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WHO WILL BE NATS 'FAB FIVE?'

[March 21st] -- Around the league, they're giggling in public and belly-laughing in the clubhouse. The subject of all the guffaws?

Why, the Nationals starting rotation, of course.

Manny Acta has only two more weeks to figure out which five pitchers give the Nationals their best chance of not making total fools of themselves this year. Thus far, John Patterson and Shawn Hill are locks while Jason Simontacchi and Matt Chico are the rotation's "unindicted co-conspirators." With Beltran Perez and Billy Traber now battling for a spot in the bullpen, there are five pitchers vying for the final spot in the rotation: Jerome Williams, Jason Bergman, Joel Hanrahan, Tim Redding and Levale Speigner.

My vote goes to Speigner.

That doesn't mean that I think that he's the best talent, or that he deserves the opportunity more than the other guys; he isn't and he doesn't. But he's a lot like the vacation days I accrue at work every year: use 'em or lose 'em. Because Speigner, like Jesus Flores, was a Rule V draftee, he has to remain on the major league roster for the entire season or risk offering him back to his original team, the Minnesota Twins, for half the price the Nationals paid.

Take a look at the career stats of the five finalists. I've always believed that baserunners per 9 innings (hits + walks) is the stat that best measures a pitchers long term viability. Strikeouts are nice and a low ERA is nice. But if the opposing team can't get on base, then they aren't going to score:

Joel Hanrahan's 62-45 minor league record is at first glance very impressive. However, his 4.23 ERA was the worst (when comparing minor league stats) as was his strikeouts per 9 innings. Hanrahan allowed nearly 13 baserunners per 9 innings, next to last among the five.

Levale Speigner's 21-21 record doesn't seem particularly impressive until you take a deeper look at his record. His 3.34 ERA was by far the best, as was his 10.7 baserunners per 9 innings. His 6.5 strikeouts per 9 innings was bettered only by Bergmann's 7.9. Speigner's pristine spring stats reflects his career minor league numbers. In 8.2 innings, he's yet to give up a run, and is allowing just 4.1 baserunners per 9 innings.

It's interesting that Speigner has been given the opportunity to win a place in the rotation (though it is questionable if he's getting the same opportunity as Redding and Williams). Although he was a starter at Auburn University, he's been a starter only once as a professional, in 2005 with New Britain of the 'AA' Eastern League. He went 6-10, 4.13, allowing 11 baserunners per 9 innings.

Based on what I've seen so far, Tim Redding and Joel Hanrahan (both have a 12.71 ERA) don't have much of a chance to make the rotation (though they could be the first to be recalled from Columbus later in the year). Bergmann's only success as a starter came in a handful of starts late in the 2005 season. Other than Speigner, Jerome Williams is the only other guy who has any real hope of making the club (and that hope is based on on just one good outing out of three).

I'd be content with Williams in the rotation, but based on his spring numbers, and based on the fact that he'll never make it back to Columbus (Minnesota would certainly reclaim him), Levale Speigner should be the #5 guy in the rotation.

If Jesus Flores and Speigner have solid years in 2007, Jim Bowden will look like a genious.

Here's hoping.

The Columbus rotation gets stronger (kind of): Most major league team's 'AAA' farm club is stocked with the best and the brightest, players just weeks or months away from making an impact at the major league level. On most nights, you can't throw a frisbee onto to the field at an International or Pacific League park without knocking down a "can't miss" prospects.

Not in Columbus.

The 2007 Clippers will have at the most one or two prospects, and even they won't have much of a chance in Washington. In reality, the 2007 Clipper roster are full of players filling out uniforms, waiting for the hot-shots from Harrisburg and Potomac to earn their way there. Larry Broadway - or so it appears anyway - has had his prospect key chain taken away from him; he is merely keep the uniform warm. Kory Casto may end up there, but maybe not.

Perhaps the Clippers rotation says it best. The starters will likely include Tim Redding, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Bergmann and Saul Rivera. And now, welcome Pedro Astacio. Astacio, 37, a complete bust with the Nationals last season, has been signed to a minor league contract and will join 'AAA' most "mature" rotation.

One or two of them will without question be called up to take the place of a struggling starter at some point during the season. Who will it be, and will they help? I still think that Redding and Hanrahan could still become adequate major league starters. And Astacio? Well, the can be counted on to give up six runs a game anytime he's needed.


Comments:
Levale Spiegner makes the 25 man roster but in the bullpen as long reliever/spot starter. The 5th member of the rotation will be some one selected from the waiver wire or trade(Kyle Synder of Boston)
 
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