The Nats lost last night. Not a huge deal as they still stand 7.5 infront of the Braves, but it gives an an opportunity to delve into two pitching things of interest, the extended use of Tanner Roark and the bullpen woes.
As we talked about here and has been brought up again now that we reached it, Tanner has pitched more this season than ever before. A few innings - maybe even 20 or so wouldn't be a big deal, but he already sits at 8 innings past his previous high with the entirety of September to go. He could easily pitch 30-35 more inning putting him 40+ over his previous high going into the playoffs. This is why most people see him as a lock for the bullpen.
What do I say? I say if he's still pitching great come the end of September, ride him into the ground. Start him if he's in your Top 4. Relief pitch the hell out of him if he's not.
I know that may sound harsh but it's an extension of my belief that was espoused when the Nats tried to convert Christian Garcia into a starter. If you have an older "prospect" you should strike while the iron is hot and get the most use out of him NOW because any sort of future derailment could easily spell the end of his career. Garcia was an obvious case, 26, reliever, multiple previous injuries. He was a time bomb but the Nats thought they could possibly save that arm for future use. They were wrong.
Roark isn't that cut and dried. He's a bit older (27 closing in on 28), but he's a starter with no big injury history. You could see curtailing his innings for another season if this were a non-playoff year. But it's a playoff year. It's one thing to sit down a young prime prospect a year after major surgery at the beginning of what looked like a 4 year stretch of relevance. It's a much less explainable thing to me to stop using a surprise story of an older guy finding his stuff toward the end of this stretch. (and look how well it worked out for Strasburg) There are no guarantees in sports beyond what you can put out on the field today. At some point you have to choose between playing for now and playing for tomorrow and certainly this is it, right? Saving Tanner Roark for a later date can't be a line the Nats draw in the sand, can it?
As for the bullpen, the dichotomy is alarming. In the past two weeks Drew Storen and Matt Thorton have ERA's of 0.00. Stammen has an ERA of 1.50. Then you have every starter between 2.11 (ZNN) and 2.84 (Stras) and then the rest of the relievers. Clip (4.26), Blevins (6.23), Detwiler (6.75), Soriano (7.11). Of course it's only two weeks. Are these just blips or something to worry about?
I'm actually least worried about Soriano. He had a few rough outings in a row then went back to being Soriano. It was market correction really as he wasn't a 1.10 ERA type knockout reliever. A 2.50 ERA feels more correct. It didn't have to happen but it doesn't bother me that it did. I don't see any other reason to be concerned.
Blevins bothers me because he has just deteriorated into such a true LOOGY. But this isn't a two week thing, it's a year thing so I don't feel I'm reaching in being concerned in his use. Last night he was brought in to eat up an L-R-L inning. He got out those Ls. The problem? The R hit a HR. He can't face a righty in a big spot. Just can't.
I worry about Det too just because there something there between him and Matt Williams. He's not a bad pitcher, but he's treated like the worst guy in the pen and just occasionally enough pitches like that so Matt doesn't have to change his mind. This spotty use (4 times in last 17 days) fails to keep him fresh, so the end result is I don't want to see Det because I don't trust him to be ready to go, because Matt hasn't used him. Matt's won. Again though I don't feel this is a two-week judgment but a yearly one.
Clippard is the most bothersome to me. The issues with Blevins and Detwiler should be understood by now and compensated for in how they are used. I'd say that they are. Thorton has passed Blevins on the depth chart and Detwiler is caught in the Detwiler Paradox. Clippard though is different. The Nats are a 3 pitcher pen; Clippard, Storen, and Soriano, and don't need to be much more with their starting pitching. I don't see this changing.
Clippard has appeared in more games than anyone but Matt Belisle since 2010. 356 games to be precise and in terms of IP and G there is him and Belisle and a huge gap bfore you get to the next set of high use arms. They pitch often, they rarely pitch less than an inning. Looking at all the pitchers who have pitched 300IP and have appeared in 320+ games you have Belisle - worse this year, Gregerson - better, Ziegler - worse, Axford - better (at 3.72), Peralta - worse. Scanning alll 300+ guys... more worse than better. That in itself is not damning but add in a decreasing velocity and you get scared.
93.53 on his fastball in March -> 93.56 -> 92.96 -> 92.75 -> 92.45 -> 92.13
The same thing happened in 2013 and the same general trend, a worse 2nd half, was seen.
This concern I will say is based a lot on just recent data so unlike my worry of Blevins and Clippard, this could just be a momentary dip in a otherwise fine season. The FB speed is dropping but maybe he works a way around it, or can dial it up for the stretch run. I'm not counting Clippard out yet. But no one's arm last forever. At some point Clippard's will run out of steam. Just not now, ok?