Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Presumed Plan :  The closer will be Storen. The set-up man will be Clippard. As of now would expect Stammen, Barrett, Thorton and Blevins will all have roles, with Barrett likely to transition to the all-important SABR-maddening "7th inning guy" role. As discussed before Treinen is likely the long reliever, but could transition into a pen role. If so, expect to see Jordan in long relief.

Detwiler is likely a payroll casuality, but if not it pushes the long-relief guy to AAA. Xavier Cedeno or Rafael Martin could find themselves in the pen.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : The Nats pen, like the starters, were very very good last year. Over the course of the season Soriano lost his closer role to Storen (1.12 ERA, 0.976 WHIP) and thus lost any chance the Nats would pick up his super expensive option. Clippard (2.18, 0.995) has performed well in set-up for years now. Barrett (2.12, 1.157) is the next in line for those end of the game roles. These are set.

Stammen (3.84, 1.266) is the Nats catch-all guy, getting single outs and more often pitching multiple innings.  He slipped a little in performance last year but not enough to upset his role. Thorton was perfect with the Nats and had a good year overall (1.75, 1.139) and the Nats need at least one lefty arm. Blevins had an off year (4.87, 1.238) but performed well as a lefty stopper and gives the Nats another lefty arm.

Ross Detwiler (4.00, 1.413) has pitched poorly the past couple years after dealing and recovering from a few injuries and pitched only twice after the 17th of September. He is one of the more expensive of the relief pitchers at 3M+ next year and given that his role is now undefined it's likely that he's to be either let go or traded.

His spot had pretty much already gone to Treinen (3.02. 1.279), who spent most of the year starting and got most of the spot starts. You'd figure he'd take the long-relief role in the pen. There has been talk of transitioning him to a more traditional pen role so if that were to happen the next logical person to step into long relief would be Taylor Jordan (4.76, 1.429). He was fighting for a 5th spot last year and had five starts himself but had a rough season which likely puts him into AAA again. 

If the Nats are into saving money and let more than just Detwiler go, either lefty Xavier Cedeno (2.53 , 0.950) or righty Rafael Martin (1.39, 0.806) could be the final part of the April 2015 pen.

Problems with Presumed Plan : The pen has been together for a while so it is getting older with no one under 27 next year. Stammen is slowing down (his K rate was well down), Barrett is an unknown (last year was first year), and Blevins had become a LOOGY after being effective against all batters in previous years. So, along with Thorton's age, there could be a significant drop-off.

The pen is also on the expensive side as it lacks those players early in their career. Clip, Storen, Thorton, Blevins, and Stammen will combine to cost the Nats roughly 18-19 million by my back of the envelope calculations. That's not chump change for a team that is looking to potentially sign some important cogs long term.

In long relief - it's always a question of how guys react to the role after being starters most of their career. Jordan seemed rattled by that possibility. Treinen was ok last year but his role wasn't as defined.

Also - Storen as the closer going into the playoffs will be a big question mark.

My take : The pen is good. Yes it is older but other than Thorton, who will be 38 next year, the oldest will be Blevins who at 31 this September is not at an age where you worry about abrupt drop-offs. So they ain't young but the ain't old either. The Nats have 2 shut-down arms. If they can find one more that should be enough to maintain the "good" status. So if Thorton has another good year, or Blevins bounces back, or Barrett keeps it up, that'll do.

The expense? Well that's just doing business. Plus there isn't any long term issues here. Thorton will likely not be re-signed and Clippard will likely walk cutting 10+ million from that chunk of salary for 2016. If the Nats can't dig into their pockets for one more year, if say they look to deal Clippard or Thorton, they don't deserve a decent pen.

Does Detwiler deserve to go? Probably not, but it's not a big loss for the Nats. Unfortunately if they do sell they are selling low (I still think Detwiler has some back of the rotation potential) but sellers they are. Treinen in long relief should be fine. Especially because there is a sense that he could be starting next year. It's not the plan mind you, but there are several ways it could work out that he's the #5 in April 2016, so he has something to pitch for.

Storen in the playoffs... we'll worry about it then.

Outside the Box Suggestion : Based on Matt Williams post-games there isn't a lot of room for outside the box usage patterns. Storen is his closer, Clippard his 8th, someone will be his 7th. You could deal Clippard, he is expensive and will likely go somewhere next season where he at least has the possibility of closing, but what good will that do? You aren't going to get a good young reliever back, you aren't going to sign an expensive reliever, and you have questions in the pen behind Clippard. All you've done is create a hole.

So instead go all in to create that Royals-esque back of the pen. Sign Andrew Miller to a silly 1 year deal. Like 1 year 12 million or something. Being one year and only being 30 it shouldn't effect his long-term signability beyond 2015. Install him firmly as the 8th inning guy and let him know he has first crack at closing if Storen struggles (as if the Nats ever gave a damn about Clippard) giving him potential to really maximize his value. If he gets a better offer elsewhere - try the same thing with Gregerson.
One place the Nats showed weakness in the playoffs in comparison to other playoff teams was the pen. That was due in part to the timing of Soriano's collapse and in part to the rigidness of Williams mind. Taking the decision making away from him in the last 3 innings, might be the way to go.


Zimmerman11 said...

If there is one place the Nats showed weakness in the playoffs it was the pen

Yes, the pen... but not the bats??? Harper I am disappoint.

Harper said...

I immediately changed that in my "post post" walkthrough. Consider my posts 2nd draft for the first 10 minutes after posting.

Chaz R said...

Yep, wouldn't make any sense to carry 3 lefties in the pen. I would think even though they would be trading while his stock is down, he could still be part of a larger deal. Most teams would be happy to give a mid-90s lefty and former starter a shot.

Zimmerman11 said...

Yeah I have no life.

Anonymous said...

How much do you believe in a pen being replaceable from year to year so you trade anyone good that starts getting expensive (clip) ?

blovy8 said...

I kind of think Clippard is already too expensive to trade if he's getting 9 plus million in arbitration. Is he more valuable than freely available guys like Andrew Miller, Luke Gregerson, and Romo who will make less per year?

Detwiler is in a tough spot, since he's also starting to make more than he's worth to the Nats. Even though he has options, picking up Fornatero shakes things up quickly on the 40-man roster for some of these arbitration guys in line for raises. If Rizzo can get someone useful in exchange for Det at over 3 mil. that would be pretty impressive, he's kind of lost his luster now despite the velocity and starting experience. Still, you can't just give the guy away or DFA him at this point and not look like a idiot.

KW said...

If it's me, I'm definitely trading Clippard . . . if I can get nearly the value of a closer for him. I'm not just giving him away to get his salary off the books. But the 'pen is deep enough to absorb his loss.

Det is a similar deal - can you get starter value for him? The only reason I wouldn't think hard about trading him would be if the Nats shock the world and trade Zimmermann or Strasburg and have another starter slot open to fill. I had really hoped that Det would step up and be a dominant power lefty out of the 'pen, but it never worked out that way.

Harper said...

Chaz R - Yeah, I think Detwiler works best as a piece. "Not quite enough? We'll throw in this guy. He's not old and a few years ago he was a good starter! We could fix him but just don't have the time"

Z11 - Keeps me on my toes. Clocks ticking once I put that post up.

Anon - it's fairly replaceable assuming you like a few of the arms you got. The Nats... could probably deal with losing Clip, but more than one arm I'm not sure. The biggest issue with a pen isn't finding arms, it's finding arms in time. I'm sure right now there are 6-8 guys in the Nats org that would form a killer pen. But how many guys would you have to go through to get there? How long would that take? How many games would it cost you? For a competing team answering the Q fast is worth some $. (for a non-competing team - trade away)

blovy8 - 9 plus seems high to me. I bet he ends up with a salary very close to 7 mill.

Still the question for the other FAs is not is Clip at 9 worth more than Miller/Gregerson/Romo at... say 7.5. It's that they'll have those multi-year deals. It'll be 4/30 or 3/24 type things. You'd rather have 1/9 in that case.

I trust trading Rizzo so much I'm actually excited what he can get for Detwiler. The problem with Det though is only one year of control left. It's going to be a flier taken by a team in contention that needs a 5th, I bet

(I'd like him for the Yanks - was good against LHB - Yanks need pitching depth given injury issues)

KW - Seems like they gave up on Det halfway through the season without really trying to make him a power bullpen guy (or maybe he didn't try and thus they gave up on him). If the Nats deal ZNN or Stras I'd expect Treinen to move into the rotation, with the expectation that Cole would be in that spot by years end. Detwilver is not a factor.

KW said...

I don't know if anyone knows what happened to Det this season, even folks associated with the team. Despite the perception that he hated the move to the 'pen, he had a good stretch in the middle of the season before getting bombed late. At any rate, you're probably right - the ship has sailed on him getting much consideration even if a Nats starter slot were to come open.

But considering the rump end of the majority of MLB rotations, Det has to have trade value, maybe not by himself, as you note, but as part of a package. The Angels desperately need starters, so you wonder if Det and Hill would be enough to get Kendrick, who has limited value himself with only one year before FA.

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