For the last two seasons, the Nationals’ bullpen has become synonymous with one unimportant but very remarkable thing; All Star game wins. Starting in 2010 when Matt Capps recorded the final out of the 6th inning by striking out David Ortiz, to Tyler Clippard’s one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning in 2011, Nationals’ relievers have been the winning pitcher in consecutive All Star games.
Sadly this year, the streak will end. Although the Nationals are sending three players to the All Star game for the first time in their short franchise history, not one of them is a part of one of the best bullpens in baseball. The main reason for that is the massive amount of media attention surrounding both rookie sensation Bryce Harper, and the incredible starting rotation. With the spotlight focused intensely on these two things, the bullpen has become completely overshadowed.
Absurdly, of the seven pitchers in the club’s bullpen, five of them have an ERA under 2.00 and two of those five have a WHIP under 1.000. To make it even more impressive, the bullpen is still lacking one of its best in last year’s closer, Drew Storen, who can only make the pen better. The biggest surprise this season, though, has been the emergence of 28 year-old Craig Stammen. Once a failed starter for the Nationals back in 2009 and 2010, Stammen has become arguably one of the best relief pitchers in the majors this year with a 1.41 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 44.2 innings. Unfortunately despite this utter dominance, he has been passed over as an All Star this year in what may be considered a snub.
Historically, the majority of relievers selected for the All Star game are closers, because of the value that is placed on their “high pressure” situational pitching, and this year is no different. The four relievers selected to the National League team are all closers for their respective teams. Joel Hanrahan of the Pirates, Craig Kimbrel of the Braves, and Huston Street of the Padres have been closers for the all year, while Aroldis Chapman has had to work his way into the Reds’ closer position. Even though all three of these players are deserving, Stammen is definitely worthy of their company.
There is a slight problem though in comparing these two types of pitchers. They both have their specialties. While one only really pitches with the lead at the end of the game, the other pitches pretty much at any other time during the game, but it is widely debated which is more valuable. The consensus usually falls to the side of the closer, but mainly because they have their own measurable stat in saves. Middle relievers on the other hand are left with a newly developed but unreliable stat labeled holds. This leads to leaving saves and holds out of the comparison and looking at the most basic stats (i.e., ERA, WHIP) for pitchers while remembering the situation in which each pitches.
The best stat to start with has to be ERA, the most important pitcher’s stat of them all. Out of all of the All Star pitchers, only Huston Street has a lower ERA than Stammen by .06, but Street also missed a good amount of time due to injury which leads to a little skew in his stats. A slight advantage also goes to Stammen because he has held his ERA in approximately 13 more innings than any other pitcher. It is only slight though because his low-pressure long innings situations even it out somewhat.
Where Stammen sees a setback though, is in WHIP. While Stammen sports a 1.16 WHIP, every pitcher except for Hanrahan (1.07), is around a ridiculous 0.75 WHIP. Even though situations balances this out a little bit, because for fireballers like Chapman and Kimbrel it’s much easier to strike out worn out batters, it is definitely not enough to break even. Stammen control has been a lot worse than every other with 17 walks and 34 hits given up in his 44.2 innings. This definitely wasn’t good for his chances, but it wasn’t what hurt the most.
The biggest problem had to be that Stammen was an unknown, not only to fans, but to players as well. While Kimbrel, Chapman, Street, and Hanrahan have established themselves and are pretty well known to any baseball fan; only Nationals fans really know about Craig Stammen. Players probably don’t even recognize his name unless they have faced him, because he is relatively anonymous and underrated to all. This really hurt because the All Star game has become all about one thing, popularity.
This season Craig Stammen should have been in the running for an All Star spot based off of his performance but he was virtually never considered because he wasn’t a fan favorite closer. While it’s understandable that not everyone can make the All Star game, the MLB has to start recognizing the middle relievers that push their teams through hard times. Even though there is no fanfare behind it, it is not fair to leave them with pretty much nothing to aim for. Stammen and others such as Sergio Romo and Scott Downs, who have had great seasons, should have had at least a fair chance, but in this system, they never will.