Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for August, 2019

Nats Annual Mid-Season Bullpen overhaul; 2019 edition

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Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Come on, you know every blog post about Strickland has to lead with this photo right? Photo via Star Tribune

Another year, another mad scramble at the trade deadline to fortify the bullpen.

So, how does this year’s moves look?

Honestly … pretty good, all things considered.

  • Acquired: Hunter Strickland, Daniel Hudson, Roenis Elias
  • Traded away: Taylor Guilbeau, Elvis Alvarado, Aaron Fletcher, Kyle Johnston
  • 40-man Moves to make room: DFA Javy Guerra, Michael Blazek and move Jonny Venters to 60-day DL.
  • 25-man Moves to make room: Guerra, Blazek and one tbd as of this writing
  • Salary acquired: just $1.233M per Mark Zuckerberg , thus staying under the Luxury tax.
  • Mid-season prospect rankings of traded away assets per MLBPipeline/Baseball America/Fangraphs:
    • Taylor Guilbeau: #15 on MLB/#14 on BA/#20 on Fangraphs
    • Elvis Alvarado: unranked on all three
    • Aaron Fletcher: #21/#19/unranked on Fangraphs
    • Kyle Johnston: #27/#21/unranked on fangraphs

So, I’ll take these moves.   The team traded from strength (college-age pitching prospects) to acquire a position of need, and got some decent control with a couple of them to boot.  Irrespective of the underlying stats of these three guys … they’re upgrades over the two guys DFA’d and/or the guys who still remain in the bullpen with seasonal ERAs that start with a 4 (Wander SueroTony Sipp), a 5 (Matt Grace) or a 6 (Kyle Barraclough, mercifully already demoted to AA).

Strickland has been  hurt all year, and saw  his 2019 numbers take a dive from 2018, but for his career he’s still a solid player and is a good gamble.  I’m guessing whatever remnant remains of the clubhouse stemming from his ridiculous and immature plunking of Bryce Harper will talk it out and move on.   Elias’ time as Seattle’s closer has also left his numbers in decline versus last year, but he’ll step into a different role here and won’t have as many high-leverage spots.  Hudson (who was born in Lynchburg and went to ODU in Norfolk) has an interesting career, was once a very promising starter for Arizona before missing an entire season due to injury.  He was featured prominently in Jeff Passan‘s book The Arm since Hudson had to do two Tommy John’s in two years … but he’s been healthy since (relegated to the bullpen).

It seems to me that the new bullpen lineup (assuming all healthy), will go like this:

  • Closer: remains Doolittle
  • Setup/8th inning: Strickland and Elias
  • 7th inning: Rodney, Hudson, Rainey
  • longer relief: Suero, Grace/Sipp

It remains to be seen who gets optioned back; Suero has been solid for a couple of weeks, Rainey has given up just one run this month, Grace has scuffled, Sipp had treaded water, so it remains to be seen.

Will these moves win the Nats the Pennant?  Hardly.  Despite their decent form as of late, they’ve picked up just 1.5 games on Atlanta and seem to be competing for the WC.  Atlanta drastically improved their bullpen, getting better, more expensive assets, and Philly made moves to improve their rotation (moves the Nats couldn’t do b/c of salary cap issues).

Which of the traded assets am I most bummed to see go?

  • Guilbeau had a fantastic year in AA, has struggled a bit in AAA in SSS and could feature as a MLB reliever for some teams.  He’s in his 5th pro season, has already been rule-5 eligible for two years, but may still be more than an org-guy.  A nice turnout for a 10th round pick.
  • Elvis Alvarado: a lottery ticket, 20-yr old recently converted pitcher who’s been in the GCL “rotation” this year and has more walks than IP.
  • Aaron Fletcher: a fantastic 2018 14th round pick who has shot up the Nats system this year, blowing away both Low-A and High-A and currently holding his own more or less in AA SSS.
  • Kyle Johnston: Probably the most pedigree’d player moved, a 6th rounder in 2017 who has been in the Potomac rotation all year, pitching pretty well.

I think I was most interested to see how Fletcher turned out, then to see if Johnston could make the jump to AA next year.  Guilbeau may have already peaked as an org guy, and Alvarado is 5 years away.

Thoughts?

 

Written by Todd Boss

August 1st, 2019 at 11:41 am