting the duration of a season as a starer. If he can accept this role, he can be a very effective BP pitcher. This solves the issue of having an adequate lefty in the pen as well without costing anu money or a trade.

    bigger question is can Roark be a solid 5th starter? I am not sold on Taylor or anyone else

  6. micksback1 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    don’t get me wrong, one day, Giolito is going to be a beast!! and maybe a number 2-3 pitcher?

    • jd - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:56 PM


      Giolito profiles as a top of the rotation guy potentially but he may be as many as 3 years away,

      • micksback1 - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        agreed JD

      • Doc - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:18 PM

        I like his odds at being 1.5 years away!

      • jd - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:13 PM


        No chance. Keep in mind that he will probably be shut down sometime between July and August. My best case scenario is: Hagerstown for most of the year and a cup of tea at Potomac. Then Potomac most of next year with a cup of tea at Harrisburg. Similarly, Harrisburg in 2016 with a late call up to the big team.

        Even in that scenario he comes up at 21 years of age. There is no sane reason to rush him unless you want him to join the growing list of double TJ patients.

  7. Sonny G 10 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    I hope Det does well as a reliever. He should have taken some of MicheleS’s cookies to put some meat on those bones. Maybe if he fills out, he can become a starter again. However, there’s going to be more pressure coming up from the minor leagues, so maybe he can make a good home in the BP.

    This is one of the things I knew would happen if we became a good team. Some of my favorite players are going to get moved or replaced by a better players. Good thing we have a GM and a manager who are not afraid to make changes when necessary. When I think back how much I rooted for Jason Bergman to make good, I realize I would not make a good GM.

  8. Section 222 - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    These numbers are striking, no doubt about it. But they are comparing a guy slated to be our No. 4, at best with three pitchers who are either No. 1’s or No. 2’s on any other team. I’d be interested in seeing how Det compares with a Joe Blanton type, or how about E-Jax two years ago, or Haren last year? The fact that he’s not as good, or even significantly worse than, Stras, Gio, and JZnn doesn’t prove much at all.

    One interesting thing is that Det’s number are actually *better* than his three compadres in innings 1 and 2. That might be the best argument for making him a reliever. JZnn was pretty darn awesome in Game 4.

  9. Jb - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    Let’s be clear about this. Det is not going to the bullpen because they think he’d be better as a reliever. He’s going to the pen because they’ve decided he’s not good enough to be a starter and since he’s out of options it was either put him in the bullpen or cut him. He won’t start at all this year because he’s not stretched out, he can’t be stretched out in the pen, and they can’t send him down for a while to stretch him out. So either he embraces his new role as a relief pitcher like Clippard, Stammen and hundreds of other failed starters have done, or he’ll turn into this year’s HRod.

    • alexva6 - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      you very clear, but in my opinion you’re wrong. with no 2nd lefthanded option in the bullpen, the team is best suited to have him play this role. a role he has handled just fine in the past.

      it would not surprise me if he’s starting again before year end. he’s plenty good enough as a #5 starter.

    • Danny - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:57 PM

      You are entitled to your opinion, but that is completely incorrect. Detwiler has the skills and track record albeit in a brief sample size to be a dominant reliever.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:00 PM

      I think he could get stretched out if they sent him on a 30-day minor league rehab gig, if his hip, say, were to act up again. Rizzo has shown few compunctions about using the DL as a taxi squad.

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:03 PM

        That said, I think his days as a starter for the Nats are done, barring a series of unfortunate mishaps to the rest of the staff. Disclosure: I’ve never been a big fan. Wish him well, sure he’s a nice guy, never thought he’s a first-round pick talent.

    • TimDz - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      Comparing Det to HRod is worse than comparing Det to Lannan….

      Det profiling as a reliever has been discussed for several years now. I can see him getting a spot start possibly, but I think he may be a beast as a reliever. Left handed pitchers that throw mid 90’s don’t exactly grow on trees and he’d be traded before they just cut him, Jb….and there would be several takers.

      • Jb - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        Det as this year’s HRod = underperforms, out of options, nothing but potential, how many second chances can you give him before you’re just forced to cut him loose?

    • Hiram Hover - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:58 PM

      Overlooking the inflammatory comparison to HRod, I do think you’re right about one thing – he’s going to the BP because they don’t have confidence in him as their best option for a #5 starter.

      Yes, he may do very well in the BP, and he’s better than the other currently available LH options (Cedeno, etc–not high praise).

      But if they were confident he had the stuff to start, they’d much rather get 180 IP out of him than 70-80.

  10. habs3 - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:05 PM

    I concur with Section 222’s comment . I would like someone with the Nats (maybe Williams or MCatty) to comment on how Det’s slider and curve are coming along. As I recall he was drafted because he had a lights out curve. What bothers is that the race for #5 was just starting up. It appears Det was never considered for the #5 as there is no basis to disqualify him based on two to three ST games. How Young can be considered over Det is ludicrous. One thing I will say is that of all the starting pitchers Det is the only that is not a Rizzo pick up. One reward that Det has a lock on is the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” reward.

    Based on how he has handled the #5 starter position, Williams’ words and actions are on different planes.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      There was some speculation at the time that he was drafted because they could be pretty sure he’d sign for the amount of money they wanted to offer him.

      • Doc - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:14 PM

        Interesting 2007 draft. Det at #6, and Jason Heyward at #14.

        Good scouting rule of thumb: never draft a pitcher when there is a good position player available!

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        Although, in fairness, Svrluga wrote at the time:

        “Detwiler, 21, was consistently ranked behind only lefty David Price of Vanderbilt — who went with the first choice overall to Tampa Bay — and right-hander Rick Porcello of West Orange, N.J., among pitchers available in the draft. And by the time the Nationals chose, the three top hitters — Michael Moustakas of Northridge, Calif., Josh Vitters of Anaheim, Calif., and Matt Wieters of Georgia Tech — were gone to Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore, respectively. ”

        “Bowden and director of baseball operations Mike Rizzo praised his fastball, said he has a ‘power curve’ and an above-average change-up. ”

        and then there’s this:

        “The Nationals woke up yesterday knowing they would not select Porcello, who fell to the 27th pick to Detroit because his agent, Scott Boras, has reportedly told clubs that he would demand a bonus that could go beyond $7 million. “

      • Section 222 - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:05 PM

        Don’t confuse us with the facts Sofa. :-)

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 18, 2014 at 8:55 PM

        We report–you get confused.

        It’s been done before.

    • sjm308 - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:15 PM

      Actually, he was a Rizzo pickup as Rizzo was in charge of scouting at that time and probably had more say than Bowden about draft picks. Silly to think Rizzo would demote someone because he wasn’t involved. His job is to work with Williams to get the best talent on the field no matter how they got here

      Hard to say he got no respect when he was given almost 70 starts and while won/loss is not a totally accurate stat he really didn’t produce.

      Bottom line is that he is a #5 starter at best and will serve this team better in the pen if he grasps that role..

  11. jd - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    Sec222 et al.

    Det is definitely good enough to be a no. 5 in our rotation as was John Lannan. The question is: ‘can we do better’?
    I think Det has enough of a resume and he’s old enough to where we know what he is which is an ordinary bottom of the rotation starter. Why not see if Roark or Jordan can be better?

  12. jd - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:27 PM

    ESPN has come out with their top 10 SS rankings. Desmond is ranked 4th (behind Tulo, Hanley and Simmons) and is up from 7th last year.

    I guess I’m OK with this ranking as Tulo and Hanley are better offensive players than Desi and Simmons is a defensive wiz at SS.

    The new guy on the list : Xander Boegarts (Red Sox).

  13. Eric - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    Not sure it’s fair or not to consider this as part of the “competition” for the #5 starter, but Roark’s minor league appearance is a good read nonetheless.

    • Doc - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:30 PM

      Thanks Eric!

      A little bit of Bull Durham is good to get the season started!!

      • Eric - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:13 PM

        Say que? I haven’t seen Bull Durham since I was really young… Was there a reference in the article?

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 19, 2014 at 2:02 AM

        I think Doc got lost a little. See my comment and link below, at 7:06.

  14. Eugene in Oregon - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    The stats for Ross Detwiler’s 69 games as a starter — his 1st couple of innings, 1st time through the order, and 1st 25 (to 50) pitches — seem much more meaningful than his 16 games in relief if you’re going to draw any conclusions. Again, it all comes down to his having only one — maybe one and a half, depending on how you define it — real pitch. To be an MLB starter you need at least three, preferably four, reasonably effective pitches.

  15. sjm308 - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Excellent numbers in this article, reminds me of what Natslady posted about Det sometime back. She did not include others but it was clear that Ross dominated the first time through the order and then fell off drastically.

    I am not sure I read this correctly and I am not going back to reread, but if anyone here thinks that Rizzo bases baseball decisions for this club on who he did or did not draft or trade for, that is hillarious. You are, of course entitled to your opinion but he would not last long in his job with those prejudices.

    We have now strengthed a position that was questionable at best in the bullpen.
    We still have 3 options for a number 5 starter with two of them home grown and fairly young.
    We have more help on the way as our really young guys continue to improve and watch out for this kid Treinen who has done nothing but impress and was basically a throw in on the Morse trade.

    Go Nats!!

  16. Doc - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    So looking at Bowden’s and Rizzo’s initial scouting report of Det, it must have been before they started wearing glasses!

    Wad happened to Det’s power curve and the above-average change???????????????????? Those 2 pitches must have disappeared somewhere in the clubhouse. Maybe they should hire a detective to find them!!!!

    • nats128 - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      He decided he wanted to be a fireballer. It worked for a while.

  17. Joe Seamhead - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    I have always thought, as many others have, that Det lives and dies by his fastball entirely too much. When thinking on Ross I somehow think back to another guy, who at 5-11 & 161 lbs was,in his day,actually called a tall, thin guy. Ron Guidry was a pretty good young pitcher that also lived primarily on his fastball until Sparky Lyle taught him how to throw a slider. Then is when Guidry became a dominant pitcher. Ross doesn’t seem to throw his curve with a heck of a lot of confidence. If he could learn to throw, and have confidence in a slider I think he’d be a real force to reckon with.

  18. David Proctor - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:48 PM

    Just looking at the calendar, it appears whoever pitches this Friday will be lined up to start Opening Day.

    Also, FWIW:

    Chris Cotillo ‏@ChrisCotillo 13s
    #Astros are looking to acquire first basemen, as @jaysonst said. One HOU scout said #Nats Tyler Moore has looked “especially impressive”

    • Jb - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:54 PM

      Should be Jordan Zimmermann. He last pitched on Sunday, so Friday would be his day.

      • David Proctor - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:58 PM

        It hasn’t been lined up yet. Williams said he’ll line it up after today’s break. Zimmermann could pitch on long rest on Saturday or Sunday to be positioned where Williams wants.

    • Doc - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:24 PM

      Bo has tried to get Tyler Moore before; no doubt he could be playing for someone else.

  19. nats128 - Mar 18, 2014 at 7:31 PM

    The starters seeding is of extreme importance to early success. Rizzo on the radio said “September games are important and April games count the same….we want to get a good start to the season”.

  20. NatsLady - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:24 PM

    Off-topic (sort of). Take a look at this.


    IMO, it puts Harvey in an extremely bad light. Our guys rehabbed in Floriday and hit was hot, and it was lonely (remembe Wang’s affair?) but they were in Florida in order to be with specialists, and also totally focused on rehab and NOT on the team, teammates, league, etc., as Harvey claims as the reason he wants to rehab in NY. Then he’s whining about he size of his locker—!

    • nats128 - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:41 PM

      Does it really matter what Harvey wants. The team will do what fits in there protocol you would thing becuz if they make an exception for him they will have to do it for everyone. The trainers and medical staff in NY are tasked with taking care of normal aches and pains. In Florida they are tasked with rehabbing DL types of injuries to get them ready for Minor League assignments. This will be interesting to watch.

      I have to imagine its tough being away from your teammates and for Harvey his home is NYC. I think he feels like he is being banished and for players like Harvey and Strasburg it also protects them from the flash of the cameras and the tape recorders of media.

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 19, 2014 at 1:51 AM

      Wow, Martino, way to throw your source under the bus. Might as well change his name to Winston Smith as a cover.

  21. sjm308 - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:53 PM

    Getting late here but I just read an article that made me just a tad upset with our former GM.
    I have said often that I like Det in the pen and think its the right move.
    I was reminded in this article I just finished, that the year he was drafted, they brought him up to the big leagues for a whopping one inning, facing 4 batters and this was after only throwing 9 games in the minors. If Ross had not been brought up, he would still have another option this year and who knows how that would have affected this decision.

    Again, I am happy with the move but not sure it was fair to Detwiler to waste an option like that and force a decision that certainly could have waited.

    • Section 222 - Mar 19, 2014 at 12:05 AM

      I’ve commented on that idiotic move by Bowden many times. It was a classic “hey look at me with my shiny new No. 1 draft pick” moment by Bowden. Hurt the team and the player. But to be honest, that last option would have been used up last year or the year before. (Remember when Det had to move in the pen to make room for Wang when he got over his spring training injury?)

      • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 19, 2014 at 1:52 AM

        Forsooth, it is an olde news.

      • natsfan1a - Mar 19, 2014 at 7:18 AM

        Ha ha! Madest thou look.

  22. nats128 - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:25 PM

    Another off-season deal I wasnt aware of. The Rangers have once again sold the naming rights to there field. They will now be Globe Life Park (Who?) They will get $5 million a year for that.

    Estimates have been the Nats could sell there naming rights for $5 to $10 million a year as the Mets get $20 million a year.

    Thats alot of potential income the Nats havent taken advantage of.


    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Mar 19, 2014 at 1:55 AM

      That there does seem to contradict the whole “Lerners are cheap” meme, ain’t it? There may be a value to their keeping the name they’re paying for.

      • nats128 - Mar 19, 2014 at 8:25 AM

        As a fan who wants to retain players, that type of coin could go a long way to paying towards the Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann $100 millionaire’s club.

  23. Jacob Rasch - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:52 PM

    I finally got around to writing about the Detwiler decision over at Serious Jammage. Before doing any research on the topic, my gut told me this wasn’t a great decision. But looking at the statistics, I saw exactly what Matt Williams saw — Detwiler is likely better suited for the bullpen. Full read here:


  24. dgourds - Mar 19, 2014 at 2:50 AM

    McCatty was quoted describing Roark as not caring if he starts or comes out of the bullpen. He just wants to make the team. You have to just love this guy. He’s team first. Very unlike former first round pick Detweiler who felt entitled to be a starter despite mediocre stats. I am SUPER encouraged that Williams has not just gone with conventional wisdom that so many on this forum espouse, including Mark Zuckerman, that Detweiler was the likely choice for #5. Matty is choosing those who are performing the best. It’s refreshing and encouraging. It will be very interesting to see whether Espinosa or Walters makes this team. My guess is it’s Espinosa because of his defensive skill and versatility and he is swinging a bit better than last year. But Walters has impressed at the plate. The fact that Det is in the pen shows us he is willing to make gutsy, unconventional moves. Walters has a chance. I love it! Go Nats, baby!





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