As it turns out, major league front offices usually know better than us.
At the end of spring training, the Washington Nationals stunned most fans and pundits when they surprisingly chose Ross Detwiler over John Lannan for the No. 5 spot in their rotation despite the fact that Lannan has a solid track record of success in the big leagues, posting an ERA of 4.00 in 122 starts from 2007 through 2011, while Detwiler had been pretty much a first-round bust. Lannan, who was demoted to Triple-A, was so appalled by this decision he even sent an open letter to the media asking for a trade.
Well, Detwiler showed again on Friday why the front office decided to take a chance on him, throwing six shutout innings against the Miami Marlins, as the Nats improved to 11-4 with a 2-0 victory against their division rival. Detwiler fanned seven in six innings of work, and allowed just four baserunners.
Detwiler, who is 6-5 and comes from a true three-quarters arm slot, is the kind of guy who is usually murder on left-handed hitters, and in his career lefties had posted a .679 OPS against him coming into tonight, while righties had a .761 mark. And the fact that the Marlins trotted out a lineup that featured nothing but righties and switch-hitters is a great sign for Washington.
In retrospect, it's now easy to see why general Mike Rizzo decided to put Detwiler in the rotation. While he hasn't exactly lit the world on fire since being the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft, he hasn't been awful, either, striking out 7.7 men per nine in his minor league career while posting a 3.97 ERA. He threw 171 1/3 innings in the majors from 2009 through 2011, with a 4.10 ERA and 5.3 K's per nine. Obviously, those numbers are underwhelming, but sometimes it's about more than just numbers.
Lannan is what you'd politely call an "innings eater." He won't overpower you, but has enough in his bag of tricks to keep you off balance. There's not a lot of upside there, but you know he won't embarrass you. Detwiler, while he has never lived up to his first-round pedigree before this year, has a much more impressive arsenal. There aren't many lefties who can dial it up to 92 mph consistently, and he's been able to use his two-seamer to generate ground balls about 60 percent of the time this year while striking out 15 and walking four.
On Friday against the Marlins he had eight ground-ball outs and three fly-ball outs while lowering his ERA to 0.56. In short, he's showing the world why he why was a top-10 draft pick in the first place, and is big reason why the Nationals' starting staff has lowest ERA (2.08) of any rotation in the league.
And even if Detwiler turns into a pumpkin, the Nats can always turn back to Lannan, though he currently has a 7.50 ERA at Triple-A, further proving that Rizzo and manager Davey Johnson knew what they were doing all along.