Nationals Baseball: Close and Late

Friday, April 24, 2015

Close and Late

It may surprise you (it did me) that the Nats bullpen has an ERA of 2.82. It's actually 4th best in the National League. Say what?! Yeah I know. So I went digging.

Part of it is that they haven't been great at keeping inherited runners from scoring, but they haven't been terrible at that for the season. Part of it is the ER vs R difference, but that is a much bigger thing for the starters. (also all 3 UER for the relievers came in one Boston game) No, these things may make the Nats pen look worse but not that much worse, I doubt below average if we worked it out. No one here I hope, thinks the Nats pen has been average or better. So it's not just a trick of whose runners are coming home or a couple errors leading to runs not being counted for them. It must be in the when and where.

Let's start after the first two games of the Mets series when honestly the pen did a good job.  The held the first game close after errors dropped the Nats in a hole, and helped close out a 1-run win for Zimmermann. What are the circumstances the pen faced in each of the games after that and how did they do?

Game 3 - Came in down 6 runs. Allowed 0 runs
Game 4 - Came in up 1 with bases loaded. Allowed 4 runners to score.
Game 5 - Came in up 1, got two outs to get out of inning, Nats extend lead to 2, pen blows lead
Game 6 - Came in up 1, gives up run
Game 7 - Came in down 7 runs very early, let's one more run score rest of game, never close
Game 8 - Came in up 2, got two outs to get out of inning, next inning, in part due to errors, blows lead
Game 9 - Came in up 5. Allowed 0 runs.
Game 10 - Came in up 3. Allowed 0 runs. 
Game 11 - Came in up 6. Allowed 1 run in 1 inning.
Game 12 - Came in tied, gives up run that inning (to be fair, man on 3rd with 1 out), gives up insurance run two innings later
Game 13 -  Came in up 3. Allowed 0 runs
Game 14 - Came in up 1, holds lead for 2 innings before blowing it in 9th
Game 15 - Came in tied, holds lead for 1 inning before blowing it, gives up insurance run inning later
Game 16 - Came in down 1, gives up 2 runs in that inning.

Let's reorder these puppies:
Down 7 - GOOD performance (5.2 IP of 1 run ball)
Down 6 - GOOD
Down 1 - BAD
Tied - BAD
Tied - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 1 - BAD
Up 2 - BAD* (Error game)
Up 3 - GOOD
Up 3 - GOOD
Up 5 - GOOD
Up 6 - BAD

The Nats pen has come into a game in what I would call a close situation (plus-or-minus 2 runs) 8 times. Eight times they've failed to do their job.  The best they've been able to do is arguably give the Nats two decent innings of pitching. We should see this reflected in those close and late numbers (defined as within a run, or with tying run on deck, in 7th or later) and we do.  .272 / .362 / .404 in close & late situations, and before you say that doesn't seem bad understand the NL average is .244 / .308 / .379.  It's not your slightly older brother's MLB.

So there you go, that's how the Nats pen can have a decent ERA while killing the team. The crazy optimist says the Nats offense will solve the issues by winning games by more runs when it gets healthy.I suppose that may be true. But how long will that be, until Werth and Span and Rendon are all here and all in full swing? And how is that ok? The Nats will lose close games but don't worry they'll win enough big ones to make it not matter?

I'm not telling you anything here you don't already know, though, am I? The Nats pen needs fixing, either through time and sifting things out, or through bringing in some ringers. 


Anthony Rendon said...

The pen needs help as Harper proved but I don't want to waste prospects on a bullpen piece.

Out of the box suggestion move Stras to closer and Storen to the eighth.

It's too bad we didn't keep Taylor up to play instead of Robinson yesterday.

Kenny B. said...

Yeah. It's becoming Mets-like in its ability to turn well-pitched games into heartbreaking losses. What good is the game's best rotation if the benefits are squandered by the bullpen? I think we've reached the point of consistency where we need to look at some possible "win now" fixes.

JWLumley said...

I know you'll all be shocked by this opinion, but MW is a big contributor to this. He uses relievers in situations where they're not likely to be successful. After all, they're relievers. If they didn't have some hole in their game, they'd be a starter (except Roark, arguably). So don't bring Cedeno in to face righties, don't bring Treinen in on back to back nights, when he's warmed up in 2 before that, use Storen more than once a week. It's a balancing act and it's certainly tough, but that's the job. There are really 3 components to the manager's job as I see it: 1. Deal with the Media 2.Keep peace in the clubhouse 3. Manage the bullpen. Old Paint By Numbers might be great at the first two, but he's a dumpster fire at a managing a bullpen. Even with an absolutely shut-down bullpen like the Nats had last year, he still made countless head-scratching decisions. I honestly believe, that if Buck Showalter or Joe Madden was the Nats manager this year, they'd be +4-5 games through better bullpen management.

So yeah, you're not fixing that part, no matter what they do with the pen or who they bring in. I hope I'm wrong, but I think we're going to see another 2013. I'm not real optimistic about the rest of the year because there's so much parity in baseball, starting in the hole with a bad manager who you're counting on to cobble together a bullpen is a recipe for underachievement.

JWLumley said...

Also, those cakes don't even look like cakes and I remain not a robot.

Gr8day4Bsbll said...

I wonder how long it'll be until, privately or publicly, the SPs (and particularly Scherzer) open up a can of WTF on the pen. And I'm really starting to wonder if we traded the right guy to the A's; despite a possible FA or max contract after this year, it sure would be nice to have Clip coming out of the pen in the 8th or 9th instead of "with Stammen on the DL, whoever's turn it is, followed by Yip Storen"...

JWLumley said...

@Gr8day I don't think the SP's are those types of guys, they didn't get on E-in for all the errors, I don't think they'll get on the bullpen. Instead, I think you'll see more insistence from them to stay in the game longer and not leave it to the bullpen. Which could lead to injury. Even though it's a completely useless (yes completely FP, it has literally zero value) stat, players still care about Pitcher Wins.

Chas R said...

Yeah, the biggest weakness on this team has turned out to be a bigger weakness than envisioned. Plus, arguably, the SP has not yet been as dominant as envisioned, placing a little more reliance on the RP early in the season when their roles have not been clearly defined.

I agree the big question is how long it will take to get the big boppers up and running and the bullpen sorted out... meanwhile the Mets keep winning... I still think this is a 90 win team, but will that be enough now?

Sean Paul said...

Gr8day I agree 100% we traded the wrong reliever in Clippard instead of Storen. We probably would've gotten a touch more for Storen too than just Y.E. So if I were Rizzo this past offseason:

Try RZ at 2nd! I know, crazy right? But as we know the big issue was his throwing not his fielding, and it was throwing across the body, often times on balls he had to charge. Put him closer to 1st and I think a lot of that is rectified. He struggled but he was never no Knoblauch.
Re-sign LaRoche. I miss him dearly. So we're looking at the same 4 in the IF then, with Espy filling in for Rendon at 3rd right now. The crux of this argument is, are the Nats better with LaRoche in the field and lineup than Yunel? and I believe the answer is yes. And of course, we'd then still have Clip. And if your argument is $$$ - I don't think that's ever an issue for Lerner.
Maybe I'm just exceedingly loyal and don't like change, and we all saw how loyalty has rewarded the Phillies - but you can't tell me last year's IF, w/ Rendon and RZim switching positions, and having Clip setting up, isn't an improvement on what we have. And this is WITH Thornton being a pleasant surprise.
Rizzo overthought things this off-season and made too many changes where changes weren't needed. Our bullpen has regressed unnecessarily, and the pay-off - an improved IF - has not manufactured, and probably wasn't an improvement on paper anyway.

Unknown said...

Just watching this past Cards series was Bullpen 101. The Cards don't care how many changes they need to make (albeit they were carrying extra arms so made life easy), but they play matchups. Consistently bringing out Treinen who's struggled solely because he's the "8th inning guy" is becoming tough to watch.

Anonymous said...

For all the talk that we need clip, Escobar has been an important contributor... Think about how bad the offense would be with uggla and Espinosa both playing every day.

John C. said...

Well, I won't say not to panic about the Mets because that would be foolish - as fans, panic is the natural reaction (except during winning streaks, in which case irrational exuberance rules). But it's way too early to start making reaction moves. There have been a lot of teams that gotten to ten games over .500 in April and completely pancaked over the season. Most recently the Braves last year (from 17-7 to under .500!).

Frankly, I'm more concerned about Jordan Zimmermann losing 2mph on his fastball someplace between October and April than I am about the standings at the moment.

SM said...

Might I change the topic with a question?

There's a Batters Faced by Pitcher (BFP) statistic; but is there a statistical tracker for Pitchers Faced by Batter?

No hard evidence here, but it seemed that in 2014 opposing managers were trying to gain a platoon advantage with Bryce Harper more than with any other Nat.

This year, somewhat the same, except there seem to be more pitching changes when he's at bat--not necessarily southpaws, either--than ever (and certainly more than any teammate).

Just wondering.

Unknown said...

how was Uggla still in that game?!

a m s said...

Lowering expectations for the year to playoff birth and first round loss.

Anonymous said...

Before the season my biggest fear was the possibility that contract year for ZNN and Desmond would end up being a distraction and I fear it is coming true. I think the only way out of this team funk is to either sign both or trade them for some power and put Yunel at 2b and Danny to SS (figuring Rendon comes back of course).

Kenny B. said...

So... Panic? I say panic.