Welcome back to the latest in a series, in which we review the previous week in Nationals baseball and power rank the players according to their performance. This is an extremely unserious exercise; at no point should it ever be confused with actual baseball analysis. Don’t worry, I will do my best to make sure that is obvious. Without further ado: your Washington Nationals, ranked according to power.
So, that was a weird week for Nationals baseball. The excellent starting pitcher was merely solid, the monstrous offense was just okay, and the bullpen alternated between nails and disaster. None of the wins were particularly memorable and none of the individual performances were historic. So this week’s ranking of powerful Nats will be cut short in order to power rank the top methods to fix this heartbreaking bullpen.
1. Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman was named the National League Player of the Month for April, and his hot hitting carried over into May. The Face of the Franchise went 10-for-25 this week with two home runs and five RBI to tack onto one of the best Aprils in the long history of the sport. No, seriously: the only two better slugging percentages in an April were posted by Barry Bonds and Jimmie Foxx. You’ve probably heard of those guys.
2. Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon BFFs. When Trea and Tony aren’t fueling the explosive Nats offense or holding down the left side of the infield, they are busy making us and each other laugh. This is true love, folks.
3. Jayson Werth hitting in CBP. Boo Werth went 8-for-13 with two homers in Philly and continues to torment the fanbase that hates him for not being chosen to stay. They remember this guy raked in a World Series they won, right? They remember he never demanded a trade or decline a massive offer to stay, right? They remember Phillie management chose to let Werth leave and prioritize keeping their other superstars, right? I guess not. They’ll keeping booing Jayson when he comes back, and he’ll keep hitting balls all over (and out of) their yard, I guess.
Fixing the Bullpen. There are a number of different ways this unit needs to be upgraded; the relief corps is in such shambles right now that there isn’t just one band-aid that needs to be applied or one leak to be patched. To win in October, a number of different strategies need to be employed, and I’ll rank them in order of priority. Short of acquiring a time machine and going back in time to offer more money to Kenley Jansen, trade for Wade Davis, or listen to Greg Holland when he practically begged to sign here, these are the best ways to fix the Nationals’ only weakness right now.
1. Getting healthy. The number one fix for short-term success, although additional moves will have to be made to achieve a satisfying October. Of the four top relievers heading into the 2017, three of them (Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Sammy Solis) are on the shelf already. I would also add Joe Blanton’s mechanical issue under this category as well. Getting the guys you have to perform at their baseline for performance will go a long way in stabilizing the end of games, although it should not be the only approach to improving.
2. Converting Joe Ross. Ross has yet to develop a reliable third pitch alongside his heater and slider, so the whispers that he should convert into a bullpen arm have become louder. Without a third offering Ross will struggle to reliably get lefties out in starts, and his stuff will play up with a lighter workload. It’s a classic move that has been successful throughout the sport, and our own Joseph Seib spilled much more electronic ink on the topic just this week. The Nationals should use Ross’s demotion as an extended audition for Ross as a reliever, much like Turner spending a month in center field in the minors before having a big impact in his new role for the major league club.
3. Trade candidates. The classic method for a talent infusion will come at the high cost of some of Mike Rizzo’s precious prospects. The trade market is difficult to predict at the deadline — let alone before Memorial Day — but every year a crop of talented late-inning flamethrowers will hit the market from teams out of contention. David Robertson of the White Sox has long been linked to the Nationals, and other names like Sean Doolittle, Kelvin Herrera, Cam Bedrosian, and Trevor Rosenthal could be available. Spend wisely, Mr. Rizzo.
4. Trusting regression to the mean. Rizzo has preached having patience with the players and allowing their performance to balance out. xFIP predicts better results from the Nationals bullpen, particularly Kelley, Blanton, and Solis. xFIP is a sabermetric tool that imagines how a pitcher would perform with an average defensive performance and average luck on home run rate. The home run rate equalizer might seem counterintuitive; the pitcher’s job is to keep the ball in the yard. xFIP argues not every ball that leaves the yard is created equal; one does not need to watch a ton of baseball to observe the wide variety of weather, opponent skill levels, and park designs in the sport to understand why xFIP is a useful tool. As Blanton, Kelley, and Solis play more baseball their results will tend to resemble to their career norms instead of the small sample size of this horror movie April we just finished.
.@statcast Joe Blanton has allowed six HR now, but two of them were balls with hit probabilities below 15%, and only two have been “barrels.”
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) May 4, 2017
5. Demote Blake Treinen. A risky move, and one that will not be possible without a healthier assortment of arms at the major league level. Last season Treinen was a weapon as a fireman, escaping jam after jam with his 65% ground ball rate. Installing Treinen as a closer backfired horribly, supposedly in part due to his nice-guy aw-shucks Midwestern personality and definitely due to his pitch-to-contact approach and .458 BABIP allowed. In 2015, a 5-game, 12-inning, 0.00 ERA stint in Triple-A helped Treinen clear his head and return to form as a major league pitcher; a short stint at Syracuse might do the same in 2017. This would require some dexterous managing by Dusty Baker and some mental toughness from Treinen. But fixing Treinen and his unique skillset would be an important step for the Nationals to get leads intact to their T.B.D. closer.
6. Minor league deep dives. While Rizzo is scouring his affiliated rosters for beloved prospects that he will reluctantly part with, he should consider if anyone in Syracuse or Harrisburg could help the team. Austin Adams was acquired for Danny Espinosa and is striking out the world at AAA. Trevor Gott is scuffling at Syracuse but has a big arm and major league experience. Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are prospects that could contribute after rosters expand in September. They aren’t ideal fixes, but the ideal fixes are currently pitching in Los Angeles and Colorado.
7. Weaponize Jacob Turner. We still need to see more, but it’s possible former the former top prospect has salvaged his career in his mid-20’s. If that is true, I would argue he needs to be turned into a modern Swiss Army knife guy capable of giving you 2 outs or 9 — a poor man’s Andrew Miller or Chris Devenski. As a young pitcher, Turner struggled to — stop me if this sounds familiar — reliably get lefties out. He’s faced 24 left-handed hitters this year and allowed a .174/.217/.227 slash line. Yes, it’s early. Very, very early. But if Turner has been fixed, he could be more valuable to a contending team as a back-end do-it-all guy than as a fifth starter.
Missed the cut: Tanner Roark, Max Scherzer, Michael A. Taylor’s defense, Enny Romero, pitchers who rake, Matt Wieters, the Mets screwing the pooch with their pitching staff, Max Scherzer booing Philly fans, Bryce Harper, Matt Albers first career saveTags: Anthony Rendon, Austin Adams, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde, Jacob Turner, Jayson Werth, Joe Blanton, Joe Ross, Koda Glover, Nationals, Nats, Power Rankings, Ryan Zimmerman, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley, Trea Turner, Trevor Gott, Washington Nationals