Nationals Arm Race

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

Is this the turning point for the bullpen?


Is Treinen in danger of a DFA or a demotion? Photo via

Is Treinen in danger of a DFA or a demotion? Photo via

Yes, its one game.  Yes, it was one game in a regular season 162 games long, with a team playing in an abhorrent division that they’ll probably win by 20 games irrespective of what happens.

But, at the same time, last night’s debilitating 6-5 loss, featuring a 3-run ninth from your opening-day closer Blake Treinen seemed different.  Why?  Because it blew a game against a playoff contender, a team that the Nats very well may face in the first round of the playoffs if the season plays out as expected.  Because this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill regular season game; this was one of those statement series that this team faces where it can measure up against last year’s champion and determine where they stand in the NL pecking order.  The team s hould be walking away with a dominant series win, having outscored the defending WS champs 22-12.  Instead they concede a split series that ended with a ton of frustration.

The loss last night (per Byron Kerr‘s twitter status) now represents the SIXTH time in 79 games this year that the bullpen has blown a 9th inning lead.   That’s only slightly worse (92.5% conversion rate) than historically  is to be expected (about 95% per Joe Posnanski research), but in the era of the closer … you’d expect better results.

The hitters are already grumbling.  As noted in this weeks’ Tom Boswell chat (and subsequently picked up by Craig Calcaterra in Hardball/NBCSports blog), players are getting pretty frustrated that they are beating teams for 8 innings only to lose it in the 9th.  And with good reason; if you’re facing a Cy Young quality pitcher and are in a position to beat him (well, beat his team that day, even if you couldn’t do jack with Jon Lester himself), then you HAVE TO WIN that game.  You can’t have your starters going 120 pitches and trying to pitch complete games every night because you can’t trust a single member of your bullpen.  Hell, they even got a quality start plus from Joe Ross!  You can’t waste those!  Normally Ross needs the offense to score him 12 runs to win.

I saw the result last night and the first thing I thought was, ” I wonder if they’ll DFA Treinen.”   This is the same team that layered Drew Storen after high profile post-season meltdowns; was Ted Lerner in the crowd last night?  What value does Trienen give the team right now?   He’s got a 1.7whip, an ERA north of 6, and clearly can’t be trusted with the ball unless its a low-leverage situation.  I’m sure it won’t actually happen, thanks to the general health meltdown out there and the clear lack of options on the farm.  But at some point, you have to think out side the box.

They were thinking outside the box moving Erick Fedde to the pen; guess what?  Its time.  I’d also start thinking about other AAA starters out of the pen while the two closer-retreads they’ve just signed (Francisco Rodriguez and Kevin Jepsen get fitted for uniforms and throw a few innings in AAA).   Call up guys from AA straight and DFA the deadweight that you know you don’t trust that’s sitting in AAA . You hate trading from a position of weakness, but its time to start working the phones and cashing in assets.

I’ve preached patience for this bullpen, and I just ran out of it.

ps: the larger news on the night of course is the Trea Turner injury.  That’s a bad piece of luck … but its also why we got back Stephen Drew.  My initial thoughts on Turner’s hit are these: its not season ending, we have a 9.5 game lead in a division were nobody else is really even trying, we’ll be fine.   He’ll be back for September when it counts.  Fix the bullpen.

31 Responses to 'Is this the turning point for the bullpen?'

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  1. Thanks Todd. I have also been preaching optimism, but that was predicated on Glover’s return. With Turner now going down and the pressure that it adds to the offense to bail out the team from having to play close games, time to make a move.

    I trust Rizzo. He’s been working this awhile. Am intrigued with the Wilson/Iglesias rumor, as it also helps to fix the infield defense in late innings.

    Now the draft is done. The organization is getting a sense of what it has, and where the depth is. As I see it, there are quite a few marketable assets that leave the people with a high trajectory untouched.


    30 Jun 17 at 10:51 am

  2. Saw a brief blip on twitter about the Nats calling up Adrian Sanchez from AAA to provide infield cover. I guess they kind of have to if they don’t trust Difo there as a backup. Agree on possibiilty of getting Stevenson up there but which OF do you sit to play him?

    Todd Boss

    30 Jun 17 at 11:40 am

  3. As I noted on the last post, Treinen did get the double-play grounder, but Drew and Murphy didn’t turn it. Murph isn’t the most athletic of pivot men.

    But after that, yeah, total meltdown, and against hitters who aren’t really that great, guys Treinen has the stuff to dominate.

    FWIW, Treinen had only given up one run in his five previous appearances and seemed to be turning the corner. Of course they handled him with kid gloves for a long time.

    Treinen has an option left. Do they use it? Or do they bury him again, only to be used with big leads?

    But yeah, the Treinen meltdown combined with the news on Glover, Kelley’s slow recovery, and Solis’s struggles in his rehab assignment at Syracuse should force . . . something.

    Lost in the carnage was the second great start in a row for Ross.

    Chelsea Janes said that Freddie Freeman was estimated to miss about two months for a break similar to Turner’s.


    30 Jun 17 at 11:45 am

  4. Adrian Sanchez! I’m excited!

    Its of no consequence, and I mentioned him awhile back, but this is precisely why I made the point I did about Kieboom. Sanchez has toiled for years as an OG, middling about the A and AA as filler. Two winters ago, he had himself a fantastic season and began rising to a different plateau. It culminated in his being in the right place at the right time to take over as a starting IF for Syracuse. And he has been respectable if pedestrian. Anyway, those of us who rooted for Rafael martin will hoist one for Sanchez.

    With that said, Stevenson is ready. Who to sit? He can rotate with Goodwin, and with Taylor on the road since Taylor’s splits are so bad there.

    This is the kind of problem a trade solves, especially since Werth is probably ready (a bruise, really?) and is a capable leadoff batter in his own right.

    When a guy makes it in his 10th (!) year in the same organization, what’s not to root for?


    30 Jun 17 at 1:07 pm

  5. Of course they need bullpen help, and I’ve said I think they need three quality additions to the current pen. Maybe Fedde is one of those (I don’t think so, not this year) but at least two have to come from outside. Not holding my breath on Jepsen or KRod.

    I think the comments about treinen, however, are on overreaction. He’s clearly shown he cannot handle closing, but as KW said, he should have gotten out of the inning last night. He also was bothered by hitting Candelario. Just shows he shouldn’t be closing games. He’s also proven this, so why did Dusty use him there? I know that he doesn’t have a lot of options, but I haven’t been impressed with Dusty’s management of the pen.

    But Treinen’s been good in low leverage situations, he still throws a tremendous amount of ground balls and I can think of several worse options in the current pen. To me, the only sure keepers are Albers, Romero and Glover if healthy. Anyone else can be replaced, but the next best guy out of all of them is Treinen. I want to add Kelley here, because his track record is good, but his performance is so bad I can’t do it (although I remain open to being convinced if he can string together some good appearances).


    30 Jun 17 at 3:12 pm

  6. Yes, Rizzo needs to fix the bullpen. I’m certain that he’s been working the phones for months. He’s likely even willing to overpay – just not to crushing overpay (Ex: Robles for Robertson). Rizzo will likely bide his time to wait for more teams to become sellers and thus lower the ultimate price.

    And no, fixing the bullpen is not urgent. It feels urgent because last night sucked. It sucks to only win 92.5% of games you lead after 8 rather than 95% – but that’s not a huge difference (I think it’s disingenuous to invoke the “era of the closer” as creating a higher expectation; the whole point of the research was that the “era of the closer” didn’t really improve a team’s chance of winning). If the division race was tighter, it might be more urgent. But being in the NL East gives them a cushion (as being in the NL Central has given the Cubs a margin for mediocrity).

    Platooning Taylor based on his 2017 H/R splits is silly. Yes, he has a dramatic split this season. But he had essentially no H/R split the last two seasons (slightly better on the road in 2016, slightly better at home in 2015). He’s had just over 100 at bats in each category. Yes, his splits are data – but it’s not data that can be usefully used to project future performance.

    They’re not going to DFA Treinen, either. That’s sports talk radio, knee jerk “FIRE EVERYONE!!” thinking. Big Stein worthy (or maybe Charlie Finley). It’s not Rizzo’s M.O.

    John C.

    30 Jun 17 at 3:14 pm

  7. … if you’re facing a Cy Young quality pitcher and are in a position to beat him (well, beat his team that day, even if you couldn’t do jack with Jon Lester himself), then you HAVE TO WIN that game.

    Well, no, they don’t. As Ryan Zimmerman noted after yesterday’s game “we’ll probably lose another game like that this season. And we’ll forget about that one, too.” He doesn’t say that because they accept mediocrity/losing – he says that because he knows that all teams, even Division/WS winning teams, have games like this during the season.

    John C.

    30 Jun 17 at 3:19 pm

  8. +1 to JohnC

    Stevenson may be ready (his 73 WRC+ in 54 AAA games suggests otherwise) but I have no reason to believe he’ll be better in the majors than Goodwin or Taylor, so he sits in AAA or gets traded.


    30 Jun 17 at 3:21 pm

  9. Too bad for Turner as this happened just as he was starting work a few more walks into his repertoire. But I must say even his improved stat line recently included a lot of soft contact and infield hits. Other than a few games, he has not been squaring up the ball nearly as well as he did last season. i guess it shows how good and valuable he is that he hasn’t looked quite right all year yet is still batting .270+ with a ton of reached on errors and leads the league in stolen bases.

    Treinen i called early in the season just does not have closer stuff. Too much contact and he really has to aim it to avoid the walks in the 9th more than he has to worry about it in earlier innings when the pressure isn’t as great or the hitters aren’t hunting them. if you can have a LOOGY I guess you can have a guy who’s main asset is getting a mid game less pressure double play grounder. I still doubt they’ll DFA him as the radar gun and stuff looks so impressive to management yet is somehow a mirage. Aren’t they batting like .360 off him for the season?

    I’d throw the kitchen sink at this thing from the minors. Get rid of Grace and give a try to Edwin Jackson, Wander and K-Rod to begin. I’m not sure how Glover got such a mystical rep as an answer. He hasn’t been that dominant or missed many bats even when healthy. Then when he really stinks it up he reveals an injury.

    No way they bring Stevenson up unless another outfield injury. Dusty loves him some Goodwin and Taylor. They are both playing well so no reason to sit either for a first timer. He would make sense for Rayburn but bats from the wrong side to be helpful in this case.

    Marty C

    30 Jun 17 at 3:29 pm

  10. Just to add to my earlier comment, it’s DFA that is out of bounds for Treinen. AAA? Convenient “injury?” Absolutely on the table.

    I suspect that Raburn is going to get shipped out when Werth is ready after the ASB.

    John C.

    30 Jun 17 at 4:43 pm

  11. It’s a good point about not sitting Taylor, especially because he has been improving.

    Stevenson is slashing .333/.381/.476 this month, and has started stealing bases again. There may be no room for him now, but what he can bring to the leadoff spot is a disruptiveness not available elsewhere.


    30 Jun 17 at 5:43 pm

  12. Agree Stevenson seems to have finally adjusted to AAA and is playing great again, after tearing apart AA. Just no room for him right now. Goodwin and Taylor need all the AB’s they can get for their continued development too.

    Marty C

    30 Jun 17 at 7:02 pm

  13. I’m curious about Raburn vs. Heisey. Raburn hasn’t been bad, while Heisey is “hitting” .128.

    No offense to Sanchez, but his call-up shows just how terrible the the Nats are with infielders in the upper minors. I’m sort of surprised that Sanchez got the call over Manny Burriss, who is back from his suspension.


    30 Jun 17 at 7:55 pm

  14. I thought Brandon Snyder would have been a better fit, given his versatility. Was Sanchez already on the 40 man?

    Man, Roark still looks lost. I don’t think he’s injured though. His velocity and stuff look fine. Maybe the swing back isn’t working as well, but it’s a matter of degrees. But he has no command whatsoever. I wonder what’s going on.

    Well, those wondering why Turner hasn’t pitched are going to get their wish tonight. I doubt Roark finishes 4.


    30 Jun 17 at 9:33 pm

  15. Yep, Tanner is developing into a full-blown crisis. He gave up 28 earned runs in six starts in June, five of which the Nats lost. I think he has at least a 10-day blister developing. He may not know it yet, but he does. Of course the “problem” is that his next start would be against the Mets. Do you bring Fedde up for that gig? We’ll see. His control against the Cards last night was awful, leaving them to just wait on the inevitable heater when he was behind in the count.

    Wally, I’m also surprised that they’ve bypassed Snyder now more than once. I get that Difo can play SS and he can’t, but with Drew back, they didn’t have to have a third SS-capable guy.

    Oh well, we’re now into the “dog days” and coming off two brutal losses. Dusty is supposed to be a psychological master. Time for him to earn that new contract!


    1 Jul 17 at 8:48 am

  16. OK, it’s time for automated balls/strikes. That was such a BS call to end the game. Good job by Sanchez laying off a pitch that was two inches off the plate. ##&&!!&&!!

    Great game by Gio. He certainly staked his claim to an All-Star nod. The offense was terrible, just took the night off. MAT leads off and Ks three times. He may be doing better in other spots in the lineup, but he can’t be such a black hole at the top.

    And why, oh why, was Solis in there in the 8th after just being activated?


    1 Jul 17 at 10:25 pm

  17. Leadoff and offense without Trea is early 2016 all over again. That’s why I posted about Stevenson. Well, let’s see what tomorrow brings.


    1 Jul 17 at 11:11 pm

  18. With KW here. In 6+ innings at Syracuse, Solis gave up 3 homers. Baker says he’s been ready for awhile now.
    You call that showing you’re ready?

    Poor Sanchez; shows a good eye and got jobbed!

    Mark L

    1 Jul 17 at 11:41 pm

  19. I was wrong. According to Mark Zuckerman, the automated system had the last pitch SIX inches off the plate. Six inches. How can you be a major-league ump and miss a pitch that badly? He was set up looking directly down the inside black of the plate. How do you have a clue about where the ball is on the outside? He consistently jobbed Gio all night with pitches Gio was painting on the black but that the ump couldn’t see.

    Again, though, this one was on the offense. Wacha came into the game with a 4.16 ERA and they made him look like an All-Star, just like they did with Leake the night before. One run a game doesn’t cut it in any league.

    Sigh. Time to wake up, guys. The lead is down to 7.5 for the first time in a long time.


    2 Jul 17 at 8:13 am

  20. Goodwin did a good job of leading off Friday night. Why put MAT there on Saturday? One of these days Dusty is going to realize Murphy is losing alot of AB’s over the season batting 5th. And more than a few times he’s been on deck when we lost the game down a run or two with men on base.

    Why is this guy getting the 5th most ab’s on the team? He’s the best hitter in baseball. He should be batting 2, 3 or 4 every day. He’s losing Ab’s to Rayburn, Werth, Goodwin, Difo all year. None of whom are half the hitter he is.

    I too could not believe they even called Solis up. He was getting pummeled in Syracuse. I like Solis but you gotta wait until he looks like he has his stuff back. Edwin Jackson actually pitching well down there at the moment.

    I’m not really surprised we came up weak on a Natl Tv game. That’s why other teams think we are soft. And we are. Rendon can’t hit 2nd? He’s a born #2 hitter but struggles mentally there. MAT better 8th than 1st? Zimm pressing now in big games with men on base? Treinen? it’s in their heads. That’s why it was so important we injected Murphy and Max and Turner into this team. They are the only one’s who really play with some athletic arrogance and confidence all the time. Maybe Goodwin too.

    Marty C

    2 Jul 17 at 12:29 pm

  21. Hey – anyone familiar with how the defensive ratings are put together? I’m curious why Zim rates so badly as a 1B? He rates almost three times as badly as Murphy does as a 2B, which isn’t consistent with my eye test. I can see how his arm is a huge negative but I wouldn’t think that could have such an impact for a 1B (as opposed to if he were still a 3b). I assume it’s largely a range issue, and once again it just doesn’t seem like he could be so much worse than Murph. It’s really killing his WAR numbers too, so I’m curious what goes into it (and whether the other measurements consider him equally bad).


    3 Jul 17 at 8:32 am

  22. Sunday night, in the first game of the second half of the season, the Nats got what felt like a significant win, powered by Bryce and Max. They had suffered three tough losses in a row and were facing the Cards’ best starter. Bryce must have heard that the game was Prime Time, as he certainly gave the national audience a show. More significantly, Power Bryce was back after what seemed like several weeks of Slappy Bryce.

    As for Max, he won his 135th game and upped his K total to 2044. (And significantly, Dusty pulled him after 100 pitches.) Max turns 33 later this month. He certainly appears headed for another Cy this year, with a WHIP of 0.77 and ERA of 1.94. Is he getting toward HOF territory? I think he would need at least two to three more dominant seasons like this one before the inevitable fall-off. Pedro ended up with 219 wins and 3,154 Ks. Max could end up in that ballpark, maybe a little higher totals if he doesn’t crash as young as Pedro did.

    We’ll see. Until recently, I thought HOF talk for Max was a stretch, but he’s been so good this year that I’m starting to rethink it. The closer stat comp may end up being Schilling, as I don’t think Max will have as many truly dominant seasons as Pedro did. Schilling had no Cy Youngs, but he did have a couple of notable postseasons, as did Pedro. (Of course Schilling isn’t in the HOF, and may not get there thanks to his big mouth.) Anyway, I think right now, Max looks better than Schilling, but he isn’t Pedro. A couple more Cys and a little postseason glory would certainly help his cause.


    3 Jul 17 at 8:33 am

  23. Look at how many categories there are where Max is leading the league and/or the majors this season:


    3 Jul 17 at 8:37 am

  24. Time for everyone to do the patriotic duty and vote for Rendon. It really, really sucks that Maddon didn’t name him after what he did to the Cubs last week. Of course Maddon didn’t name Bryant, either. It’s actually too bad that the vote comes down to Rendon, Bryant, and Turner, as all deserve to be there. Rendon just deserves it more!

    Voting via computer, it seems like you can vote a large, if not infinite, number of times, as long as you’re willing to keep inputting the number to prove you’re not a bot. I thought I would get cut off at 10 or 20, but I’m past 20. I’ve kept doing it mainly out of curiosity of if there is a cutoff. But it’s for a worthy cause . . .


    3 Jul 17 at 2:13 pm

  25. Wally, if you figure out the vagaries of defensive stats, you’ll be far ahead of me! The eyeball test says that Zim is slick with the glove but a disaster if he has to throw. I guess it has moved from the shoulder issue to totally mental.


    3 Jul 17 at 2:15 pm

  26. I did try to sort it out, and the arm doesn’t look to be a big factor. It looks like he has made more errors than he usually does at 1B, and it is really penalizing his numbers. Can it be right that he has made 9 errors already (more than the last two seasons combined?)? That does seem really high for a 1B. It’s a shame, in a way, because his WAR numbers would really be high if he had even half that number. But who cares, really, we want the performance, not the statistic.

    Rizzo was on Olney’s podcast. Said they weren’t going to look for a SS but already in discussions for relievers. Wouldn’t commit to a closer v. other relievers but said that other teams may not be willing to deal at this stage.


    3 Jul 17 at 4:50 pm

  27. Just read on WaPo that the Nats do not expect to sign Montes de Oca. Still curious what’s going on with Romero. I guess they are going to given him everything they have left? Hard to understand from here but the Nats aren’t stupid so I figure that they are doing the best they can. Puzzling though


    3 Jul 17 at 7:15 pm

  28. Not sure who is advising Montes de Oca, as he’s going to have no bargaining power next year. He’ll be lucky to get $50K. The Nats likely offered ~$300K or so — just a wild guess based on the $400K they paid Schrock as a 14th-rounder a couple of years ago. Montes de Oca has had multiple significant injuries and at 6-7 would have the “repeatable delivery” concerns.

    Oh well. He’ll probably get picked somewhere in rounds 6-10 next year and offered peanuts, assuming he can avoid yet another major injury.


    3 Jul 17 at 10:42 pm

  29. As for the big club, do we say all’s well that ends well against the Mets? They got the Curly W . . . and of course yet another bullpen adventure. Raburn is going to make it hard for them to activate Heisey.

    Cespedes has to lay out for that final blooper, though, doesn’t he? He looked like he hurt himself on that silly slide as it was. Maybe he just limped off to save face for not going full out.

    Max and Stras go back to back with seven innings of 2-hit, no-run ball.


    3 Jul 17 at 10:45 pm

  30. Hey, hey, Juan Soto got two ABs in the GCL game today. Glad he’s finally making it back.


    3 Jul 17 at 10:49 pm

  31. No, I think they just need to tread water until changes are made, especially through this exhausting part of the schedule. In some ways, I wish they didn’t have so many going to the ASB, esp Max and Stras. Assume no lead is big enough and don’t relax until the game is over. Don’t know why else they can do.

    Good to see Soto back, wonder about the prognosis for Kieboom. Romero has to resolve itself soon, the 7th?

    Fedde – yikes, not so good. 7 PAs, 6 ERs and no outs. Wonder how all this bouncing around is affecting him.


    4 Jul 17 at 7:53 am

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