Nationals Arm Race

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

Broderick and Rodriguez are officially costing the team Wins


Why exactly was Slaten left in to pitch 2+ innings last night? Photo Getty Images via

There’s no other way to put it, after watching the unfolding of last night’s bullpen meltdown; carrying Brian Broderick and Henry Rodriguez on this team is having the effect of shortening the bullpen from 7 guys to 5, and is costing this team wins by not allowing Jim Riggleman to put in the right guys at the right time.

WP Beat reporter Adam Kilgore put it more politely, calling the carrying of two essentially worthless pitchers an “unusual roster construction.”  You know what I call it?  A GM who is hand-cuffing his manager.

I have complained in this space several times (mostly summed up here in this March 2011 post) about the implications of the Nats having 3 of their 12 pitchers (Tom Gorzelanny in addition to Broderick and Rodriguez) be essentially “locked” onto the 25-man active roster.  Its one of my main criticisms of the Josh Willingham deal in general; see my post for more opinion but to have only a right handed reliever who your manager cannot use in return for your #5 hitter of the past two years is my definition of a trade failure).  Gorzelanny has pitched much better than anticipated and his roster spot hasn’t been questioned (though for me, that wasn’t always the case either).

To say nothing of this plain fact: If you can’t trust a reliever to come into a close game and get outs, then he should NOT BE ON THE ROSTER.  Its as simple as that.  And clearly neither Broderick or Rodriguez currently falls into that category.

What is the answer?  Mike Rizzo needs to do three things, almost immediately:

  1. Invent another “injury” and put Rodriguez back on the DL.  Send him to extended spring, put him back on rehab assignments and tell him he needs to either throw strikes or take a hike.
  2. Call St. Louis’ GM and work out a PTBNL trade for Broderick.  Enough is enough; he projects as a #5 starter (maybe) on a team that has 4 good starters.  Is he really part of the future for this team?  Is he going to be better than any of Detwiler, Maya, Meyers, Solis, or Peacock in 2012?  Because that’s who he’s competing with for rotation spots in 2012 (figuring that at least 3 are already spoken for in Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gorzelanny).  Trade for him so you can option him to Syracuse.
  3. With these two spots opened up, recall Collin Balester and call up Cole Kimball so you can actually have two useful guys in your pen who you can trust.  If you’re so in love with Rodriguez’s power, Kimball throws nearly as hard and has put up far better bb/9 numbers in AAA.  Balester has been in the majors before, put up great numbers in 2010 out of the pen, and can pitch long relief if needed as a former starter.

Its time for Rizzo to acknowledge his errors in roster construction and fix them.

(As an aside: Jim Riggleman is not totally without fault here: per Ben Goessling‘s report last night, “Todd Coffey and Tyler Clippard [needed] a night off and Drew Storen [was] being saved for a lead.”  Why let Sean Burnett stay in to get out one of Atlanta’s best hitters in Martin Prado?  Why not bring in Storen at this point and use him as the “fireman?”  Is it because he’s the “closer” and you save your closer for save situations?  I certainly hope this wasn’t his thinking.  A managers *should* use his best relievers in the highest leverage situations, and last night Storen should have been used to get out of a bases loaded jam against a tough right-handed hitter, instead of leaving in a lefty who has struggled lately.  But, this post is more about roster construction than reliever use, a topic for another day, and a larger issue in baseball in general).

16 Responses to 'Broderick and Rodriguez are officially costing the team Wins'

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  1. What reason do you have to label Rodriguez as “essentially worthless”? What has he done to deserve that label? The measure of a pitcher is his ability to keep runs from scoring. So far, Rodriguez has. Yes, he is not perfect, and his control problem is a real issue that has impacted how Riggleman has used him so far, but really, a pitcher with a 1.80 ERA should be given the benefit of the doubt. (By that I mean give him more innings.)

    He has been taking up a spot on the roster, but if he hasn’t been pitching a lot, it is because he is not trusted in close situations, not because he is unable to get outs.

    Now Balester – there’s a pitcher who’s proven himself this year.. to be entirely unreliable (so far). Not the guy we need right now.

    dc Roach

    13 May 11 at 12:25 pm

  2. The problem is, there aren’t two spots in the bullpen that shouldn’t be in a critical situation – there are three. OK, I get it, Riggleman is nervous about using Hot Rod or BB in a critical game situation. Fine. But … to use Slaten as the answer? And then to stay with him for three innings without even getting someone else up? Hot Rod and BB have pretty terrible stats:

    Rodriguez 4G 5IP 3H 7K 6BB (!) 3 WP (!) 1.8 WHIP 1.8 ERA 4.4 xFIP 0.0 WAR
    Broderick 10G 11.1IP 14H 4K 3BB 2HBP 1.5 WHIP 6.35 ERA 4.58 xFIP 0.0 WAR

    But the kicker is that Slaten is arguably even worse:

    Slaten 16G 9IP 11H 7K 6BB 1.889 WHIP 2.0 ERA 5.06 xFIP -0.1 WAR

    Other than his ridiculously misleading ERA, Slaten’s stats don’t hold up at all. And worse, he’s the anti-LOOGY. His job is to get lefties out, but lefties are hitting .381/.409/.667 off of him this season! And it’s not like he was light’s out the first two innings – he gave up a couple of bombs (by Mccann to the warning track and Alex Gonzalez off of the wall) that are walkoff home runs in some ball parks. He was doubly lucky on Gonzalez’s hit – the batter was sure it was gone and cadillac’d his way into an out at second when the ball ricocheted directly to Morse (nice play by Morse to take advantage).

    I defend Riggleman sometimes, but I don’t get the decisions (a) to leave Slaten in last night; and (b) not to have anyone else even up in the last inning. I’m also starting to wonder why Slaten is on the team – if he can’t get lefties out, he really is worthless to the ballclub. And in an extra inning game when some arms aren’t available in the bullpen, sometimes you have to throw guys into situations that you normally try to avoid.

    John C.

    13 May 11 at 12:49 pm

  3. @dc Roach: If you can’t use Rodriguez last night, and have to use a guy for 3 innings who has never once done that in his career, that shows that Rodriguez is not to be used in any situation with the term “leverage” associated with it.

    @Todd, I’m in total agreement with your take. I’m wondering when Broderick will have a “neck strain” or something. And even more violently in agreement regarding the lack of use of Storen. Bring him in for Prado, use him as long as makes sense (5 outs, maaaaaybe 6) and then if we’re stuck in the 12th inning of a tie game against a better team, you roll the dice with Rodriguez or Broderick because at that point it’s a bonus to win.

    Riggleman did things the way he did for a reason, I just don’t agree. But at least he didn’t do something stupid like having Storen pitch for 3 innings. I’d rather it be someone like Gaudin who overuses his arm and gets hurt (not that I dislike the guy).


    13 May 11 at 12:53 pm

  4. I called Rodriguez “worthless” not based on his talent or performance so far this season (which has been medicore), but because his manager clearly doesn’t trust him in situations that are anything except blow outs … and therefore his value to the team is very little.

    If you’re using ERA as a benchmark for a pitcher’s accomplishments, then you’re missing a lot. Look at his WHIP, his BB/9, his number of wild pitches, his xFIP or his strand rate (except that he’s so distrusted by Riggleman he’s yet to appear in a game with any inherited runners!). He’s putting nearly 2 runners an inning on base (1.80whip) as a late-innings reliever. That’s awful and is the reason he’s not getting used.

    As for Balester, i don’t know what else he needs to do to prove his worth. Here’s his AAA line right now: ( 11ip, 8hits, 1.18 whip, 1.64 era, 13ks, 5bbs. Here’s his line for the Nats in 2010 ( 21ip, 28ks and 11 walks, 2.57 era and a 1.238 whip. That’s the definition of a successful middle reliever in my book, and he needs to be on the MLB roster.

    Todd Boss

    13 May 11 at 1:26 pm

  5. Even given what we’ve said about Rodriguez … why not bring HIM in to face Prada? Even if the bases are loaded, worst case is he walks Prada and forces in a run. THEN you bring in Slaten to go lefty-lefty versus McClouth. Do you think Prada is hitting a grand slam off of Rodriguez? No way.

    Todd Boss

    13 May 11 at 1:28 pm

  6. Slaten’s roster spot seems safe for now because the Nats literally do not have any options to replace him (other than to flat out release him and use Burnett in loogy situations, which given Burnett’s struggles isn’t a half bad idea in and among itself). The only other lefty reliever we have on the 40-man is Severino, who pitched so badly in spring that he’s yet to be assigned to ANY roster. Check out this link and scroll to the lefty relievers:

    Hyde and Chico are probably the next candidates in line and they’ve both been terrible this year. VanAllen? Good 2011 numbers but he’s 26 and has never pitched above AA, meaning he’s more likely an organizational guy than our solution. Villone? We signed him but i’ve yet to hear one word about him.

    Maybe we trade a AAA starter for a mlb-ready loogy.

    Todd Boss

    13 May 11 at 1:31 pm

  7. Why don’t we trust Slaten on the mound? Because he pitched “OK” last year? Or because he allows runners to score seemingly every time he steps on the mound?

    Why don’t we trust Broderick on the mound? Because he’s young? Because his first two outing were terrible? Because over his last eight outings he’s sporting a 2.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP?

    Why don’t we trust Rodriguez on the mound? Because of his performance last year? Because of his performance this year?

    @ckstevenson – The fact that Rodriguez wasn’t used last night is a reflection on Riggleman’s trust in him, not a reflection of his actual ability or trustworthiness. If you are seriously arguing that Rodriguez for example doesn’t have the talent to pitch to major leaguers, please provide numbers to back that up. Numbers like his 3.58 xFIP last year, which beats Tyler Clippard’s 3.64 xFIP.

    dc Roach

    13 May 11 at 1:45 pm

  8. But dc Roach, your statement doesn’t make any sense. “Riggleman doesnt’ trust Rodriguez because Rodriguez has great talent?” Is that what you’re saying?

    Riggleman doesn’t trust Rodriguez because he’s easily capable of walking 3 and throwing two pitches to the backstop inside of 15 pitches.

    Oh by the way, i’ll take Clippard’s 3.64 xfip in 91 innings, a bunch of which were “high leverage” versus Rodriguez’s slightly better xfip in 27 innings, the large majority of which were “low leverage.” defines high/medium/low leverage pitching situations and 22 of his 29 appearances were low leverage. Furthermore, 20 of his 29 appearances were with his team losing, and 23 of them were with the bases empty. From this we can generally glean the following statement: “in 2010, the A’s mostly used Rodriguez in low-leverage losses (aka blowouts) and rarely brought him in with baserunners on.”

    That sounds pretty indicting of his “value” as a reliever, doesn’t it?

    Todd Boss

    13 May 11 at 1:55 pm

  9. The hard truth is, 2011 is just not an important year for the Nats, even though they’re unable to say it publicly. The dumb move in the offseason was when conducting a salary dump of Willingham, why get back a wild reliever with NO options left.
    Broderick had a terrific spring training, enough to keep him around in a year when your wildest dreams are to finish .500.
    Everyone knows that Riggleman is ‘strategically challenged’ (was that polite enough?). Too bad because he’s the local boy made good, just not next years manager.

    Mark L

    13 May 11 at 2:00 pm

  10. Reading this Mark, I remember I forgot a paragraph in my post! I was going to touch on this exact point. What is 2011 to the Nationals? A rebuilding year, a year to clear out defensive dead-weight for Rizzo’s continual makeover of the roster. Clearly a year where we did not expect to make the playoffs (not with Strasburg out the whole season).

    All true. And there fore you take some roster chances in a year like this. You roll the dice on rule5 guys and suffer through the struggles of youngsters in your rotation and on the field (except that we’re really NOT doing that … instead loading up the team with veteran FAs as its role players and leaving a lot of prospects in the minors).

    But you need to *try* to win, right? I mean, the Giants won the world series with a great pitching staff and mediocre offense. Who is to say that we’re not in the same boat? I’m not saying that our rotation is 1/2 as good as San Franciscos … but the rotation is holding its own, we’re near .500 despite being dead last in most offense categories in the NL. Who is to say this team doesn’t stay frisky the whole season? And if that’s the case, don’t you owe it to your fans to make a go of it?

    Todd Boss

    13 May 11 at 2:07 pm

  11. It was only one game, guys. I do wish that Riggleman would have either gone to Broderick last night in the 7th instead of Burnett. Broderick throws a heavy sinker & can be a groundball machine, while Burnett is suseptible to fly balls. At some point, Riggleman needs to extend some trust to younger players on the team; Espinosa & Ramos seem to be working out ok, don’t they?


    13 May 11 at 2:09 pm

  12. Indeed, just one game of 162 (but what’s the fun of blogging and commenting otherwise? 🙂 I wouldn’t have said anything if It didnt’ touch on a nerve of several previous complaints/disagreements i’ve had with the direction of the team.

    For me, the post was also worth writing because, despite just being one game, it exposed a rather obvious issue. This wasn’t “shades of grey” moves Riggleman was or wasn’t making; this was a clear statement that he was purposely leaving two guys in the pen to go with a struggling lefty who exists on this team primarily to get one-guy out at a time. I worry about what that really means for the longer term.

    If we end up throwing Storen and Clippard 20% more innings this year b/c he’s afraid to use Broderick and Rodriguez, then that’s 20% more wear and tear off your two best relievers that i’d rather not incur. The last thing we want is an arm injury from overuse on a prized reliever once this team is actually “good.”

    Todd Boss

    13 May 11 at 2:43 pm

  13. Great points, Todd. Scanning the comments quickly, I think 2 points were missed:

    1) Working with a bullpen 2 men short forces the other 5 to pitch more innings than they otherwise should expect to pitch. This is further amplified by Rigg’s reluctance to let starters not names Livan pitch through a jam in the middle innings. I worry what this looks like later in the season when arms get tired…

    2) As long as our bats continue to miss balls, almost every game will be a high leverage situation. Haven’t looked back at stats, but it just feels like we’re have many more 3-2, 4-3, 5-4 games than 4+ run wins…


    14 May 11 at 8:16 am

  14. I’ve heard others complain about Riggleman’s quick hooks; it seems like he’s afraid to go much over 100 pitches for anyone except Livan.

    w.r.t. scoring, check out this link: . It catalog’s the Nats W/L record by # of runs scored. As of yesterday: 5-18 when scoring 4 runs or less, 13-2 scoring 5 or more. If you compare this to most other team’s you’ll see similar patterns: most teams are nearly undefeated scoring 5 or more. Its the good teams that have a .500 or better record when the games are low scoring. If the nats keep winning games when they score 3-4 runs, they’ll go a long way towards staying above .500 as a team.

    I don’t know how does the low/medium/high leverage but i’m sure its defined in there. I was shocked when i looked up Rodriguez’s 2010 leverage numbers. It really makes you wonder what Rizzo was doing; the A’s (renound for developing pitching) dumped him, without options, and clearly they didn’t favor using him in any high leverage situations last year. What did the Nats expect out of him this year?

    Todd Boss

    14 May 11 at 3:46 pm

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