Nationals Baseball: Dear Bullpen, stop trying to answer my question ASAP

Monday, April 10, 2017

Dear Bullpen, stop trying to answer my question ASAP

The Nats went through kind of a hellish weekend in regards to the bullpen. On Friday, Max was this side of dominant, but watched along with us as the pen nearly blew a 7-0 lead that he had set-up.  On Saturday, their best laid plans on how to get Joe Ross slowly ready to pitch in the majors again went as badly as possible. That's not an exaggeration. In a baseball sense, there's hardly a way that that could have gone worse.  Guthrie was "kicked out of baseball" bad and Enny Romero did nothing to stem the flow. Game over before your first beer had a chance to lose its head. On Sunday it was a 1-run given up situation but given everything that led up to it during the weekend and the miracle 2-out PH Zimm HR that it took to tie the game it felt like another huge pen failure.

I'm going to game by game bullpen work just on the basis of whether I think they did their job. A point if I think they did. No points if I think they didn't.  If I have a question - half a point. No lingering. (I kind of think a single scoreless inning is the goal for those that enter to start inning. In the middle the goal is to keep that run from coming in but depending on situation may not be your fault)

Game 1 : 
Solis : Yes (1/1)
Treinen : Yes (1/1)

Game 2 : 
Romero : Got an inning. Gave up a quick run next though. Half (0.5/1)
Blanton : Got out of jam with no runs scored. Yes  (1/1)
Treinen : Got save but gave up run. Half (1.5/2)

Game 3 : 
Glover : Yes, though I remember him being hit hard (1/1)
Kelley : No (0/1)
Solis :  Half, gave up two baserunners. But got DP and 2outs  (1.5/2)
Treinen : No, maybe gets a break against a better hitter but couldn't get Tyler Moore out (1.5/3)
Blanton : No, 3H and a run (1/2)

Game 4 :
Solis : No (1.5/3)
Romero : No (0.5/2)
Glover : Yes (2/2)
Treinen : No, got save but gave up two runs. Maybe I give him 1 but not two (1.5/4)

Game 5 : 
Guthrie : NO (-10000000000/1)
Romero : No (0.5/3)
Blanton : Yes (2/3)
Perez : No, I can be forgiving but 2 triples and a homer in 2 innings? (0/1)
Kelley : A generous half (0.5/2)

Game 6 : 
Solis : Yes (2.5/4)
Glover : No (2/3)

So as of it stands
Perfect : None
Passable : Blanton (2/3), Glover (2/3), maybe Solis (2.5/4)
Poor : Kelley (0.5/2), Perez (0/1), Romero (0.5/3), Treinen (1.5/4) 

Perfect is a high standard that you don't expect anyone to hit for a season. However, six games in? Yeah, you'd expect a couple perfects in there.

If you add it all up (including Guthrie as a zero), it'd be like 9/21. This isn't scientific at all but that gives you an idea how the bullpen has done. In 21 outings they've given you about 9 decent showings, with a half decent one here or there. That's a pretty abysmal record. It feels worse right now because it started something like 5/6 and since then is something like 4/15. That's akin to three out of every four guys you roll out there failing. 

What do you do? They already did the one obvious move - shooting Guthrie into the sun. There's no room for any arm that is terrible and there's no reason to look at Saturday and his history and think anything but. After that? I don't know what you do but keep on keeping on. Treinen has to keep closing for longer so you can make an informed decision and make it hopefully once. Blanton and Glover are already back innings guys so there's no promotion or shifting necessary in close games. As for the great middle - it's only one outing for Perez; and Solis and Kelley aren't at any point of no return yet. You could close the book on Romero for now if you like, but that's about it.  Not sure they Nats have anyone they are dying to bring up though.

The pen is shaky right now. Over the course of a year you are going to have shaky weeks. The question is - is this a shaky week? Or is this a shaky pen?  They got about 9 games to figure this out because they play six H2H games versus the Mets to end the month and they don't want to blow those.


Ole PBN said...

They brought up Albers... I think I saw a golden halo over his head when he was warming up in the bullpen yesterday...

G Cracka X said...

Return of the Odd Year Curse?

Harper said...

GCX - Or is it a lack of the Even Year Blessing?

DezoPenguin said...

So many thoughts, such a small sample size, but:

1. I still have no idea what Guthrie was doing starting a game. Joe Ross is a starting pitcher on our roster. He should have been available. A.J. Cole and Austin Voth are pitchers. Jeremy Guthrie *might*, on the sample of his strong spring, have been the mop-up guy brought in to pitch 3-4 innings when someone blows up like, well, Guthrie did. He shouldn't have ever been starting. This was just horrible, horrible planning by *someone*.

2. Kelley's early performances are the ones that worry me. Treinen, Glover, and Blanton have all hiccuped but also pitched well, and hiccups happen, so small sample size is a thing. Also possibly not pitching Treinen four games in a row, maybe. Ditto Solis, plus Solis is not as important to the overall makeup of the bullpen (or at least shouldn't be). But Kelley is supposed to be the stopper, the guy Dusty turns to in the 7th or 8th inning when we need somebody out now, and if he can't be that then things get dicey.

3. Perez and Romero worry me if we need them to pitch important innings. These are guys you bring in when the game situation is such that trading 1-2 runs for 3 outs won't hurt you. Honestly, we don't need two of these in the 'pen; it's basically a choice between upside (Romero) and actual past success (Perez). Solis is the primary lefty at this point, which says a lot.

Mythra said...

Personally, I think April games after a month in Florida or Arizona are the pits. It was low 40s and windy. Yes, the Philthies play in the same weather but time and again the Nats seem to flourish in the dog days and heat of summer. That, and one bad series in the first away games of the year is not panic time. I'd rather they get the stinkers out now than H2H against the Mets.
I'll panic in May if this is still happening.

Josh Higham said...

Yesterday I got stuck talking about the Nats with a guy who is an all-gut-feelings-and-no-stats kind of fan. After he told me for the 6th or seventh time that Treinen and Roark are bad pitchers but Gio would win 20 games every year if he got any run support, I finally escaped. The point of this story is a heartfelt thank you to Harper and you faithful reader-commenters for creating a place to talk Nats where most ideas can be backed up with facts and stats, and a weekend like this last one causes only minimal existential dread.

JW said...

I agree that the bullpen isn't looking great. But then I was a little surprised by so many "best bullpen Nats have had" comments at the start of last week and the week before. Lots of question marks before the season. I'm not sure Romero is going to make it much further.

But I also agree that it's really hard to make any kind of definite answer based on the first two series, in particular this weekend. We had a win in game 1, a failed hold in game 3, and then a blowout loss that was more attributable to the people who selected Guthrie to start than the players on the field.

I feel for Jeremy Guthrie; he had a decent Spring, but nothing that remotely would have said "start me." The Nats management were essentially willing to take this loss in an effort to buy more time to decide on MAT/Difo and to keep Joe Ross's innings down. If you thought Guthrie might be able to contribute in the bullpen, how about, you know, give him a shot in relief rather than starting? That way if he struggles a little you can pull him without effectively giving up the game. That was a terrible choice by management that only decreased confidence in the bullpen. And it was as predictable as it was stupid.

Let's see how they do in the next two series. Lots of good teams starting slow.

1natsfan said...

Perhaps someone could help me understand the thought processes that a manager goes through when deciding to remove a starting pitcher. I'm not talking about a pitcher who has pitched effectively through 5 or 6 innings and has a high pitch count but rather a starting pitcher who is getting the stuffing knocked out of him in the early innings. After giving up 4 runs, I would have thought that Guthrie would be pulled before the game got away. Instead, Dusty let another 4 runs score to make it 8. It was only after Guthrie gave up 9 did Baker call on the Bull Pen. So, did Dusty think that the team could come back from 8 runs but not a 9 run deficit. If he was trying to save the relievers, why didn't he go to the mound and tell Guthrie the game was lost but he was leaving him to take one for the team to preserve the Bull Pen. Very few starting pitchers are capable of going 9 innings. At some point you are going to have to use the relievers. Why do the Nationals approach the Bull Pen as some kind of afterthought?

Fries said...


i wouldn't say it was an afterthought, i think it was a function of being too cautious. Nats don't really have a long-man in the pen right now. you pull the starter in the first inning, you're guaranteeing yourself to use at least 4 bullpen arms, probably 5 or 6. I think Dusty was hoping SOMETHING would go Guthrie's way to get him out of the first and then maybe settle in for 2-3 more innings. was it the right decision in hindsight? clearly not. but in the moment, you can't really fault Dusty for expecting a fly ball or two to help Guthrie out and settle him in.

as has been mentioned, though, the real problem was starting guthrie to begin with. I mean come on.

Ole PBN said...

@1natsfan - a couple of reasons. FP said, correctly, that the Nats need innings out of Guthrie to preserve the bullpen after the recent work they've done, and with consectutive games in the days following. Because its a 162-game season, Dusty is trying to line up the next few days and make sure he has the bullets to compete in those games. The talk that every manager gives "we're just taking one game at a time, focused on today, etc." is bull. If they played every game like game 7 of the world series, our relievers would be shot by the end of April and we'd theoretically pitch our closer probably every single day.

As far as when to take Guthrie (in this case) out? The game got out of hand after 6-7 runs. At this point, you're trying to remain competitive in a game that might be all but over. But why pull him after 7 runs, and spend all your relievers on a game that you've effectively lost already? There is a fine line between letting a pitcher take a beating so as to not tax your bullpen and not completely leaving him in to burn away his career. Dusty got pretty close to humiliating Guthrie, but I can't blame him, the mistake was having him start in the first place. Its a feel for the game that a manager can tell if a game is out of reach, even in the first inning. Sometimes it isn't. Remember Ugglas go-ahead homer against the Braves a couple years ago after being down a ton in AJ Cole's debut? Each game is circumstantial so there isnt a run-limit to when you should take your starter out if he's struggling in the first inning.

Again, if this were game 7 - Guthrie would have been taken out after 2 runs. But its not. Its April and we have a whole season to play and an already battered bullpen that doesn't need another taxing effort in an already lost game. Manager always has to have an eye on the coming games, especially this early on.

JE34 said...

The Phillies provide an interesting contrast in pitching staffs and bullpen management. Set aside the curious case of poor Guthrie (who was given a golden opportunity to extend his career and basically killed it instead - I wanted to barf for him). The Nats have 3 very good starters in Stras, Max and Tanner... and a bullpen in which there is a significant lack of confidence. The Phils have some decent but inferior arms to those 3, but notice how Mackanin did not let the Nats see Hellickson a 3rd time... hooked him after 5 innings, just 70 pitches of shutout ball. That approach is great (thanks to Zimm it didn't work 100%), but it can't last a season without some rubber arms in the pen and plenty of quality spare parts from AAA. Hell, he pulled Aaron Nola after 89 pitches and 6 innings with a double-digit lead, and ended up using Neshek in consecutive days.

The Nats will probably manage Ross and Gio's starts more like that (or just close their eyes come that pivotal third trip through the order)... but they have the luxury of not needing to do that for their top 3 starters.

So it comes to Dusty again looking like he's overusing the same arms... Treinen is the closer so he must pitch the 9th, etc. If they had a dominant slayer for the 9th, that would be one thing... but they don't. So why not just use em all? Higher leverage situations go to those who throw more strikes (i.e. not Romero, not Perez... the pen arms continued to dig themselves holes by getting behind in counts). I'd be OK seeing Kelley, Koda, Solis, and Treinen each getting save opportunities if the matchups made sense. (Of course they and their agents wouldn't.) Maximize rest until someone stakes a claim to becoming the next Trevor Hoffman.

Josh Higham said...

Trea to the DL. The Nats fib to us again.

BxJaycobb said...

JE34. Mackanin took out hellickson because of injury. It had nothing to do with strategy.

Jay said...

I agree with BxJ. Hellickson had the dreaded forearm cramp and was pulled. Forearm tightness of any type is worrisome in a pitcher. I was fully ready to type a long winded "sky is falling" post. I went to ESPN first and saw they moved the Nats up to 3 from preseason ranking of 6. I did a double take. Checked the win-loss record and saw that it was today's ranking. It sort of put things in perspective for me. The Nats had some questions. Their bullpen is still a question for me. It looks like a bullpen with no defined closer to me. I worry that Baker is keeping Kelley back some games in case Treinen gets into trouble in the 9th. Kelley has only pitched twice. Now he hasn't looked great, but he still isn't be used much. They either need Treinen to take control of the closer job or they need to go get a closer. Also, Glover's pitching yesterday is why you don't just hand the closer job to a 23 yo guy who has never closed.

On the plus side. Zim looks good. Murphy looks good. Scherzer looks great. Stras looks great. They have enough talent to buy them some time. Even Turner going on the DL is probably in part bc Drew can play for him. Overall, I'm encouraged. I'd like to see the bullpen get into gear sooner than later.

Robot said...

Yeah, I've so far been proved wrong about Zim. Shit, did I just jinx it? I should add that I know he's a bum and there's no way whatsoever that he could keep this up even for another game, much less the entire season. What a pathetic waste. He should go back to A-ball.

Re: Guthrie - I agree 100% with Fries. Come on.

Froggy said...

This bullpen chaos is all an evil ploy to condition Nats nation to want to resign Papelbon.

Froggy said...

This bullpen chaos is all an evil ploy to condition Nats nation to want to resign Papelbon.

NatsFanSinceStart said...

Nats bullpen is in deep trouble.

Josh Higham said...

Froggy, bad enough to say that once. But twice?!?

Kevin Rusch said...

Well, I think it's that the bullpen had both a bad week *and* isn't as good as we'd hoped. Harper's right that it'll take a couple more weeks to see how bad they are. The troublesome thing with Romero was that he was like MAT -- it's not that he was dominating weak competition in spring but that he was throwing all strikes in the spring. Now it's April and he can't find the plate.

Relievers are supposed to be fungible - I'm not so sold on WE NEED A CLOSER as much as we need more/better relievers. But we have a while to figure that out.

BxJaycobb said...

It's been an interesting week. A few points:
A. It seems possible that we have a phenomenal offense. I would say it looks outstanding....except I am hesitant because of the pitchers the Nats have unusually mediocre stretch of starting pitchers. That said, I think we knew that the offense would be the Nats strength. It will be even more of a strength if Zim really is fully back. And it seems entirely possible he is. Zim has been the most encouraging news of the first week IMO. It's not just that he is hitting. He is hitting with power and LOOKS great.
B. Let's give the bullpen a month to see how good or bad they are. I think they have underperformed their ability thus far. By definition bullpen performance is small sample size. So let's see. It's definitely true the Nats lack a shut down beast. But I still think it's possible they have a good pen overall.
C. It's also great to see Bryce be back. Clearly he was hurt last year. He may never have another year quite like 2015. But I also think he'll never hit .243 again.
D. Nobody is talking about the defense. It looks very bad. Werth is as immobile as ever. I'm a little worried about Eaton's range. Thinking specifically about a ball Kendrick hit to the RF-CF gap during that nightmare first inning when I was like "wow that ball needs to be caught." Murphy has just been. I mean. ATROCIOUS so far. I don't know what's going on, but he's even worse than last year in the field. Zims bad. Not a good D at all

JE34 said...

Bx - mah bad. I was juggling baseball with other distractions and missed that detail re Hellickson. Serves me right for improperly aligned priorities.

Robot said...

@Bx, re: Point #D - Defense looked bad before last night. Now, short of great plays by Drew and Bryce, it looks terrible. Should have lost them the game, but putting up 14 runs allows you to get away with a lot.

Sammy Kent said...

Last night F.P. said of all the former Nats the one the fans miss most is Michael Morse, and I would concur with that. Then he said a close second is Tyler Clippard. Tyler Clippard? I sure as heck don't miss Tyler Clippard. Goggles didn't invent the eighth or ninth inning game-tying dinger, but he sure perfected it. Unfortunately, getting shet of him didn't solve that problem. How in the world can we miss him when every year somebody steps up to be our designated late inning gopher server upper? Trienen, Petit, Perez, Papelbum, and pretty much for the last two seasons Sean Kelley have all done their best to fill Tyler Clippard's shoes. Kelley apparently can't stand to not surrender a tater. It's like he can't sleep at night unless somebody goes yard off him. He even does it in a blowout mop up appearance.

Robot said...

I'd take old Clip over Treinen-and-Failnin' or any of our other current would-be closers. Or over Soriano, Pap, or anyone else not name Melancon who's replaced him in the past few years.

(And anyone who followed this team back in 2012 misses the Beast, of course.)

Josh Higham said...

Let's be fair to Clippard. He was at worst on the good side of average as a relief pitcher, and often one of the better ones in baseball. If you're looking for game-tying home runs in the 8th and 9th, you're not going to find many guys who have given up a lot, because most guys aren't good enough to consistently pitch in the 8th and 9th innings of close games. Giving up relatively many game tying homers in late innings over the course of several years is arguably a sign of a good pitcher, because a bad pitcher wouldn't be given any more late inning appearances. And confirmation bias is going to make it seem like there were far more of those homers than there actually were.

Zimmerman11 said...

Hope we saved a couple of bullets for tonight's game after that onslaught yesterday. 19 hits? Dayum!

And let's hope that Tony 2bags and Burner Turner are in the lineup and healthy vs the Mets once everyone else cools down.

FIVE GUYS with OPS around 1100??? Again, dayum!

Zimmerman11 said...


Josh Higham said...

Here's a breakdown of several pitchers' home runs allowed.
Clippard: 628.3 IP, 76 home runs. By leverage:
High Lev 23
Medium Lev 28
Low Lev 25

Mariano Rivera:1283 IP, 71 home runs. By leverage:
High Lev 39
Medium Lev 17
Low Lev 15

Trevor Hoffman: 1089.3 IP, 100 home runs. By leverage:
High Lev 51
Medium Lev 16
Low Lev 33

So, let's compare Clip to arguably the two best closers ever. Way fewer innings pitched, for a variety of reasons, but one of them is he's still active and only 32. Roughly twice as many HR allowed per inning as Rivera, but very similar HR/IP to Hoffman.

Clippard, being a non-closer, probably pitches in lower leverage situations compared to career closers. But all the same, slightly under a third of his homers allowed came in high leverage situations, but Hoffman and Rivera both gave up slightly more than half of their homers in high leverage situations.

I don't see the sense in complaining about Clippard's home runs, since he seems to compare favorably to two all time great closers. And what's more, his absolute best years, and it's not close, were for the Nats when the Nats were playoff contenders.

Mythra said...

How did the Mets ever think it was a good idea to let Murphy walk? Holy cow, he's a hitting machine.

I like offense and watching this lineup.

someguyinva said...

Good post, but I think Perez deserves a point for Saturday night.

Your criteria for getting a point is "did his job", and at that point in the game, his job was "eat innings".

He and Blanton together got 15 of the 24 outs, and made sure several fresh arms were available for Sunday.

BxJaycobb said...

Mythra: murphy was not close to this type of hitter with the Mets, except for that series vs Cubs when he went nuts. He just didn't hit for power like this. Was always solid hitter for avg, but he never walked (rarely does now still), he didn't hit for power, and he was/is horrible on defense. Put that together and it's entirely reasonable for Mets to have figured that the playoffs were a fluke and that walker would be just as good a player overall. It just turned out the playoffs weren't a total fluke and murphy had made a substantial mid career mechanical adjustment, which is incredibly incredibly rare.

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