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The Life Of Brian

[November 4th] -- Some Nationals fans are worried that Brian Lawrence's 2005 season [7-15, 4.83] makes him a pitcher that the Nationals should not have acquired. I disagree. It was Brian Lawrence's 2005 season that made it possible for the Nats to acquire him for a 38 year old 3rd baseman that was no longer part of the team's plans. Sure, the team is taking a chance. But as I remember, the Nationals "took a chance" on a pitcher that no one else wanted following the 2004 season. His name was Esteban Loiaza.

Brian Lawrence, 29, comes from Ft. Collins, Colorado, and attended Northwestern University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He was a 17th round selection of the San Diego Padres in the 1998 amateur draft.

I actually had the opportunity to watch Lawrence pitch twice during his first year in professional ball. He was sent to Idaho Falls, a town that is just down the road from where I live. He impressed me as being far more polished than the other pitchers in the league. He has a very strange delivery, throwing either side-arm or from a low 3/4 position. Batters seemed to have difficulty picking up the ball as it left his hand. He pitched well for Idaho Falls, going 2-1 with an excellent 2.45 ERA. He was promoted after a month to Clinton, a full-season Class 'A' league. There, he went 5-3 with a 2.80 ERA. In a combined 102 innings, the first year player struck out 100 and walked an incredibly low 18 batters.

Lawrence was promoted to high 'A' Rancho Cucamonga in 1999, winning 12 games and crafting a solid 3.39 ERA. He struck out 166 in 175 innings while walking only 13. He spent the first half of 2000 at 'AA' Mobile, going 7-6 with a 2.42 ERA. His amazing control got even better, striking out 119 in 126 innings while walking only 28. Lawrence did even better after being called up to 'AAA' Las Vegas, winning 8 games while crafting an 1.93 ERA. He struck out 46 and walked 7.

After beginning the 2001 season at 'AAA' Portland, Lawrence was called recalled by the Padres, going 5-5 in 15 starts with a 3.45 ERA. In 114 innings, he struck out 84 while walking 34. Lawrence had been in the Padres starting rotation ever since. Until 2005, he was a model of consistency for San Diego, winning 12 games in 2002, 10 in 2003 and 12 in 2004. In his career, he has an outstanding 2.3 : 1 strikeout to walk ratio [For comparison, Livan Hernandez has a 1.9 : 1 strikeout to walk ratio].

So, if he's so accurate, and "eats" so many innings, and is so consistent, why did he have such a poor season in 2005 and get traded for a "washed-up" 38 year old? I've got no idea.

In 2004 [15-14, 4.12], Lawrence allowed a .287 batting average, .420 slugging percent & .336 on base percent. He had a 2.2 : 1 strikeout to walk ratio. His ERA jumped from 4.12 in 2004 to 4.83 last season and saw his wins drop from 15 to 7. Yet, most of his pitching indicators were actually better. His on-base percent allowed dropped to .329, slugging percent dropped to .420, and batting average against dropped to .273. Lawrence's strikeout to walk ratio was only slightly higher at 2 : 1.

Those of us who live or have lived inside the beltway understand what "internal numbers" are all about. Lawrence's "internals" aren't those of a pitcher who went 7-15 last year, a very, very good sign for the Nationals in 2006.

Lawrence's fastball has been compared to Greg Maddux, below average in velocity but thrown with "wicked" movement. He also has a quality slider and major league change. He spends most of his time in the lower half of the strike zone, inducing a great number of ground ball outs. His control is among the best in the National League. Lawrence has problems with left handed hitters, allowing them a .300 batting average compared to only .242 against righties.

Brian Lawrence will be a credible "back of the rotation" pitcher for the Washington Nationals. Although he gives up few walks, he allows too many hits, long hits in particular, to be an ace. But he can win 10-12 wins a season while giving up around four runs per game. In exchange, the Nats gave up a player who was no longer part of the team's future.

This trade wasn't a "spur of the moment" deal by Jim Bowden.

He had approached Towers this past January checking on the availability of Brian Lawrence, but the Padres weren't interested in making any deal at that time. That was a good thing. The Nationals gave up nothing in return for much needed depth in the starting rotation.

If Esteban Loiaza comes back, and Ryan Drese returns to form, and if Lawrence rebounds, the Nationals could be looking at a 90 win season. Sadly, teams like the Nats are all about "ifs" and leave the "whens" to the Yankees and Cardinals.


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