Friday, June 10, 2011

Bullpen slipping?

US Presswire photo
Struggling left-hander Sean Burnett's ERA is up to 5.96.
The Nationals' formula for success this season has been simple: 1) Get good pitching. 2) Play good defense. 3) Get a couple of timely hits.

Impressively, they've managed to accomplish Parts 1 and 2 with a level of consistency few could have predicted entering the season. Part 3? Well, we've dissected the Nats' offensive woes ad nauseum. Nothing really new to say there. This lineup is what it is. Besides, as long as they continue to take care of Parts 1 and 2, they'll stay competitive and win their share of games.

Except Part 1 doesn't appear to be a certainty anymore, especially when it comes to a Nationals' bullpen that has hit a bit of a rough patch in the last two weeks.

Mind you, the Nationals have more significant woes than their bullpen. Their biggest problem is and will continue to be their lack of offense. But in order to win games with the formula they've created for themselves, they can't afford any prolonged slip-ups in any other departments. And right now, the bullpen is slipping up.

When Livan Hernandez departed last night's game in San Diego with two on and one out in the sixth, the Nats trailed 4-2. Livo was by no means in top form, but the game was still within reach for his team. Sean Burnett and Cole Kimball, though, proceeded to issue back-to-back walks (Kimball's with the bases loaded) and then a sacrifice fly. Just like that, two inherited runners scored and a close ballgame was no longer reasonably within reach.

And last night's performance was merely the latest in a string of shaky bullpen outings. Over the last 17 games, Nationals relievers have posted a 4.38 ERA, up nearly a run and a half from their mark over the season's first 46 games.

ERA, of course, isn't always the best indicator of relief pitching, so let's also look at the rate in which inherited runners have been scoring. Over the last seven games, the Nationals have allowed 10 of 22 inherited runners to score, a 45.5 percent rate that is considerably higher than the 34.2 percent rate they posted before this stretch.

The struggles aren't limited to one guy, but rather stretch across most of the bullpen. Tyler Clippard continues to be the team's most-effective reliever, and Todd Coffey has been right behind him (though usually in situations of far less significance). Drew Storen, though, has given up eight runs in his last 7 2/3 innings, has seen his ERA jump from 0.38 to 2.59 and has twice blown ninth-inning leads and been charged with a loss in another game.

Then there's Burnett, the once-reliable lefty who just hasn't been able to get on track at all this year. Burnett, whose ERA has ballooned to a career-high 5.96, is giving up more hits (9.1 per nine innings) while striking out fewer batters (4.8 per nine innings) than he has in four seasons since becoming a reliever. He's insisted all along his arm feels fine. He's just not executing his pitches, a disturbing thought.

And compounding the Nationals' bullpen woes are two hard-throwing, young right-handers who frequently have no idea where the ball's going to land. Henry Rodriguez and Cole Kimball have been getting a lot of work lately, and that hasn't necessarily been a good thing.

Rodriguez has allowed only 12 hits in 17 innings while striking out 21 batters in that span, frequently with a fastball that reaches triple digits. So what's the problem? He's also issued a staggering 14 walks in those 17 innings, not to mention five wild pitches.

Kimball's numbers are eerily comparable to Rodriguez: Only eight hits allowed in 14 innings, with 11 strikeouts but also 11 walks and two wild pitches.

When they put the ball in the strike zone, these guys are unhittable. But they don't put the ball in the strike zone nearly enough to be effective.

The Nationals' bullpen has been a strength nearly every season the franchise has been in town. And it will probably wind up still being a strength this season, because there's too much talent there for the entire unit to blow up.

But when you struggle to score three runs per night, every little slip-up by every other facet of your game is going to get magnified. And right now, the Nats' bullpen is performing just poorly enough to be magnified.

38 comments:

erocks33 said...

If the Nats are relying on young guns like HRod and Kimball, then you have to expect and live with the walks.

At this point, I am really concerned about Burnett. I feel that there is something physically wrong as he has not been effective all season long.

For me, I'd like to see the Nats go old-school and do what the O's used to do in the 70's and bring in some of their SP prospects (Milone, Meyers) and let them earn their keep in the Nats bullpen. Mike Flanagan, Scotty McGregor, Mike Boddicker and even Jim Palmer started their careers in the bullpen for the O's. Why can't this work for the Nats??

P. Cole said...

I turned on the radio around midnight, right as HRod entered the games. Then I threw up.

Dave said...

posted this in late in another thread, but this seems like a more appropriate place for it.

The non tender of Joel Peralta is looking dumber by the day.

Nats were willing to pay Gaudin $900K, but would not pay Peralta (who pitched very well last year)an estimated $800K.

From reading the old NatsInsider post on the issue, It seemed as if he was too old for them. Mark was confused by the non-tender as well.

NatStat said...

Recent queries about Nats' pitchers and how their arms feel, suggest that over several weeks of asking that they always say that they feel 'OK'.

Then we have Riggleman state with traditional managerial baseball certainty the the ball is coming out of their hand 'OK'.

Several weeks after the 'OK' responses, the pitchers are usally put on the DL!

Maybe we should be asking a different question??

NatsJack in Florida said...

NatsStat....That Riggleman comment about "coming off the hand" bugs me almost as much as "little bit". I'm more concerned about how our bullpens pitches "come off the bat".

But I find neither comment as a cause for dismissal. (Yet)

Doc said...

@ NatsJack, 11:07

Right on NatsJack, it's the ball coming off the bat, not the ball coming out of the hand that's of greater significance.

Riggleman is in a baseball time warp. I mean really this is 2011; I think that we have better analyses available of pitched balls, and balls hitting bats.

Eugene in Oregon said...

Mark,

Useful information, but I really think your key sentences are:

"Mind you, the Nationals have more significant woes than their bullpen. Their biggest problem is and will continue to be their lack of offense."

We're asking our pitchers -- both starters and relievers -- to walk too fine a line. Any mistake, no matter how small, represents a potentially game-losing mistake, and our pitchers know that, which leads to over-pressing. And while I recognize that some of their mistakes have been significant, if the offense could give then more of a cushion the pitchers wouldn't feel the pressure to be perfect or even near-perfect. I've always assumed that a big part of relief pitching is psychological and I can't imagine that the knowledge that your team can't hit is good for the collective or individual psyche of our bullpen's inhabitants.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it even with starters going deeper into games the bullpen has been overused. Albeit only two starters have been pretty consistent in that regard in JZim followed by Marquis.

That's because of too many extra inning, close 1 or 2 run games. Rig has to use pinch hitters for pitching too early in order to attempt to eke out desperately needed runs. Of course this has a lot to do with Riggleman's lineup card and the bench he picked out of ST best not to get me started there ...

Burnett and Clippard have already burned through too many innings ... and that's why Riggleman has had to turn more to Kimball and H-Rod his two young guns.

They still do have Matheus and Bally down in AAA. So, the bullpen isn't in trouble by any means. They are working a couple of lefties in Syracuse but I don't think they would bring up Hall or Severino to replace Burnett and Slaten.

They don't need to be bringing up Milone, Meyers, Detwiler or Peacock to work in the bullpen. I thought Stammen would start as that was his role in Syracuse and I suspect Stammen still will when Rizzo makes some trades. At the 10 game plus under .500 mark the Nats become sellers.

rogieshan said...

<"Nats were willing to pay Gaudin $900K, but would not pay Peralta (who pitched very well last year)an estimated $800K.">

Peralta's contract would've been guaranteed, whereas Gaudin's was a minor-league deal that only became full after he -unexpectedly- made the opening-day roster. Still, I agree, it hasn't panned out.

As for HRod and Kimball, they're learning, I think they'll turn out just fine - remember how we felt about Joel Hanrahan? Burnett, on the other hand: baffling.

Anonymous said...

Nats were willing to pay Gaudin $900K, but would not pay Peralta (who pitched very well last year)an estimated $800K.

Rizzo wants power arms in his bullpen. But only 1 of the three he has is in the majors this year. Hassan Pena has been promoted to AAA Syracuse. Elvin Ramirez is still on the DL.

As Boz pointed out, marginal players like Gaudin and Broderick were more Riggleman's idea not Rizzo's. Rizzo likes power arms also like Ryan Mattheu and Colin Balester. Marginal players like Ankiel are also more Riggleman's idea than Rizzo's.

At some point in the midst of the losing accountability has to be addressed.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Burnett and Coffey both have had problems when they fall behind in the count. I've seen both come in and immediately go to 2 - 0 or 3 - 0 to the first hitter they face and have to battle back usually getting to 3 - 2 with the hitter fouling of a pitch or two before depositing a hit somewhere.

When they come in and pound the zone immediately, they tend to experience succcess.

Simple baseball 101, a pitchers best friend is strike 1.

Anonymous said...

I will certainly not defend the pitching. It is mediocre at best. But until this team starts consistantly scoring 4-5 runs a game then I will not bash the pitching. When you pitch knowing that giving up more than 1 or 2 runs and you will lose than that makes it very difficult. When I turned on the game Wednesday and saw Matt Stairs pinch hit and strike out (again) I quit on this team for the season. It is just utterly crazy to keep that guy around.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Riggs ripped HRod and Kimball on the post-game show last night. I would expect one or both to be relegated to SYR with Bally-Star (no sure bet) getting the call-up. The bigger issue is the lack of a LOOGY. First, Slaten. Now, Burnett. What looked like a strength is now a definite weakness. Unless the starter can get through seven to hand it over to Coffey and Clip, nothing is assured except I will be drinking much more Maalox and bourbon (not necessarily in that order) come the late innings. What time did you say those AA meetings start?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Time to leave.... the anonymous gang has arrived....I'll check back tomorrow.

SCNatsFan said...

While I've been a supporter of management of this team there has to come a point where a change is needed, either with the coaches or the manager. If players aren't responding and learning then its time to find guys who can reach these players, or obviously we need to change players. Same old excuses are leading to the same old record and same old position in last place.

Water23 said...

So, there is a rumor the Nats are interested in Bill Hall. Granted he can play anywhere on the field but isn't that what Cora and Hairston are for when Zim returns? On the other hand, maybe this means Stairs is promoted to assistant bench coach and they then have a spot for Hall. I would be in favor of that as Hall is better than Stairs at this time.

Anonymous said...

Same old excuses are leading to the same old record and same old position in last place.

Watch out SCNatsFan you might chase NatsJack be nimble NatsJack be quick NatsJack hates going to CandleStick but At&T Park is better ...

Bowdenball said...

erocks33-

I like it. But bullpen, rotation, whatever it is ... they need to find a way to get Milone on the 25 man roster, soon. 68/4? What else are they waiting to see exactly?

And then after they move him, give his AAA rotation spot to Peacock.

DCJohn said...

This is decision time. Nine games under .500 with three more to play against the last team in the NL West. Get swept this week or even win only one game, and we can say just throw it in. Even with Zimm coming back next week, it will be almost impossible to reach .500 before the end of the season. We have been waiting around all season for the hitting to click in. Well it ain't going to happen. We just have to watch and see if they can win tight ball games with good pitching and strong defense. I am really pulling for Riggelman, hometown boy and all that, but I just don't see it happening. Our Double A team is tearing it up and so is Hagerstown. The pipeline is filling up. This draft was terrific. We will start winning because we are developing winners in the minors. I just it starts happening soon rather than later. Good luck this weekend Nats because big changes may take place depending how the team performs.

milobill said...

From the Boston Globe: Jason Marquis, RHP, Nationals — The Nationals would make him available, but only if they get good young talent back. Would they take Josh Reddick [AAA outfielder with “good power potential”] for him? Probably, but the Sox seem content right now going with Tim Wakefield in the No. 5 spot, with Alfredo Aceves there for depth. If Marquis is actually being shopped the Nats need for him than just a good AAA OF with power "potential".

phil dunn said...

Just like it always unfolds with the Nats, it is only a matter of time before we find out that Burnett has been hiding some kind of arm injury which has caused him to unravel like a cheap suit.

Anonymous said...

ACC Rain delay shenanigans and they are worried about Bryce Harper's kiss?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8UZgVogYevM

Anonymous said...

As I predicted NatsJack, Ryan Mattheus and not Colin Balster is on his way to the majors. They only had 39 on the 40-man so adding him was easy. The big question is who does he replace on the 25-man?

Latin is dead to me said...

NatsJack in Florida said...

Time to leave.... the anonymous gang has arrived....I'll check back tomorrow.
June 10, 2011 11:58 AM

also KNOWN as Piero, Peric, Periculum, Atliano, etc.

Anonymous said...

NatsJack in Florida said...

Also known as SPAZ, ancient curmudgeon, pencil head ...

natsfan1a said...

Earlier in the week, someone had asked about the possibility of Zimmerman having a rehab start in Syracuse. According to Ladson, he'll be there on Saturday:

http://tinyurl.com/3eqtoak

Anonymous said...

Wonder if NatsJack last name is Mehoff?

Riggleman isn't as Evil he thought said...

Hey everybody, even Goessling is tired of Peric. From last night's game thread on MASN:

"On Ankiel, there are some things I can’t write, but suffice it to say the reason he’s still here is bigger than Riggleman. Same goes for Stairs and Cora."

Peric, it must suck to be you.

Anonymous said...

"On Ankiel, there are some things I can’t write, but suffice it to say the reason he’s still here is bigger than Riggleman. Same goes for Stairs and Cora."

Actually NatsJack Mehoff (paging Nats Jack Mehoff, paging NatsJack Mehoff)
he was responding to my comments wherein I state that I understood? Dude, its how the whole "infer" "implied" English lesson started a few blog posts ago?

As the Klingon's would say: I am young and strong and you, NatsJack, are old and weak. Dry up old man and fritter away ....

sjm308 said...

Well, here is another blog where I just read what the writer writes and skip the comments. Hopefully, there will be somewhere in the universe where baseball can be discussed without the idiotic stuff that happens on NJ and now here. At least Mark and Adam continue to turn out quality work and I get my baseball fix. Same can't be said for the posters. I tried, I really did but now we have a war of words between the dreaded anons and one of my favorites so I honestly don't need it and will spend that time doing something constructive like figuring out which beers to drink during the game.

Go Nats

natsfan1a said...

sjm, it's not so much a war of words between commenters as it is one commenter lobbing grenades in hopes of getting a reaction, imo.

SonnyG10 said...

I agree with you natsfan1a!

Dave said...

The trick is never to grant a reaction. Always works for me.

sjm308 said...

natsfan, since I am not reading comments anymore I can't thank you and Dave and Sonny but if I was still reading comments you know I appreciate your positive outlook on all things Nats even when its not going quite so well.

Unkyd said...

Rude Bastard.

Unkyd said...

Will it go away, if we just dedicate ourselves to NEVER acknowledge it's existence? Let's try it!! Nobody can stand being ignored... I promise never to respnod to it again...

Bill Stoneman said...

As a long time Expos fan, and therefore a Nats fan, I feel that the team is making progress after the dismemberment by MLB and Jeffery Loria.
That's in the past and now looking to the future, I believe the Nat's are really heading in the right direction. Great drafts, etc.
Really enjoy your Blog Mark, and also your (for the most part) knowledgeable commenters.
Too bad about the odd one. Can you "Make it so" with the obvious "Klingon".

SonnyG10 said...

Unkyd, I'll join you in your promise.

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