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June 20, 2015 / Nat Anacostia

Let’s keep Ross up for a while

Joe Ross pitched his third major league start, an 11-K, 1-run gem against the Pirates. His first three starts have been quite impressive. Among starting pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, here are the leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio:

Name Team IP K% BB% K/BB
Joe Ross Nationals 20.1 28.8% 2.5% 11.50
Max Scherzer Nationals 93.1 30.9% 3.8% 8.07
Michael Pineda Yankees 81.1 25.8% 3.3% 7.91
Bartolo Colon Mets 86.0 18.7% 2.5% 7.56
Brandon McCarthy Dodgers 23.0 30.9% 4.3% 7.25


And here are the leaders in fielding-independent pitching (FIP):

Joe Ross Nationals 20.1 2.66 2.10 1.14
Adam Wainwright Cardinals 25.0 1.44 2.92 2.03
Max Scherzer Nationals 93.1 1.93 2.76 2.04
Chris Archer Rays 95.0 2.18 2.35 2.14
Chris Sale White Sox 88.2 2.74 2.42 2.23


Well, we all know we shouldn’t rely too much on statistics for pitchers who’ve only faced 80 major league batters (though pitcher strikeout rates do stabilize with pretty small samples). But going as much by what my eyes tell me as the statistics, I think there’s a good chance that Ross may prove to be a better pitcher than either Gio Gonzalez or Doug Fister over the remainder of this season. I think the team has its best chance of winning if they let him stay on the team, rather than sending him back to Harrisburg. Let him stay; if it turns out that these last three starts have been a fluke, we can always send him down later. But give him a chance to pitch for us now and prove the doubters wrong.

How would we use him? Although he could be sent to the bullpen, my own preference is to use him as a starter. While that might mean sending Fister to the bullpen, I think a better option would be to use him in a modified 6-man rotation.

How would that work? Assign Ross to pitch once a week—for example, he starts every Saturday. The other pitchers would pitch on their regular rotation, but they’d get an extra day’s rest when it’s Ross’s turn to pitch. Why do that rather than just plug him into a 5-man rotation? It comes down to work load and innings limits.

Ross has never pitched more than 122 innings or faced more than 524 batters in a season. Most teams don’t want to increase that work load more than about 30 innings (or 25%) in a season. He’s faced 286 batters so far this season. If we want to limit him to about 650 batters over the rest of the season, that would work out to about 15 more starts at about 24 batters per start. I proposed a similar once-a-week schedule for Stephen Strasburg the year of his shutdown; Tango Tiger proposed a similar schedule on his blog.

Maybe Ross will be great; maybe just good; or maybe he’ll need more time in the minors. But given the disappointing state of the Nationals rotation other than Max Scherzer, let’s give him a chance.

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