Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Last year discussion revisited

The Nats set up a three-headed monster with Doolittle, Madson, and Kintzler - all acquired in-season 2017, sticking around for 2018.  It was probably the best pen the Nats had going into a season, but I was also wary that it felt like a pen that was lacking that dominant closer and was relying on at least one too few good arms. Either they had to find that capper or add another couple arms or else I was worried that the way it was set up it was still one injury from being a problem again.

Guess what? It was one injury from being a problem. Doolittle would be healthy and great and for a good chunk of the season someone stepped up be it Madson, Miller, Grace, or Suero. The Nats would have injuries and Rizzo would act quickly to get another arm, trading for Kelvin Herrera. Unfortunately Herrera didn't click, and the Nats really needed more, expecially as the Nats rotation pushed the pen harder than expected mid-season. All in all it actually wasn't the hole that it might have seemed like, but it also never developed into a strength. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, the Nats gave up on the season, traded away the pen guys they could and decided they'd start anew. As would be expected the Nats pen imploded and helped quash any late run the Nats might have had in them

Presumed Plan : Doolittle will close and then the Nats will assemble a motley crew around him.  They've already traded for Barraclough and signed Rosenthal and I wouldn't be surprised if one or two other cheap arms join them.  Miller, Grace and Glover are close to locks. Which leaves one spot open right now which would probably be Suero right now.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan : Doolittle was great. Sticking with him makes sense. Rosenthal has potential, as he was great before injury so bringing him in is a decent gamble. The rest is just the best pitchers currently rostered. No one here is dominant, or likely to be (sorry Glover), but they are all solid. I'm sure they'd rather have another lefty in here but there isn't a strong candidate that has to be in there. Tim Collins is fine, and maybe sneaks in if he re-signs.

It's not like the Nats aren't potentially spending a ton of money on the pen. Rosenthal will cost a lot if he's good. But this limits the money they can add now. If you have a limit, and it seems like the Nats do, then Rosenthal's potential cost becomes a sticking point. So I can't see another big name coming in here. Instead I see maybe an ok lefty being dealt for or signed and filling in that last arm and that being that. Any more than that and the Nats are committing more to the pen than last year and I feel like last year's performance shies them away from doing that.

Problems with Presumed Plan :  How much time do you have?  Outside of Doolittle, nothing here is great and Doolittle himself is an injury risk who missed time in 2018. Rosenthal could be great, but who knows?  The depth is limited as the next guys up are untested (Austin Adams) or so far failures (Gott, Cordero, Solis). There's no match-up abilities given the one lefty arm. There are no long men which presented an issue in 2017.  This isn't a winning pen as designed. AGAIN.

My take : Design is one thing. Reality is another. It can be a winning pen. You can see Doolittle dominate again, Rosenthal come back near his former self and the rest of the pen keeping on. But more than last year the Nats are depending on the rolls of the dice coming up in their favor. Worse still, the depth.  Injuries are nearly a given and once you get past Suero you start pushing into pitchers you may not want to see at all.  Last year the pen was better formed, performed reasonably well (before being gutted) and Nats fans still weren't happy with it. How is this better?

All this pen improves on is the money spent for performance given. Because of Rosenthal's contract the Nats aren't going to spend a bunch of money for shoddy performance. But if they get a shoddy performance what are the chances that money comes right back into the pen?

I'd like to see Andrew Miller or Justin Wilson signed. I'd like to see J-Rod committed to the bullpen as long relief +.  Push out two of these ok arms (Suero and whichever of Glover/Miller looks worse) and run with a bullpen we can be potentially excited about. Even then it's not perfect. Miller isn't MILLER right now so the Nats don't have that killer arm and Rosenthal is a big fat question mark but this is the best the Nats could do right now.

Out of the box suggestion :
I hate the opener idea but in part because I don't think it's used correctly. Sergio Romo isn't a guy that's good enough that you want to maximize his appearances.  You know who is? Max. Whatever his throw schedule is - when it makes sense use him as the opener.  Something like Max - Stras - FA - Max Opener - Roark.  I'd say do it for Stras too but I have no confidence that guy would adapt to anything outside his routine. That wrings another 30-40 innings from your best pitcher and away from the last guy in the pen.The whole point of all this bullpen shenanigans is to in theory get the best arms on the mound for the most amount of time. Let's actually try to do that


Josh Higham said...

Harper, I know you just said the OOB ideas aren't to be taken seriously but I think this one should be. Especially if you shave a batter or two from Max's normal start (just don't send him out for the 7th when he's already at 98 pitches, or whatever) and maybe only do the opener thing every other time through the rotation, so he has the "normal" bullpen Max likes to have, to work out any mechanical issues or whatever. So instead of getting an extra 30 innings out of Max and expecting him to be good all the time without any time to throw with coaches standing beside him, get an extra 15 innings out of him and don't send him out for part of a late inning.

G Cracka X said...

Interesting OOB (And yes, I know, OOB is not to be taken seriously, but its an intriguing thought). I wonder if Max would like the 'opener' idea. Potentially gets him more 'starts' and innings.

Jay said...

They definitely need a lefty or two imo. Grace is more of a long man reliever. Looks like the Nats offered 10/300 to Harper and Harper said no. Has the feeling of their best offer to me. We'll see what happens.

Johnny Callison said...

I like the idea of assigning JRod to the BP. Not everyone is meant to be a starter, and the team's needs might be well-served by him in BP. And he's in-house and cheap. Her certainly hasn't show deep-in-games starter stuff, but he could be fine for 1/2 innings on a regular basis, maybe even be the long guy, which it looks like they will need.

blovy8 said...

I'm already assuming that Suero will not make the team because he has options. Adams is likely going to be that velocity guy they will bring up short term and hope he has a period of decent control and probably not get it. While Rodriguez could be a long man, I just don't see how the Nats can keep that type of player anymore with the amount of work the bullpen is expected to do. He'll have to be used in a variety of ways, not just waiting around for a bad start or extra innings. He's got the stuff to do that, but hasn't shown the consistency to expect success in that role. Perhaps he can develop it. Grace is already better suited to that kind of thing because he can nibble his way through a lineup once, or just get out of a jam with an out or two. I do think they need a loogy and will be able to get a guy on a reasonable one-year deal and let them sink or swim while they try to find someone better at it in their system.

Doolitte/Rosenthal/Barraclough would be the tie/lead guys, right? Rodriguez would supply middle inning stints and 6th inning matchup solutions for the back end starters you don't want facing a good RH hitter. Grace would be jack of all trades just keeping you in the game. Both of those guys might be needed to eat low-leverage late innings, too. Then after the free agent loogy, you have one RH spot left as the backup to the tie/lead guys when they've been used a lot. Is that Glover or someone better?

blovy8 said...

I left out Miller, but I think if Glover is throwing 97 mph fastballs, it'll be hard to send him down again. Miller is just a guy, his good year notwithstanding. The peripherals are meh.

blovy8 said...

If you sign a lefty, and you're going to keep Doolittle, Rosenthal, Barraclough, and Grace that's two spots left. I'm certain that Rodriguez, Suero and Fedde have options left. I believe Glover, Miller and Ross do not have options. Do we assume Ross is used a starter exclusively with his innings limit?

A lot could depend on the actual starters they have to trot out there. If that looks weak, Rodriguez has a better shot.

Harper said...

I didn't even think about options and I should have because this team loves options.

DezoPenguin said...

Just too many crapshoots with the pen as presently constituted. If Doolittle doesn't get hurt, Rosenthal returns to what he was pre-surgery, Barraclough's slump at the end of last year was a meaningless hiccup, and Glover stays healthy all year, then we could have four high-end relievers. Or we could have a meh guy, a failure, and two guys spending half the season on the DL, or any mix of the above.

Then we have Miller, who'll probably be OK but nothing special. We have Grace, who'll probably be OK but nothing special, only from the left side and more capacity to go 2+ innings. We have Suero, who'll probably be OK but nothing special and may get sent to the minors because he has options and a bunch of the others don't. We have Ross, who may be a long man, a short man, or SP5, and may be good or may be awful in any of those roles. We have Rodriguez, who may be a long man, short man, or SP7, and may be good or may be awful in any of those roles.

Like Harper, I'd like to add one more quality LH guy, not because our good RH pitchers are likely to get hammered by lefties but to deploy if the opposing lineup has a weakness (see: LA benching its top four home-run hitters in the Series against Sale and Price). Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen without expending some money, and there are other priorities.

The bullpen is in a weird place where it might be a problem, but it might also not be any kind of problem at all. Thus, resources need to be spent first on the starting rotation and catcher, where it's 100% certain that there WILL be a problem if nothing is done. I agree with Harper's suggestion in a vacuum, but I don't think Rizzo will be making that choice unless there's leftover money after fully addressing other problems.

Donald said...

Harper -- my assumption is that the stronger the starting pitching rotation, the better the pen will appear. So spending money on someone like Dallas Keuchel might improve the pen more than bringing in Andrew Miller? Are there statistics to bear that out, though? Like, if a given pen pitches to a collective 3.50 era with average starters, they'd pitch to 3.25 with a good rotation and 3.75 with a poor one? I guess it's something of a two-way street where good relievers lower the starting pitchers ERA by not allowing inherited runners to score, but it seems less so than the other direction.
In a perfect world, the Nats would spend enough money to have the strongest possible rotation and the strongest possible pen but absent that, where would you choose to spend the money between the two?

NavyYardSteve said...

I don't remember if you do a Positional Review post for the Manager & coaches, but the other aspect worth noting about the 2017 pen was that they were pretty open about Davey/Lilliquist misusing them. Kintzler was traded for allegedly giving anonymous quotes to Jeff Passan and Kelley (kinda useful in 2018!) was DFA'd because he threw a tantrum on the mound. Rizzo obviously sided with his manager, but it was clear that Davey's handling of the bullpen brought forth a lot of issues this year. Madson was hurt after throwing something like 80 pitches over the course of 4 days, and my girlfriend nicknamed Solis "The Security Blanket" because Davey used him so much early in the year.

Hopefully the bullpen, especially middle relief, improves just by virtue of Davey getting better at managing his relievers' workloads on a day-to-day basis.

NotBobby said...

I would think it would have to do with both the quality of the SP but also the amount of innings. If starters go 7 routinely then the manager has fewer innings to give to relievers so only the better relievers are routinely pitching and the fewer innings on the relievers allows them to throw more full effort.