Friday, August 20, 2010

Relieved about Nats relief

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Tyler Clippard has helped pick up the slack since Matt Capps' trade.
When you really boil it down, Mike Rizzo was willing to trade away Matt Capps back on July 30 for two reasons: 1) Wilson Ramos was too good to pass up in exchange for a closer, and 2) the Nationals had a deep bullpen that could probably compensate for the loss of Capps.

Yesterday, we got a glimpse of why Ramos was so highly coveted by GMs talking trades with the Twins. He went 0-for-4 against the Braves, but he had a couple of nice at-bats in which he showed good plate discipline. More importantly, he called a solid game and made a really nice play on a sacrifice bunt attempt. If Ramos does develop into this organization's long-term answer at catcher, the trade will have well been worth it.

Let's not forget the second point, though. The Nats' bullpen, while certainly weaker without Capps, has done a pretty good job holding its own without its closer of four months. During yesterday's 6-2 win at Turner Field, that unit tossed 3 2/3 hitless innings to preserve John Lannan's win. Joel Peralta got two outs on one pitch in the sixth. Tyler Clippard struck out the side in the seventh. Sean Burnett got out of a jam in the eighth (albeit on a smoked line drive right at Michael Morse). And Drew Storen finished things off with a 1-2-3 ninth.

This is pretty much what the Nationals' relief corps has been doing for three weeks now. Check out these pitchers' numbers since July 31 (the day after the Capps trade)...

Storen: 8 g, 1-0, 2.16 ERA, 2 sv, 8.1 ip, 5 h, 2 er
Burnett: 10 g, 0-2 ERA, 2.70, 2 sv, 10 ip, 4 h, 3 er
Clippard: 8 g, 1-0, 2.35 ERA, 0 sv, 7.2 ip, 5 h, 2 er
Slaten: 8 g, 0-0, 1.08 ERA, 0 sv, 8.1 ip, 5 h, 1 er

Pretty good numbers from four-sevenths of the Nats' bullpen. As for the other three, Peralta (4.35 ERA since July 31) has tailed off some but has still gotten some big outs and overall has a 2.70 ERA; Miguel Batista continues to do what he's supposed to do; and Craig Stammen has 11 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings since moving to the bullpen.

Everyone's roles are a little less-defined now than they were earlier in the season (when you knew Burnett and/or Storen would pitch the seventh, Clippard the eighth and Capps the ninth). Now, Storen has the ninth inning ... unless the opposition has a bunch of left-handed hitters, in which case Burnett gets the ball. Clippard and Peralta have been used anywhere from the sixth through the eighth innings. Slaten comes in to face a lefty here or there.

But the current bullpen members don't mind the relative uncertainty of their new roles. If anything, they think it's helped keep them sharp.

"There's a little bit less structure, but as relievers in the big leagues, you have to be prepared the whole game for whatever happens," Clippard said last week. "So I think it's helped us in that sense. We're ready at all times and bearing down. We don't get too lackadaisical down there. We're always focused on what's going on, which is huge. Everybody seems to be feeding off each other down there."

Is there enough in this relief corps to head into 2011 feeling confident? Perhaps, though one more reliable veteran would be nice. And we still haven't seen if Storen can handle closing duties over the long haul (though all evidence to date suggests he can).

Point is, a midseason trade of an All-Star closer that might have derailed many clubs hasn't significantly damaged the Nationals. To date, the rest of this bullpen has risen to the challenge.


A DC Wonk said...

Nice thoughts, Mark.

And if I can again bash the Rizzo-bashers, let's recall that our bullpen is almost completely revamped from last year (almost no one remains). That was Rizzo's doing. From one of the league's worst to so good this year that we could trade Capps. And Storen? Rizzo was bashed on that pick last year, too. (And based for signing Capps in the first place, for that matter).

(Tangent: anyone notice that in the four starts since Lannan has returned from the minors, the Nats are 3-1? Lannan has allowed 2 ER in each start, with a 3.09 ERA.)

A DC Wonk said...

Oh, and one more thing: one of the best parts of yesterday, as far as I'm concerned, besides the win -- is that Ramos called for inside pitches! Note to other pitches on the Nats staff (and to Pudge): see, guys, it _can_ work!

erocks33 said...

"though one more reliable veteran would be nice."

Don't know how reliable he'll be, but don't be surprised to see El Duque in the bullpen next year for the Nats. Can't get much more "veteran" than him.

Anonymous said...

(Tangent: anyone notice that in the four starts since Lannan has returned from the minors, the Nats are 3-1? Lannan has allowed 2 ER in each start, with a 3.09 ERA.)

Tangent: Notice that Lannan, again, failed to get past five innings. That *** isn't going to cut it ****. Its why the bullpen had a mini-collapse in the first half? NO PITCHER except Livan Hernandez has been able to manage to get past the sixth with 2 runs or fewer on a reliable, consistent basis. This is what separates the Atlanta Braves from the Washington Nationals. Guess what? Lannan must still fall to fifth starter or bullpen as a result. His performances haven't been entirely bad, but they haven't been what the Nats need from him either. Not by a long shot.

Given his mechanics I think we might be pleasantly surprised when Yunielski Maya comes up and gets to seven and beyond like Livan. Plus
there's Jordan Zimmerman. It has now reached the stage where Lannan
could in fact be replaced.

Doc said...

Rizzo has his strengths and weakness, but he's done a great job with the bull pen. His scouting staff deserves some credit for the BP too.

Somebody should bottle and sell what Mariano Rivera has done for the Yankees for the past 14-15 years. Totally amazing! Maybe Storen can have that kind of career.

Presuming (there's a lot of presumptions in this)that Flores starts out in he minors next year, and does well, catching could become the relative strength for the Nats that the BP became this year.

JaneB said...

These guys collectively give me such joy. Start with I'm not groaning every time they had to go to the bullpen, like the old days. I think I watched more games, last year, only the the sixth inning, than I saw of full games. The seventh inning was always a disaster. I love to watch Clippard pitch ... How it looks like he might fly across the mound with the ball. I love the centeredness of Miss Iowa. The way Slaten looks at the mound as he's coming in.the economy of Storens motion. Burnett's set is beautiful. And Peralta, who scared me because I didn't know him. Love watching him at the end of the inning as he goes to the dugout with that little head bob he has. But mostly I love that they can keep us in the game this year. Thank you for writing about them and thank you to them and thank you to Rizzo for getting 'em here.

TheRealFrankL said...

It is feast or famine with the Bullpen, but that was true when Capps was here as well.

Clipp seems like a 4 out guy. Sure he did 5 yesterday, but for some reason whenever he gets to sit down and come back after the end of a half inning he looks like he struggles a lot more. Maybe he's just got too much time to psyche himself out, I don't know-but it does seem the 4th, 5th and (heaven forbid) 6th outs he's asked to get are incredibly dicey.

Anonymous said...

Love the bullpen. Slaten has transitioned into a great LOOGY and Burnett has proven much more valuable than I ever expected.

Those that are praising Lannan should watch out. Another outing, another game with a 1.50 WHIP. You can only walk a tight rope for so long.

NatsJack in Florida said...

I've seen more things positive in Lannan's last 3 starts. While 1.50 WHIP isn't good, he's usually gotten 2 outs before the hit or walk. I just wish he could avoid all the foul offs that always extend his pitch count.

As for the bullpen, count me as a believer. And God knows we're going to need them tonite with Marquis and his 2.45 WHIP and .410 BA against going (hopefully for the last time) tonite.

Steve M. said...

Mark, good observations on Ramos. This team needs some (good) lucky breaks as that is long overdue for this team.

Souldrummer said...

The bigger thing with Lannan is can he strike anybody out (5Ks last two starts) and can he get the grounders. He has shown something, but he still has to show more. He will really have to battle for a rotation spot. One thing in his favor is that he's young and he's under team control beyond next year. Hard for me to stay in the Livo business for more than two years and Marquis gets one more year. I'd love, love, love for Marquis to pitch well enough to justify sending him elsewhere with cash for prospects. To me, he's the Cristian Guzman deal waiting to happen next year unless we are in contention longer than I expect to be.

As for the bullpen, they've been great and I like their performance. The veterans are going to have a harder time sticking around, just like Mike MacDougal was sent packing after last year. Peralta's had an out of body experience this year. Slaten's getting up there, and Miguel Batista certainly doesn't need to be around if the rotation is going to be stronger next year. The rubber arm is pretty much his only asset. Stammen probably takes over that role.

My guess for next year's bullpen:
Balester (replaces Peralta)
Slaten (if he can battle off Severino and English)
Stammen (replaces Batista)
Being lefthanded gets another year out of Slaten for me. Younger Balester and Stammen can help fill out most of the depth. But I totally could see them moving on a more dominant left handed veteran arm than Slaten from outside the organization next year as well.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 11:32,

Your point on Lannan is very well taken; any pitcher who essentially does not have the strike out as a regular weapon will eventually get hurt. For most pitchers app. 30% of all balls put into play will fall as hits. Even the best ground ball pitchers can only achieve about 28%.Tim Hudson is at 24% this year which means that he is not only good but is having an insanely lucky year.

The point is that once a ball is put into play it's mostly luck as to whether it's a hit or not; the best, most succsesful pitchers use the strike out to remove the luck element from the process.

Feel Wood said...

I think we've seen all we need to see of Balester. And I'm sure Rickie Weeks and Mark Reynolds would agree.

Steve M. said...

Souldrummer - Your analysis shows the depth of the bullpen currently in team control which is encouraging for 2011 so Rizzo can concentrate on the team's biggest needs in the starting 5 rotation and 1st baseman and 2nd baseman and RF and reassembling a bench.

Tryouts start Sept 2010 for the 2011 rotation with Maya and JZimmermann. The team has to see, if they are what they need, which would hopefully lock up spots 1, 2 and 3 with Strasburg in the rotation. Spots 4 and 5 are wide open with that $7.5 million contract for 2011 with Marquis looming large.

Now with the Draft signings behind Rizzo, he can lock up the 1st baseman issue and check that off of his list.

Anonymous said...

who said you should judge a manager by his bullpen?

Tegwar said...

Clippard needs to cut down on his walks, if he does he could be a topnotch reliever. As for Lannan he generally stays healthy makes his starts eats 180 to 200 innings is left handed and has moxie. Slaten may actually get some competition from Chuck James who has almost been lights out since he has been moved to the bullpen and is almost 2 years younger. We should know more about where James is in the pecking order if and when he is brought up in September. Still I agree with Mark that having a veteran presence in the bullpen for next year would be a good idea. Being a closer is as much mental as it is physical.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Will you marry me, JaneB? You are exactly right on all counts. The bullpen is a joy, and Rizzo deserves kudos for first building it, then overstocking it to the point where we can survive a late game without a liter of Maalox and bourbon even with Mr. Capps toiling in the Twin Cities. Great post!

Anonymous said...


Severino is also left handed , as is Chuck
James ... I wouldn't count them out. Plus
we all want to see if next year's Mike Morse
Josh Wilkie makes the grade.

Doc said...

It sounds like the pitchers really liked tossing to Ramos.

So wad about Flores, are we supposed to stop wonderin' about him. It's like going on 2 years since he caught a MLB game.

Sec3MySofa said...

@Doc, yeah, you can pretty much stop wondering. Flores is still in Viera, and apparently hasn't gotten any better all summer. Sad.

Anonymous said...


I would be surprised if Flores ever played for the Nats again; I bet you he surfaces as someone's backup somewhere down the line. I think it's Ramos and Pudge next year (hopefully 60 - 40 split for Ramos) with Norris in the picture in a couple of years.

Norris is an interesting case; he is only hitting .225 with 10 HR's at Potomac but has an astounding OBP of .420; the guy gets like 2 walks every game. From what I read he is projected as a solid major league catcher; he will never hit for high average but will have good power numbers (20 - 25 HR's) and a high OBP as he has a very good idea of the strike zone already (The comparison projection was Mike Napoli).

He is also coming of Hamate surgery on his wrist and typically it takes about 1 full year for players coming of such surgery to regain their full power; I think Zim went through this a couple of years back and he did have a down power year following the procedure.

Nattydread said...

Thanks for this Mark. How do the Nats compare with the rest of the league in average IP/G from starters? Bottom third? I thought so.

JayB said...

Mark Says....."Point is, a mid season trade of an All-Star closer that might have derailed many clubs hasn't significantly damaged the Nationals."

My question is "derailed" them from what Mark? They are losing at the same rate or worse....If they were winning before and winning now then you might have a point....Losing before and losing after.....I don't get your point at all.

LoveDaNats said...


I agree with Sunshine Bobby. Your post reminds us of the unique individuals those boys are. I'm never gonna be a sabermetrics girl. There are too many intangibles that go into being a ballplayer. Thanks for the reminder.

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