Finally… bullpen help is on the way. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle immediately become the best two relief pitchers on the Washington Nationals, despite neither being their former team’s closer. The two only have 4 saves between them this year, but so what? The Nats needed help and they got it. But are these two enough? (Probably not.) And who on the team is worth keeping around and who needs to be voted off the island?
When the team left Florida, it was obvious they needed a proven relief ace. Since then, pitcher after pitcher has failed, often spectacularly, and the need has grown from one closer to as many reasonably effective relievers as they can get. One man alone can’t fill the gaping void, which is why Rizzo just got two. So of the current Nats relief pitchers, are any of them worth a damn?
Instead of looking at ERA and FIP, or K/9 and K/BB, I prefer RE24 for relief pitchers. It’s a complicated stat with a simple purpose: determining whether a reliever made the game situation better or worse for his team. Basically, it measures the actual outcome versus the expected outcome. Getting out of a jam makes your RE24 go up. Giving up a solo homer makes it go down. So it should come as no shock that the majority of the Nats’ relievers have negative RE24s – lead by Blake “White Flag of Surrender” Trenien (h/t @ouij) with a whopping -10.79. So he’s given up almost 11 more runs than he should have. That’s embarrassingly terrible. He’s Oakland’s problem now.
Before the trade, only 4 Nats relievers (3 active) have positive RE24s — Matt Grace (3.46), Matt Albers (2.64), Oliver Perez (2.30), and the injured Koda Glover (1.31). Enny Romero is close, with a -0.82 RE24. Everyone else ranges from terrible to hideous. Subtracting the worst of the bunch in Trenien and adding Madson’s 9.90 RE24 is a 20 run swing (!). Doolittle adds a positive 1.72, so once the new guys show up, only Joe Blanton and his -9.19 RE24 will be left. But Blanton’s been better recently, with a 0.49 run over expected in the last 30 days.
The team was carrying 8 relievers before the trade, including two recent callups (who gave up 7 runs without getting an out between them Saturday night) in Trevor Gott and Austin Adams. It’s assumed those two will head back down to AAA to make room for Madson and Doolittle, with Edwin Jackson taking the third open roster spot to start for the club on Tuesday.
Things will get interesting once Glover and Shawn Kelley return from injury. Glover will definitely get a spot, and my guess is Kelley will get one more chance too, considering he’s under contract for next year. Albers has earned a spot by being the only non-garbage option all year. Perez has done his job too, registering 15 K’s in 12 innings against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .208/.292/.372 slash line. With the reinforcements, Perez should face fewer righties now (who have inflated his numbers).
Doolittle now gives the team 4 left-handed relievers. If we assume Perez’s job is safe and 4 is too many to carry, then either Romero or Grace would need to go. Romero is the hardest throwing lefty this side of Aroldis Chapman and throws his changeup almost as hard as Grace throws his fastball. Grace gets out of jams by getting over 60% groundballs, but walks as many guys as he strikes out. While Grace has outperformed Romero according to RE24, Grace can be sent to the minors without risk. Romero is out of minor-league options, so he’d have to pass through waivers – which he most likely would not. Another team with rosters spots to spare would surely pick him up. So while Grace has proven he can pitch at this level, the business of baseball means he’ll mostly be back on the shuttle to Syracuse.
The next tough decision will be between Kelley and Blanton — two veteran pitchers with better track records than current performance. Blanton started the year almost as bad as Kelley, but has not allowed a run in his last 6 1/3 innings, dating back to June 25th. Kelley, on the other hand, has been the poster child for the bullpen’s failures. His ERA is 7.00. His FIP is even worse (8.92). He’s giving up a home run once every 4 at-bats. And he’s been hurt. So this decision should be pretty easy. However, the business of baseball strikes again. Cutting Kelley means the team has to pay him the remainder of his $5.5M contract this year plus the $5.5M he’s under contract to earn next year too (minus the league minimum salary of about $550K/year if another team picks him up). That would be around $7M to not pitch. But considering how he’s pitched this year, perhaps that’s a bargain. Blanton has been better recently and less bad over the season, so the Nats should stick with him. Kelley can either stay “hurt” and on the DL. If that’s not possible, then the team can cut its losses with Kelley. He’s a two-time Tommy John guy who’s time could simply be up.
Getting both Madson and Doolittle without trading top prospects means the Nats still have ammo left to make another deal. Grace has gotten out of jams and Blanton has pitched better lately, but neither would be missed if the team could land a closer like the Reds’ Raisel Iglesias or David Robertson of the White Sox. A healthy bullpen of Madson/Doolittle/Glover/Albers/Romero/Perez/Blanton looks a hell of a lot better than what the team’s run out on the field so far. But it still lacks a true relief ace. It might take Romero and top prospect Erick Fedde, or Juan Soto, or maybe even Victor Robles. But as my buddy @DCBuckeye reminded me today, flags fly forever.
The Dodgers are a great team. Maybe the Astros are too. Mike Rizzo did great work today but let’s hope his work isn’t done. The bullpen still needs a closer (and the rotation could probably use another starter). The Nats are now one pitcher away from turning a weakness into a strength and they have two weeks and all their top prospects to make it happen. Go get ’em, Rizzo.Tags: Enny Romero, Joe Blanton, Matt Grace, Nationals, Nats, Oliver Perez, Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, Shawn Kelley, Washington Nationals