Nationals Baseball: Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Offseason Position Discussion : Relief Pitching

Presumed Plan : Soriano will pitch the 9th, Clippard the 8th, Storen in the 7th mostly. Stammen will be part of the mix as well. Beyond that it's a guessing game with Krol having a good shot and Ohlendorf in long relief if he doesn't secure a starters spot. It's likely that another, more experienced lefty will be brought in to round out the relief corps to give Matt Williams some flexibility.

Reasoning on Presumed Plan
Soriano gets the ninth more by default. He's not bad (3.11 ERA, 1.230 WHIP), he gets the job done (6 blown saves - perfectly average for closers). Plus he's making a ton of money to close. Clippard was one of the best relief pitchers in the game last year, so he gets the presumably next most important role. Storen struggled early in the season but sported a 1.40 ERA & 1.03 WHIP after coming back. Ohlendorf was a pleasant surprise, sporting a 2.86 ERA in relief before moving into a starters role. Stammen was quietly effective.

These guys are all righties so at least one other lefty is needed.  Krol, a decent prospect who pitched ok last year, would seemingly get the nod over Abad (pitched worse, older) and Xavier Cedeno (limited look last year and bad history). However one lefty is not enough, especially given that Krol struggled at times and may not be reliable. An important part of the 2012 pen was Sean Burnett. Since the pen did worse without that type of player, it seems logical enough to bring in another. They like JP Howell but he's in a good spot with the Dodgers and is likely to resign. Maybe Javier Lopez or taking a chance with Eric O'Flaherty?
As for the other names out there, Mattheus might have pitched himself out of a spot. Roark and Jordan, who got some relief play, would only figure in if Ohlendorf won the starter's role and left the long relief spot open. Otherwise back to AAA to get starter's innings. Erik Davis likely didn't impress enough to force himself in.

Problems with Presumed Plan :
The main issue is one that isn't going to be overcome. It's using your best pitchers in forced roles in the 8th and 9th innings, meaning they are going to miss out on a bunch of important spots in the 6th & 7th for important spots in later innings that never come. See Me.

Soriano, already a malcontent, is starting to slide in ability as he gets into his mid 30s. Storen is kind of a headcase. Ohlendorf's pitching was good last year but he was also lucky and pitched way better than he has in the recent past so it's tough to see that happening again. Clippard... well I can't find anything really wrong with him, though he could easily sport an ERA a whole run higher. Krol is at an unreliable age and no one else has stood out in terms of looking like they might be a lights out reliever that the Cardinals made it seem like every team needs.

The free agent pool is pretty deep but you will be paying a lot for a reliever, which given the amount of innings thrown, doesn't make pure sabrmetric sense.

My take :
While eventually it'll be done, it's a lot to ask to expect the Nats to be the ones to break from the accepted way of using bullpens cemented over the last 30 years. What's most important is that the pen is filled with decent arms that don't hamper the managers ability to do what he wants to. The Nats presumed plan covers this.

I don't like Soriano, but for one or two more years he might be ok. And don't worry, if he struggles he will lose that closer role, because the Nats can avoid a guaranteed option if he doesn't finish 62 games this year (he finished 58 in 2013). I like Storen and I think the Nats do too. He could be trade bait I guess, but the relief corps isn't that deep. Clippard may in fact pitch 3.50 but with a ton of innings that will still be valuable. Stammen is kind of an undercover hero.

After those 4 it's less clear to me. I think Ross is due for a collapse, but he pitched well enough last year to earn a chance and assuming they sign a SP, they now have long relief depth that I feel ok about with Jordan and Roark. Krol isn't great but he's 22, and as the last arm in the pen he makes me much happier than H-Rod did. The key will be getting that 2nd lefty. A bold manager could work around having one lefty.  Clippard has historically been very good vs lefties so you could use a LH early and still have Clip for lefty heavy lineup portions in the late innings. Unfortunately managers rarely see past "Lefty hitter coming up! I need a lefty pitcher!" so that 2nd lefty is needed. Off the top of my head I do like Boone Logan, but that's probably biased by the amount I've seen him pitch.

Sure it'll be costly to sign one of these guys but who cares about cost effective winning. Wouldn't you rather have 93 wins for 150 million than 90 for 100?  It's nice to prove you are smart but in the end winning is all that matters, no matter how it's achieved.

Outside the Box Suggestion :
No lefties if Krol doesn't make the team. Good pitchers should be expected to get everyone out. I don't know why it would be thought otherwise. Think about it this way, you want guys who can get lefties out. There are righties that can do that at the fraction of the cost of what it's going to take you to sign a lefty relief specialist. Sign Tim Stauffer (career .251 / .315 / 402 v lefties, .190 / .248 / .281 vs LHB last season as a full time reliever) and take a chance on Jesse Crain (just a good pitcher when healthy) and tell Matt Williams that you have 6-7 good arms in there, if you can't figure out how to get a couple lefties out then someone else should be managing.


Donald said...

Don't really agree with the out-of-the-box suggestion, as we saw last year. While a pitcher should be able to get anybody out in theory, there are some hitters that are just WAY better against one or the other. You really want the ability to take advantage of those match-ups.

One name not on your list is Christian Garcia. I know he's got the whole injury bug thing going on, but if he's healthy he might just be the best arm they have and would certainly bolster the pen. Of course, he's another righty, so there's that.

If the Nats decide they have too many righties, who do you think is the most marketable to trade? I'm assuming Clippard, but would some teams think that Storen has better closer potential and go higher for him? Not sure a trade makes sense, though, unless you have a ton of confidence in Soriano.

One thing to look out for next year -- if Soriano mopes or pitches differently in non-save situations I don't think it will play well with Matt Williams, and it certainly didn't with Randy Knorr. That may be one of the bigger risks with the proposed plan to work. It assumes Soriano pitches well and stays as the closer. If he doesn't, I expect a lot of tension and turmoil in the pen, which doesn't make for a great result.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Harper on this one. I liked Davey, but I got tired of his whining about the loogy need. Clippard dominates LH hitters and always has. Plus Davey generally used Burnett for a full inning anyway, as he did Krol et al., and not situationally. His LH pitchers were often facing RH hitters as well and needed to be all-around pitchers, not just situational guys. Therefore, as Harper pretty much said, the best pitchers need to make the squad, regardless of LH/RH.

(FWIW, the Nats' regression last year had little to do with not signing Burnett or Howell. For those who lost track of him, Burnett was injured and only pitched 9.2 innings.)

As with Donald, I do hope that Christian Garcia will be all the way back to provide another power arm. If healthy, he’s probably a better option than anyone we could sign. If so, the Nats will have some options. Stammen is capable of taking over the 7th or 8th if they make a deal. Dare they risk trading Storen AND Soriano and leave the back end to Garcia/Stammen/Clippard? Is Soriano genuinely disliked, or is that just reading some of his past history onto the current situation? Do the Nats trust Storen? Do they trust Mattheus? Is Krol ready to be a consistent major-leaguer? There are lots of questions here. All I can say is that I will be surprised if the Nats break camp with both Storen and Soriano still on their roster.

Chinatown Express said...

Donald says . . . "Don't really agree with the out-of-the-box suggestion, as we saw last year. While a pitcher should be able to get anybody out in theory, there are some hitters that are just WAY better against one or the other. You really want the ability to take advantage of those match-ups."

Is that true? Or is it that most righties are just bad at getting lefties out, and certain lefty hitters take advantage of their badness?

I'd like to see an experiment. Take the 20 lefty hitters with the best results when facing righty pitchers. Now take the twenty righty relief pitchers with the best numbers vs. lefty hitters. Also take twenty lefty relievers with similar numbers vs. lefty hitters. Now tell me: Did our elite lefty hitters have better results vs. the group of righties or against the group of lefties? If it's true that "some hitters . . . are just WAY better against one or the other," you'd expect our elite lefty hitters to hammer the right handed pitchers, even though those righties can easily get out the left-gifted lefty hitters. Someone get a Fangraphs intern on this.

With HRod and Duke gone, and Storen hopefully past his Rick Ankiel moment, the pen should be a strength this year. Fingers crossed. And I co-sign the calls for the return of Christian Garcia. Good kid with a sick breaking ball.

blovy8 said...

Not that they should worry particularly about it, but Clippard is starting to get expensive and he does have a lot of innings on that arm now.

John C. said...

Seven man bullpen: Soriano, Clippard and Storen of course. Ohlendorf in the long role (he's out of options so they can't send him down, and I don't want him in the rotation - but if he keeps throwing in the 94-95mph range in limited innings he's fine in the pen). Stammen and Garcia as (very good) "bridge" guys. Sign O'Flaherty as LHRP, and have Cedeno and Krol duke it out for the LOOGY role until O'Flaherty is ready (around June).

So sign O'Flaherty, shift Mattheus to AAA unless/until he stops sucking. Done!

Donald said...

I still maintain you want the flexibility to work the match-ups. Take someone like Ryan Howard who sucks vs. lefties. Sure, I'd probably rather have Craig Kimbrel face him than some random loogy, but I don't think having 7 Craig Kimbrels in the pen is an option. I'd much rather have that random loogy face him than, say Stammen or Matheus and maybe even Storen.

Also, with a lefty or two in the pen, you have more strategic options. You can turn a switch hitter around to his weaker side. Or if the opposing team has one power lefty on the bench, you can sometimes get them to waste him by waiting until he's called and then bring in the loogy. Or by warming up the loogy, you can sometimes get the team to hold him back. If all you have are righties, the lefty hits. Period. If you have both, you can influence the situation, because the hitting team also adjusts to the pitcher and not just the pitching team to the hitter.

Wally said...

Here is what I would like to see them do: add a SP via trade or FA. Would Storen bring back Porcello? Maybe we add a B prospect?

Put Det in the pen, and have him throw multiple 2IPs outings in an effort to get 100 IPs from him out if the pen. Bring up Karns and try to do the same thing, but it probably looks more like 80-90 IPs. Both guys will see their stuff play up appreciably in the pen. Let Stammen, Clip and Soriano handle the 8th and 9th. Krol and sign a LOOGY. I'd like that pen, but it all depends on who replaces Det in the rotation.

blovy8 said...

I agree with Donald, strategically you want a guy who can neutralize lefties pretty well, just as you like to have at least one very good reliever who isn't married to one role. There will be enough important work for your setup/closing guys without that.

As much as Storen and Clippard seemed to be set, you certainly could go more than an inning with Clip, or have Storen save a game when Soriano has pitched a few games in a row. Stammen is a guy who's been used for a ground ball or as a long man. There's no reason not to have a lefty in the pen, and it's pretty surprising with Rizzo's love for lefty starters that he didn't really go after one more strongly.

Anonymous said...

I think we need a solid lefty, and I would add one more dependable arm because between Soriano, Clippard and Storen one or more of them will either flame out or get hurt.