Nationals Arm Race

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

Your 2017 Bullpen

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Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Old School photo of Blanton from his time at P hilly. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

With the Joe Blanton signing, one has to think the team is done augmenting its bullpen until the trade deadline.

Instant Tangent: Blanton is actually an excellent example of why i’m pretty much A-OK with the Nats not overpaying for a closer.  Here’s Blanton’s career splits as a starter and reliever:

  • Starter: 1553 innings, 4.47 ERA, 1.354 whip, 6.2 K/9 and a 2.65 K/BB ratio.
  • Reliever: 169.2 innings, 3.24 ERA, 1.138 whip, 8.9 K/9 and 3.57 K/BB ratio.

Last year specifically as a middle relief workhorse for Los Angeles: 80 innings across 75 appearances, 2.48 ERA, exactly a 9.0 K/9 rate.

So basically Blanton was a sub-mediocre starter; his starting career was with Oakland (pitcher’s park), Philly (National league) and then stints starting for both Los Angeles clubs (again, both pitcher’s parks and/or NL teams facing pitchers and weaker lineups).  But suddenly he’s a stud when moved into relief.

This is nothing new.  Go look at Mariano Rivera‘s stats starting; in one brief season for the Yankees he got 10 starts and threw to a 5.51 ERA.  The next year he’s moved into the bullpen and he posts a 2.09 ERA and comes in 3rd in Cy Young.  After that, eleven seasons where his ERA for the year was sub 2.00.  Not to be too blunt about it, but Rivera was a failed MLB starter who turned into a Hall of Fame reliever.

There’s no reason the Nats can’t find their own Mariano Rivera.

I’m not saying Shawn Kelley is the answer.  For a while i’ve thought that Blake Treinen was the answer.  Maybe now Koda Glover will be the answer.  Or perhaps Joan Baez will rocket up the system and throw 100 mph bee-bees by September.

In any case … I’m happy with the bullpen now, moreso than I was yesterday, and I still think it’d be a mistake to trade valuable assets for a mediocre closer like David Robertson.

So, to the question at hand.  How’s our Bullpen looking?

Here’s the relievers on our 40-man roster now, in rough order of depth:  Kelley, Blanton, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*, Romero*, Adams, Gott, Martin, Cordero, Grace*

So what do I think is going to happen?

  • Closer: Kelley.  Good stuff in short bursts, veteran guy to meet the “pressure” requirement of a closer.
  • 8th inning guys: Treinen and Blanton: no arguments here; they’ll both throw in 70-80 games this year, switching off and perhaps spelling Kelley in the 9th.
  • 7th Inning guys: Glover and Solis: I like Glover’s stuff, I think his downturn in performance last year was entirely related to the unreported hip issue, and I think he could be the closer in waiting.  Solis is lefty but offers more than just a matchup; he’s not that far removed from starting and he’s not unlike Andrew Miller in that he depends on a good pitch (his two seamer) slung from a lower arm-angle to get guys out.
  • Lefty specialist: Mr. Swashbuckler Oliver Perez.  He can also pick up the slop in a pinch and give the team twisty-turny rubber armed high sock slinging mud as needed.  (Yes, I like Perez).

Ok that’s 6 guys who are practically guaranteed their slots.  Maybe Glover isn’t a guarantee to you but he is to me if he’s healthy.

So who is 7th reliever?  Maybe its easier to talk about who I do NOT think it will be:

  • Grace: I think he’s not long for the org, clearly now 4th in line for lefty relievers for a team that only needs two.  DFA candidate if it comes to it.
  • Martin: He doesn’t seem to have the same magic he had when he first got called up; he’s also fallen down on the depth chart, now behind the above named guys plus recent acqusitions.
  • Adams, Gott, Cordero: all are new(er), all have things to prove, make perfect sense to start in AAA
  • Romero: option-less, could be on the opening day roster just to avoid a waiver wire exposure … but we paid little for him so there’s little lost cutting him.  Maybe he starts on the roster in lieu of a 5th starter for the first few days (we don’t need a fifth starter until like the 6th or 7th game of the season, assuming everyone is healthy and making the roster).

So who is 7th guy?  Someone who’s not even on the 40-man; Vance Worley.  He sots into 7th man, long guy, spot starter, insurance guy.

That’s what i’m going with for now.  But good or bad spring performances could scuttle this by the time we hit April 1.

14 Responses to 'Your 2017 Bullpen'

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  1. As they say, facts are stubborn things. Those opening stats for Blanton are strong, journeyman starter to excellent reliever.

    Thankfully, no one else was smart enough to sign him and we got a solid addition to great addition.

    Mark L

    2 Mar 17 at 7:37 pm

  2. Todd, I think you’ve ID’d the opening day bullpen exactly, although there could still be a good bit of competition for the slots you’ve given to Glover and Worley. The other five seem pretty solid, barring injury. Worley could have competition for “long man” from Guthrie, Cole, Voth, maybe Jacob Turner. Glover is up against Nathan (Dusty loves veterans!), Romero, Cordero, Gott, etc. I like Gott and hope he gets some MLB time this season, but the numbers seem stacked against him coming out of the spring.

    Is Glover the closer of the future? Who knows? Dusty has made some comments this spring about how he may be “too bold” right now. I didn’t know that was a problem with closers! To me, he seems to have more of the bulldog closer mentality than Treinen does.

    I also think Solis has “closer stuff.” When he’s on, he’s wicked. He can also go multiple innings and could turn into to the Nat version of Andrew Miller. (Just as long as Dusty doesn’t wear him out doing it.)

    All in all, there’s quality depth in this bullpen, perhaps the best combo of quality and depth the team has had. Will depth offset the lack of a “proven closer”? Will the team keep casting about and do something desperate to get a “proven closer”? I’ve been in the minority all winter in saying that if they didn’t get one of the “big three,” they were better off with the guys they’ve already got. I still believe that. (Yeah, Wally, for the price, it would have been good to get Zieglar, though.) Anyway, we’ll see. I’ve never really wanted Robertson. The price would be high, both in terms of what the Nats would have to give up and in what he is still owed.

    KW

    3 Mar 17 at 7:16 am

  3. KW

    3 Mar 17 at 7:29 am

  4. I still see Romero making the team. If contracts weren’t involved, I think he’d get the nod over Perez, but the Nats aren’t going to eat that contract. So I think as things stand, barring injuries (real or phantom) and including the practicality of options, control etc, I think romero goes north and Glover starts in Syracuse.

    Dusty’s comments have been a little weird on this point, referring to the ‘I ain’t got no choice’ stuff. It’s only worrisome to me because Dusty has a bit of history with using the media this way to air concerns or just make it clear that if things so south, it isn’t his fault.

    Wally

    3 Mar 17 at 11:39 am

  5. To me, this bullpen sets up well for an enlightened manager to say, “I’m going to get three guys 20 saves each and keep all of them well rested in the process.” It’s a perfect situation for it since there are no “incumbent closer” egos involved, as there have been around here in 2013 and 2015. Alas, we’ve got the oldest of old school, grumbling that someone has to be “the guy” and that he doesn’t like his opinions compared to some other guys that we didn’t get.

    I’m also not a Perez fan but don’t see them eating his contract. As for Romero, if he makes the team, it would be a plus, as he blows high-90s smoke. The question is always which direction it’s blowing. Romero had a 5.91 ERA for the Rays last year, though, so there shouldn’t be any assumption about a guy with a 5.91 in his recent past making any team, even if he’s out of options.

    KW

    3 Mar 17 at 12:31 pm

  6. Much as the Nats played brinkmanship with the possibility of going into the season with a mediocre and dangerously thin bullpen, the Blanton signing was probably exactly what they needed. I agree that I’d much rather see them spending the big bucks elsewhere than on a closer, and I think their reluctance to do so is a strong indicator that they think Glover is the answer long term.

    But not right now. I agree with Wally that Romero is likely to get that last bullpen slot with Glover practicing closing in AAA. How long that lasts will be entirely dependent on whether Romero shows any improvement and whether anyone else goes down with an injury.

    As for Dusty’s comments–if I were managing this team, I’d rather have Chapman closing out the games as well. But if wishes were horses…

    Karl Kolchak

    3 Mar 17 at 12:35 pm

  7. The Nats lost a lot of bullpen innings with the departures of Petit, Pap, Rivero, and Belisle, but of that quartet, Belisle was the only one with an ERA under 4.00. (And yes, Melancon left, too, very much in a different league, but only 29.2 IP.) But overall, despite not getting Melancon to return, the depth of this bullpen seems considerably improved. Maybe I’m a minority in thinking this; I don’t know. I heard a discussion yesterday about how the Nats are going to have to score more runs because of how terrible their bullpen is. Really? Kelley (2.64 ERA), Treinen (2.28), Solis (2.41), Blanton (2.48), plus a recovered Glover (2.25 in the minors last year) sure look like a good crew around whom to build to me.

    KW

    3 Mar 17 at 1:12 pm

  8. I also think the bullpen has a lot of talented arms now. I do think that there is value to a closer who has proven it before, and they lack that, but I think it’s manageable. And for that matter, why can’t Blanton close? He has a higher than I expected K and swinging strike rate and is seasoned.

    Hey Karl – how does that end (if wishes were horses …)?

    Wally

    3 Mar 17 at 1:52 pm

  9. Wally, I was trying to remember the rest of that too. :)

    If you’re a sabremetric guy, then this bullpen has everything you need to be successful.
    Tom Boswell wrote about he, like me, remembers Blanton being this fat and sloppy guy as a starting pitcher. He has transformed himself in to a physical specimen who’s ready for 75-85 innings or more.
    A lot of those closer contracts sure were stupid.

    Mark L

    3 Mar 17 at 10:53 pm

  10. …then beggars would ride!

    The biggest risk the Nats were taking before the Blanton signing was health. Solis hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2011, Kelley is I believe a two-time TJ survivor, Glover is coming off an injury and Gott missed about half the season last year. Lose Kelley and Solis simultaneously for an extended period, for example and they would have been in real trouble.

    Karl Kolchak

    4 Mar 17 at 4:48 am

  11. “A lot of those closer contracts sure were stupid.” Exactly. And we knew they were going to be. I just didn’t see how any of the contracts for the big three made sense for the Nats and was surprised they contended for them as much as they did. But they contended for them in the way that made sense — deferrals.

    It wasn’t just the money, either; it was the length of the contracts as well. I would have loved to have Melancon for two years, but four is really going to be pushing it for him. We’ve seen what “the end” looks like with even elite closers like Pap and Soriano, and it isn’t pretty. We’ve also seen a mid-level-quality guy in Storen completely lose it, even in his 20s. Just think if the Nats had given Storen a five-year extension.

    The trade demands for Robertson and Colome were also “stupid,” as both reportedly were demanding Robles. I don’t think Robles’ ceiling is as high as some do, but as a top-20 prospect asset, he’s worth more than a mid-level closer, particularly than a mid-level closer with a big contract (Robertson).

    Often the best deals are the ones not made.

    Karl, the injury concerns for the ‘pen are certainly valid. To add to your laundry list, Glover is also a TJ guy. Undoubtedly part of the reason the Nats took flyers on guys like Cordero and Romero was to improve their bullpen reserve. Gott, Martin, and Grace are about it as far as the AAA returnees. Nick Lee struggled last year, Bryan Harper blew out, and Brinley floundered at AA and went back to Potomac. Guys like Mapes and Simms have continued to get guys out, though, and there’s nothing that says they can’t develop into Stammen-like middle men.

    On a positive note, thus far in the spring, nearly all the “long men” competitors except Cole have done well. Worley, Guthrie, Voth, and Turner have had good outings. Cole, though, has been hit hard twice. Whatever value he might have had left is draining pretty quickly.

    KW

    4 Mar 17 at 8:33 am

  12. KW–yeah, I’m still not totally thrilled with the bullpen depth, and wish we had more younger guys moving up the system who plausibly look like they could be decent relievers. Mapes and Simms are underdog types you certainly root for, however much of a long shot they may be.

    I felt Cole should have converted to relief pitching last year, since he seemed get hit much harder after the first time through the lineup. So far this spring, he doesn’t even look like he deserves a 40-man roster spot. With Voth pitching well and Cole on his last option year it is well past time to see what the laatter can do pitching strictly out of the pen.

    Karl Kolchak

    4 Mar 17 at 12:36 pm

  13. I had really hoped to be able to spend Sunday afternoon watching the Nats, who have a home game today. Well, there’s an ST game on MASN, but it ain’t the Nats.

    This is the 12th year they’ve been held hostage. MASN must die.

    KW

    5 Mar 17 at 2:20 pm

  14. It’s premature to gauge who wins the competition, because of three variables:

    1) Adjustment – This is the first spring that Maddux has with Glover, Romero, Worley, Guthrie, Nathan, Blanton, and Cordero. They are still learning who we have, and how they adjust to the coaching Maddux is giving them. That is a good thing. But we will see some(one) reflecting that adjustment in a way that creates separation and resolves the roster.

    2) Health – Kelley, Solis, Glover, Gott, Martin, Cordero all with health concerns from late last year. Who did what over the winter and emerged in what shape?

    3) Performance – We are a few games in and with a lot of lower level talent with which to pad stats.

    So this is fun but if it were so predictable, there would be a shorter spring and less games with which to create risk among the expensive arms.

    forensicane

    6 Mar 17 at 12:15 pm

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