Nationals Baseball: It's Blake

Friday, March 31, 2017

It's Blake

Blake Treinen will be the Nationals closer.

Anyone saying it's a bad choice isn't thinking. Anyone saying it's the optimal choice isn't thinking enough. Not unless the rules have changed and things have gotten weird.

The past two seasons paint a very accurate picture of Treinen.We focus a lot on him turning a corner last year, but in a basic macro sense, Blake was good in 2015 too. He had the better season in 2016, no doubt, but if you wanted to argue that was mostly a product of BABIP luck I'd listen.

He's an extreme GB pitcher, at 64.2% over the past 2 years. That's good enough for 5th highest behind very effective relievers like Zach Britton, Brad Zeigler and Sam Dyson. As one would expect he doesn't give up a lot of home runs (very few GB HRs). He doesn't strike out a ton,* but he strikes out enough, about 8.5 per 9 innings, to be effective. His Achilles heel is that he does walk more than his share, over 4 per 9 innings, one of the worst rates for pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings in the past 2 years combined. (301st out of 314 if I'm counting right). The overall picture is one of an rather effective reliever with one major, but not fatal, flaw.

Can Blake handle the 9th? I assume so. He did have issues in pressure situations in 2015. Terrible issues. Opposing hitters hit .310 / .390 / .423 in high leverage situations as opposed to .215 / .292 / .292 in low leverage ones. Translation : he racked up his good stats in unimportant situations. But in 2016 he was great in high leverage situations .194 / .282 / .306. So it's hard to say we should still worry about it.  Both of these are based off relatively small samples so with no consistency between years you kind of have to throw up your hands and say he'll do as well in pressure as he'll do otherwise.

You do lose something by not having Blake and his GB inducing sinker come in to get a DP when necessary but if instead you are getting a strikeout from Kelley or Blanton, it'll be fine. The issue is less about the GBs here than about what replaces that and what replaces it should be good.

This would be a fine pitcher to hand your designated #1 reliever role to, if you didn't have someone better. However, as we discussed before, the Nats do. Shawn Kelley is demonstrably better. The story suggests there may be some questions about durability, though, that hold him back. OK then but Joe Blanton is demonstrably better too, with his higher strikeout rate and much lower walk-rate. Perhaps though they don't want to anoint a guy who is likely here for one year. And I haven't even mentioned yet, Koda Glover who could also be better but is young enough that legitimate questions linger.

Is this a problem, not using your best pitcher in the closer role? Certainly if you have a BAD pitcher back there it is, but that isn't the case here. You have a good pitcher as your closer. That's good. The question will be how they use the rest of the staff. The more regimented their roles the worse this decision is.  You see you want to use your best pitchers in the most important situations. The most important situations do not happen at the same time every game. If you are flexible in your usage of your pitchers to combat these situations as they come up in the 6th-8th then there could be benefit from putting your 3rd best, but still good, arm as closer. If, however, you set everyone else up in roles, that benefit is diminished because you will see more important situations in the 9th than the 8th than the 7th etc etc.  So for a robot just following "one pitcher per inning, have to have the same guy pitch in the same inning each game" rules, using your best pitcher as closer is actually best.

We'll have to wait and see what Dusty does. It's likely, I think, that he does choose a set-up man, but leaves the 6th-7th open. Given that any two of the three other pitchers available out of Glover, Blanton, and Kelley are likely to be good, I can see this being fine. The worst possible follow-up would be to put Glover in the 8th and now you could be manning the 8th and 9th with the 3rd and 4th best arms in the pen. All in all it's not terrible - 4 good arms used anywhere in the last few innings will be good - but again non-optimal.

If there's a true downside to this move it'll be something we uncover as the season goes on and it'll be related to the defense of the Nats.  If Turner is a step down from Espinosa, if literally butt-hurt Murphy can't move like he used to (which wasn't great to begin with), if Zimm continues his aged decline (or worse, the Nats are forced to used Lind at 1B) these are all things that could effect the GB defense of the Nats negatively. Since Treinen relies heavily on GB defense this could impact him more than anyone turning former outs into hits, former DPs into forceouts, and situations he got out of in 2016 into trouble in 2017.  But we don't know that yet.

This isn't the best move, but it doesn't mean it's a bad one. The Nats had several decent options and they picked one. Let's see what happens.

*this is what makes Britton special


Fries said...

It was posted here yesterday, but the I really hope Dusty goes the Francona/Miller route and recognizes that the most important thing is using your best pitchers in the highest leverage situations. He did a bit of that last year with Rivero, but the problem is Dusty is clearly not great at estimating what the most high leverage situations are. That leads to overuse (see Rivero). And the best option out of the bullpen is Kelley, who's arm is probably due to explode at any time (see his last appearance), so overuse could kill the bullpen quite quickly.

I'd love to see a closer by committee approach honestly, but I know that's bad for pitchers since it screws them in arbitration (see Betances). If only we could separate money from the game *sigh*

mike k said...

Spot on about when you use your best pitcher in the closer role. I remember Davey saying something about it when he was managing the Nats. He said (iirc) Clippard was his best reliever, and Storen his best fire-thrower. Thus, it made the most sense for Storen to close, and this frees up some flexibility for him to use Clippard when he needed to - formally he was the setup man, but Davey had the flexibility to use him outside that role when the situation demanded it. Then enter, as he's been referred to in this comment section, paint-by-numbers Williams, and Clippard was the setup man, and Storen the closer, and that's that. This is excluding the years Soriano was here, of course.

To me, it still makes the most sense to put a hard thrower in the closer spot, and use Treinan as a setup/get-out-of-jams guy. For one, because he has the ability to induce a groundball. But also because the Nats' bullpen has a lot of fire-throwers, so instead of taking your only groundball guy and putting him in an unflexible role, and using a bunch of similar guys to mix-and-match, it makes more sense to put a fire-thrower in the closer role, and then you can mix-and-match with other fire-throwers and Treinen.

I also reject the notion that making Kelley the closer means he has to pitch more. Why not just have a B closer who gets 20-ish saves? I know, I know - you can only have one. So it is written. Though it would be a good way to introduce Glover to the role, I think.

I think Dusty can forego rigidity for all innings before the ninth. He did last year, no? Granted this was more out of need, but still.

Bjd1207 said...

@Mike K - I agree with you in theory and your wanting pitchers with various skillsets available in high-leverage situations.

But are Kelley/Blanton considered fire-throwers for your example? I wouldn't put them in that category. Glover certainly is

PhthePhillies said...

I seem to have been quoting Chelsea Janes a lot lately but she has been spot on. Earlier this week, she predicted Treinen would close. She also made a larger point, namely, this bullpen is shaping up to be very good. We should not forget that as we fret over what may be a suboptimal choice for the 9th inning.
Harper, what do you think the Nats will do with Jeremy Guthrie? He is looking like the odd-man out as Dusty seemed to indicate that Glover would not be going to the minors.

mike k said...

@BJD - ehh you're talking to a stat/article guy here. They both get strikeouts. That's really what I meant.

Bjd1207 said...

@Mike K - Aye, that I think is the distinction to make

BxJaycobb said...

Harper. What do you think of this take? Clearly I think it's dumb to assume that Blake is likely to become Britton. But it also seems possible to me (not something you should count on) that he improves the way Britton did, perhaps by continuing to lower his walk rate.

BxJaycobb said...

I also think that the baseball industry/media generally are missing the point with the Nats pen. There's enormous obsession with who is the closer on a team and not enough on the next 4-5 best relievers. And I think this quite possibly* is the best pen the Nats have ever had....if Glover takes a big step forward, Kelley is Kelley, Treinen pitches like last year or a bit better, Blanton is Blanton, and they get one break through like with romero or solis, that's a phenomenal bullpen, even though you don't have that A+ unhittable closer. Instead you would have like 3 B+ relievers and 2 A- pitchers, which is excellent depth. So I think the industry gets way too amped over having a "proven" closer lined up.

Harper said...

Fries - I don't think Dusty will do this exactly but I bet he won't be overly rigid with the 7th - 8th inning roles.

mike - Kelley/Glover as A/B would be interesting but I don't think they want to work this way. Trying to think of a recent example of this in MLB and coming up blank - hard to get teams to be the first to do anything. I thin Treinen works better for a jam-guy too, but bc I like those other arms I'm not too worried about pulling him out of those. Ask me again if Kelley gets hurt and they glue Blanton to the 8th.

Ph - I'd hope she'd know more than us! You gotta roll with their supsicions first since they have the boots on the ground. Bullpen should be very good. And even good enough if an arm goes down which is equally important. Good and presumably 4 arms deep (don't sleep on GLover not being ready though)

Guthrie - I think they try really hard to get him to stay but I bet he gets grabbed upon that release to minors window.

Bx - I believe there is room for improvement. I think he won't get to Britton bc he'll never get those Ks. Both moved to relief in 2014 and it took Britton a year to learn how to dominate with Ks. Treinen still hasn't so I assume he won't. But yeah there is room for improvement - mostly with the walks. It could be the best Nats pen ever. It certainly is in argument for best as of April 1, but just as easy as your scenario is Glover isn't ready, Kelley gets hurt and Blanton takes a step back with age. Then it's meh.

The 2014 pen is unfairly overlooked by Nats fans Clippard was great, Storen was great, Soriano was good/very good for 5/6 year. Barrett was very good Stammen was very good. Arguably they didn't have a bad arm go out to the mound all year.

PhthePhillies said...

Harper, I'd rather see Guthrie in the pen, at least for the beginning of the season. Send Koda down, not because he isn't ready but because they can.
Guthrie can provide a spot start if needed, at least he can probably do it better than any other 6th man option they now have. I think the long man/spot starter role will be needed more than any role Koda could play if the rest of the pen stays healthy.
I also like Janes's (here I go again) idea of sending Ross down for the first 2 times around the rotation (which works out because of days off and probable rain delays) to keep Guthrie and Koda there and thereby buy a little more time to sort things out.
(I swear I am not Chelsea Janes's dad.)

JDBrew said...

Best Nats bullpen ever?? Possibly...although I do remember 05's Nats pen as pretty effective, unless I'm misremembering...

JDBrew said...

Cordero, Carrasco, Ayala, Majewski, and Eichen. They weren't too bad, especially considering the situations the starting pitching left them in.

Jay said...

Blake is 0/1 in save situations so far. Dusty said that at least he didn't lose the game after giving up a run on the error. I want to go on record to say that Treinen was a distant 3rd or even 4th for me as a possible closer. I think he gives up way too many walks and hits. We'll see. At least they count as of today.

Alan Wiecking said...

From the heart of rural Virginia, here's the call--Nats go for 98 wins and take the division. Zimmerman has a bounceback to somewhere around .265-.270 with 22-26 HR. Murphy drops back a bit but is covered by Harper's return to form. Trea and Eaton run wild, combining for almost 200 runs. Stras, Scherzer, and Roark each finish with 16 wins.

This time, the Nats take out the Dodgers with a sweep and beat the Cubs 4-2 to move to the WS! Finally!