Nationals Baseball: Stammen, better than you think.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Stammen, better than you think.

Craig Stammen was non-tendered the other day. Like most of the little moves the Nats make it hardly seems consequential. Stammen had been a solid, middle innings reliver but was never quite a shutdown guy (walked too many and was too hittable for that) so he never graduated to late inning work. Last year he got injured tearing his forearm flexors and he never got back during the season. This season he'll be 32 and he would have been a free agent after the year. The Nats might have figured it was better to move on from Stammen now and continue to try to develop some other, younger, arms who might be with the team for a while.

Of course this undersells what Stammen actually did over his time with the Nats. He didn't just eat up some middle innings. No reliever on the team, not even Clippard, threw more innings for the Nats from 2012-2014. In fact not a single pitcher who didn't start a game from 2012-2014 pitched more innings than Craig's 242. Second closest was Adam Ottavino at 222 about 10% less. That's a big gap. He probably appeared for multiple innings more than any one during that time, certainly more than any NL relief pitcher.

He was not a shut down guy, true, but he could get a strikeout when needed and rarely gave up the home run (16 in 250+ innings as a reliever). That meant that he kept the team in games and that bears out if I peruse the fancy stats. He didn't let many inherited runners score. He often left the team in a better position to win when he left the game. He didn't just pitch in easy situations, putting the team in better situation when considering the importance of when he was pitching. He was not the best, but we was better than most.

After you get through the "great young arm we're moving to be a closer" types, Stammen was almost the ideal middle relief pitcher. Add him to an equally effective Tyler Clippard in the set-up role and you had a quiet but extremely competent bullpen for close games. It wasn't "You aren't scoring on us after the 6th!" like the Royals and others may have had over the years. But it was "you aren't likely to come back enough to win this game" and it showed.

Who takes over these roles? Last year, with Clippard gone and Stammen out, the Nats tried Blake Treinen who was good... except when it mattered. He turned in an extremely "un-clutch" year, pitching worse when it mattered. To a lesser degree the same happened with Casey Janssen. Aaron Barrett wasn't nearly as bad but did nothing to turn around the image of failure he first left Nats fans with in the 2014 playoffs. Matt Grace was disappointing in a short run, as was Sammy Solis. AJ Cole is not a reliever. Matt Thorton, who was actually good, is gone into free agency.

This was just one season worth of pitching. It may have been just an off year or a few bad games for a couple of these guys. Don't be surprised if the Nats try a couple of these arms in important situations again, but the Nats may have stumbled onto their middle relief guys at the end of last year in Rafael Martin and Felipe Rivero. Felipe will probably be limited to a lot of lefty heavy work, so that leaves Martin, who had a bad first impression but was much much better in September to get first crack at being the "new Stammen".  It's not a bad plan to start the year and it may work. But given the situation the Nats saw last year and the limited data on Martin, I think I'd feel best if old Stammen, all of 2 months older than Martin mind you, was taking that first crack.

Of course, given that he hasn't pitched since April, the Nats know the injury situation with Stammen far better than I do. I'll have to trust that is what drove the decision to non-tender, not his likely cost  (probably near 2.5 million) or the fact they were likely to head to arbitration with him. One hopes that they wouldn't let a reliable arm walk to save a few dollars, especially after last year.

Given that trust, we just have to wish Stammen well and hope he surprises and does well at his next stop too, where ever that may be. (Don't be surprised if he tries to hook up with the Reds)

Of course this is all just a prelude to the bigger question that is what happens with the back end of the pen. Which is anyone's guess because man, the Nats created a mess there, didn't they?


Jimmy said...

We definitely missed him last year.

Harper said...

I think they though they could work around Storen and Stammen as the anchors and develop new young guys. When Stammen went down though needed to react and couldn't/didn't. Now will they try going with only two anchors (or fewer) in the pen this year? Is Rivero an anchor now?

Jay said...

I agree that letting him go over 2.4 million when they are paying Moore 900K is just stupid to me. I worry that Rizzo just doesn't know how to build a bullpen unless Davey Johnson is around. I was looking forward to Stammen coming back. Not figuring he would be non-tendered. Oh well. We'll see.

ProphetNAT said...

Harper, do you think the Nats should kick the tires on Cliff Lee? If any of our 5 projected starters go down (Max, Stras, Gio, Ross, Tanner) we are in trouble as I have no confidence in Cole or some nobody minor leaguer. Added to the fact that Giolito isn't going to be ready yet, we need more depth and I think Lee is worth the cheap gamble. Thoughts?

Harper said...

Jay - I don't know if they know how to develop one is my concern. Clippard basically fell into their lap and they drafted Drew Storen ready to go.

ProhpetNAT - nah. I think minor league contract w/ invite to camp is fair and I think he'll get a 1/2mill deal or something from someone

JE34 said...

The team must believe Stammen's arm is done, or that his pitching mechanics cannot survive his injury... there is no other reason to part with a guy whose track record was that good as a middle reliever over $2.5M.

Harper - are there other similar forearm-flexor injury cases to Stammen at his age, who have come back to perform at the same level? I've always thought his delivery must be pure hell on his shoulder, with the way his elbow goes way higher than his shoulder on his way to the plate:

Still - he is one of my favorite Nats... and a great person. I hope they figure out a way to keep him. Where Papelbon is a 100 on the Jerkwad Scale, Stammen is a 0.

Ernie said...

I still think Solis has potential to be a solid lefty in the pen. His 3.38 ERA was lower than Stammen's career number, his WHIP was the same as Stammen's and he throws 95 mph from the left side. Last year was the first year in his life that he was a reliever and he had to learn the role at the major league level. I think there is some upside there

G Cracka X said...

My favorite Craig Stammen moment was during the 2014 season, in the middle of what became a 10-game win streak. I went to the game with a friend (Mets fan, ironically) to watch Jordan Zimmermann against Vidal Nuno of the DBacks. Easy win, right? Well, the Nats were only up 1 in the ninth and then Tyler Clippard gives up a solo HR to the leadoff batter (!) in the inning. So the game is tied at 4, and eventually Stammen is brought into the pitch the 11th inning. Mark Trumbo gets an infield hit, then Stammen walks Miguel Montero and gives up a single to Jordan Pacheco. Based loaded, no outs. I thought, this is it, the Nats are going to lose to the DBacks, who were really bad that year. But, then, out of nowhere, Stammen gets a strikeout. And then a second! And then the next batter grounds out to Espinosa and Stammen escapes the jam unscathed! Finally, in the bottom of the same inning, Adam LaRoche hits a no-doubter walk-off homer. One of the most thrilling innings of baseball I've ever watched in person.

Hopefully, Stammen can heal and they can bring him back on some sort of short-term deal.

notBobby said...

Oliver Perez signed for two year deal. There is the other lefty.

G Cracka X said...

Anyone have thoughts on the Perez deal? What does it mean for the rest of the 'pen?