The Nationals Shutdown Bullpen: Rodriguez, Clippard, Storen

Courtesy pic

The Washington Nationals very well may have put together the back end of their bullpen for the 2012 season as the 2011 season finishes up.  After Drew Storen wasn’t dealt at the trade deadline, it seemed pretty clear that Tyler ClippardandStoren would be the hold and save guys into the future, barring any offseason moves.  The 7th inning was still very much up in the air until this month, but now it looks like Henry Rodriguez is well on his way to claiming the 7th inning job.

Rodriguez has put together a 3.62 ERA this season, but what’s better is his 3.24 FIP.  This means that HRod actually projects to get better, and that he’s been terribly unlucky.  His 0.6 WAR shows that he is a positive value pitcher for the Nats, and that goes a long way to solidifying a long term role in a fairly prominent bullpen job.  He’s still a young player and has a lot of growth this season.

Rodriguez did have one atrocious month, July, in which he posted an 8.10 ERA, but his September has been unreal: 2.93 ERA, 1.065 WHIP.  In 12 appearances, he’s given up just 8 total bases all month on 7 hits.  Opposing hitters are putting up a .184/.262/.211 slash line against him.  He consistently throws his fastball in the triple-digits and has a sick change up at about 89 mph.  If he continues to figure out his well-documented control issues, he will be an elite MLB reliever.

Tyler Clippard is one of the best relievers in baseball today, and that’s no exaggeration.  He has been extremely successful all season, earning himself a well-deserved All-Star bid.  His stellar 1.85 ERA gives him the 5th best ERA among all qualifying NL relievers, which is absolutely incredible.  Clippard is looking at a 1.2 WAR while closer Drew Storen is looking at a 0.9 WAR.  This does make perfect sense, though, if you understand the context of many of Clippard’s appearances.  He’s left 95.6% of runners on base as a reliever, and many of them have been inherited.  That makes Clippard the best reliever in all of baseball in stranding runners.  Wow.

I am a bit concerned about a “normalizing” period to come for Clipp, though.  His 3.19 FIP indicates that his ERA is due to almost double.  At some point, luck will catch up to him, which is why his .199 BABIP concerns me as well.  That a ridiculously low number, good for 2nd best in the NL.  To give more perspective, MLB average BABIP is somewhere around .300.  Typically, a number this low means that eventually his luck will run out and balls that normally wouldn’t get through will start to.  In Clippard’s case, some balls that should be getting through, but currently aren’t because of stellar defense, will start finding holes.  Overall, Clippard’s stuff is good enough to keep his BABIP fairly low because hitters rarely get good contact against him, but sustaining a sub-Mendoza line BABIP is unreasonable going into next season.

I’ve already covered Drew Storen’s success in more detail earlier this month. Updating his numbers, he currently has 42 saves on the season, good for 4th in the National League.  He’s managed a 2.78 ERA and has done yeoman’s work in the ‘pen with 74.1 innings and counting.  Comparing him to other closer’s at his level, Storen could work to keep his HR/9 ratio down.  Of the top 7 on the saves leaderboard, Storen has the highest ratio by far at 0.97.  If you look at the top 10, the only person with a higher HR/9 ratio is Leo Nunez, and well… I don’t think he’ll be adjusting that number in the US anytime soon.

The Nationals are not only on their way to having an elite bullpen, but an elite rotation, a strong lineup, and incredible depth.  People all over NatsTown, and in baseball towns across the country, are starting to become aware that Washington, DC does have a baseball team, and it’s going to be one to be reckoned with in the coming seasons.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.