Monday, September 20, 2010

Bullpen help needed?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Drew Storen could be the Nats' closer, but he may need some backup.
It's been without question the strongest area of the their roster all season, but the Nationals' bullpen is far from a perfect unit, as we saw yesterday in Philadelphia.

Drew Storen's ninth-inning meltdown -- four batters, four hits, four runs, game over -- was both staggering and not terribly surprising at the same time. As good as Storen has been this season, the rookie right-hander has not gotten many opportunities to close. And he certainly hadn't faced anything like the scenario presented to him yesterday: trying to protect a ninth-inning lead in a hostile ballpark against the heart of the two-time defending NL champs' lineup.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, the Nationals needed to see Storen in that situation. And Storen needed to pitch in that situation. The only way to find out whether the 23-year-old has the, uh, "onions" to close in the big leagues is to throw him into the fire and see if he comes out unscathed.

Yesterday, Storen got burned to a crisp. Now, the Nats need to find out what happens the next time he finds himself in that situation. Does he let thoughts of this blown save creep into his mind and allow it to happen again? Or does he have that character trait required of all great closers to flush his failure down the toilet and come back strong the next time?

Jim Riggleman was talking the other day in Atlanta about Storen and his bullpen in general, and the experience they've gotten this season.

"It's a good bullpen," the manager said. "It's still evolving. There's still some work to be done. Drew Storen's got a chance to be a real good one down there. But he's going through a learning process of locating his fastball and so forth. It's a talented bullpen that I think this year is really going to pay dividends as they move into next year. There are several guys we know will be back in that bullpen next year who will have a lot of experience this year in big situations, and it's going to help for the future."

Indeed, the Nationals could enter 2011 with Storen, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard, Joel Peralta, Doug Slaten, Collin Balester, Craig Stammen and maybe even Miguel Batista all in the mix again. It's rare for a bullpen to boast such continuity.

But is that group good enough? As good as their collective numbers have been, might there be something missing?

"Mike Rizzo and I have talked about it a little bit," Riggleman said last week. "We probably need one more veteran-type presence there. [Matt] Capps came and did that for us this year. I know Mike is always going to be trying to improve the club in any area he can. It is a young group, and next year's another year under their belt, but it's still going to be a young group. Another Capps-type person to come in and help out would be huge."

Indeed it would. Last winter, the Nationals desperately needed an experienced closer to come in and seize the ninth-inning role. They don't necessarily need that again if Storen proves capable of handling the job.

But you always want to have a fallback option in case your best-laid plans don't come to fruition. Ideally, the Nats could acquire a veteran with closing experience who could step in to pitch the ninth if needed but would be comfortable pitching in a setup role if not.


Mr Baseball said...

I totally disagree with the mind set of MLB managers and their use of closers. You should have at least two, with the idea that it one is during well (Clippard, 11 pitches in the eightth) let him pitch the 9th, also. The next night is Storen comes in the eighth and does well let him pitch the 9th. There is no written rule that a relief pitcher can't go more than 1 batter or more than 1 inning. I still say you wear pitchers by going 1 inning almost everyday. They still are using pitches by warming up before going into the game! There arm has to bounce back with rest sometime!

Milo said...

I've been paying serious attention to ML baseball since 1968. I know some players, usually pitchers, have to finally grow up through OJT in the bigs, but the process is too often still one of the more excruciating life passages to watch. Storen will be OK, and I thnk a very good short reliever, sooner than later. In the meantime...oof.

Josh said...

I don't think the Nats should mess with what has been one of the best bullpens in the majors this year (seriously, look it up, it is fifth-lowest in ERA). I do agree, though, that Storen shouldn't be closing, but not because I don't think he has the mentality for it--it is because he lets too many men on base by walking them, doesn't strike out enough, and gives up enough fly balls that when they start turning into home runs he will look a lot less impressive than he does this year (as we saw in the ninth inning yesterday afternoon). I agree that there should be no "designated closer" unless we have a reliever who is far and away better than anyone else on the staff, like Mariano Rivera or Joakim Soria.

dj in Fl. said...

You can never have enough bullpen arms and a veteran with the right stuff is a real plus. I do not like it when our late inning guys pitch two, because they seem to rarely make it through two. Given the fact that most bullpen guys are short a pitch to be a starter I would rather have another arm ready for the ninth, since those on the bench have seen him throw his best in the previous inning.

ps Dunn says talks are picking up on his new deal

Harper_ROY_2012 said...

I agree one hundred percent they need a "bulldog" veteran presence like Capps in the bullpen for 2011.

I think Peralta, Storen, Clippard and Burnett will have some role in the 2011 opening day bullpen but I doubt any of them will be the closer.

I also think we need some better long relievers for next season.

It made me laugh the other night when Ray and Carpenter were amazed by the fact that the Phillies had guys who pitched one inning each and had assigned roles in the bullpen. This was a laughable observation because that is how major league teams are suppose to use their bullpen!!! However, that being said it shows how far the stasrting rotation needs to come in 2011.

Finally, I fear that only Livo and Lannan are viable starters for 2011 and there will be three wildcards in the rotation to start 2011 with the usual suspects we trotted out in 2010 in the mix for those three spots.

Steve M. said...

Luckily this Free Agent market is strong on the bullpen.

The Nats will be able to take the 5th best bullpen and improve it further.

MikeHarris said...

Well, they had better than "another Capps like" guy. They had Capps. Only 26 and already a pretty darn solid closer. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ramos, Ramos, Ramos. Is he so good that you give up a young and proven bullpen leader?

I don't think so. But he's a lot cheaper than Capps would have been next year.

Anonymous said...

@ Steve

Can you list the potential free agents who have mad bullpen skillz?

Tim Cullen said...

Livo ain't gonna be around forever guys. I think he is on fumes now.

As DJ can never have enough arms. Storen needs some movement on his fastball and get a third pitch. 93-95 ain't doodily to these MLB hitters if it don't move.

We also need a "lights out" lefty. One to bring in against the Howards etc. I hate to say it....but an Aroldis Chapman

Anonymous said...

I see where Jason Werth has taken Scott Boras as his advisor. Could that Nats be in his future?

Anonymous said...

Mike Harris,

People like Capps and Gregg and other tier 2 relievers are always available on the market; a no. 1 catcher is a very rare commodity; the only reason the Twins made this deal is that they have Mouer and at that every single analyst has called this deal a steal for the Nats. Incidentally; as I recall Capps also went through a stretch where he blew about 4 saves in a week; he was very good but not a tier 1 closer.

I agree with Jimmy 1000%; the concept of a closer is Way over blown; unless you have a Rivera or one of the other tier 1 closers (there are less than half a dozen of them) you mix and match as needed. The Nats are blessed with several really good relievers and when they are pitching well I don't see a need to take them out.

SpashCity said...

The following guys will be free agents after the season (from MLB Trade Rumors' 2011 Free Agents Page):

Octavio Dotel
Frank Francisco
Brian Fuentes
Kevin Gregg
Trevor Hoffman
Chad Qualls
John Rauch
Mariano Rivera
Rafael Soriano
Billy Wagner
Kerry Wood

I think it's pretty obvious that Rivera isn't an option, and I think I read somewhere that Billy Wagner is retiring after the season. I don't think any of the other guys are considerably better than what the Nats have in the bullpen right now. Maybe Fuentes or Francisco.

Anonymous said...


There will be others made available because their teams won't want to go to arbitration with them and thus won't tender them a contract (ala Capps).

A DC Wonk said...

People like Capps and Gregg and other tier 2 relievers are always available on the market; a no. 1 catcher is a very rare commodity

Yeah -- no kidding! Remember when folks here were blasting Rizzo for not having a "plan b" at catcher? Well, hello?, you have to give up something to get something. I think you're spot on, here.

Anonymous said...

'X' out 40 year old Batista and replace with lefty Chuck James who was spectacular down in AA after moving to the bullpen for the first time in his career.

Anonymous said...

They really don't need any of those free agent closers. Unless they plan on trading the closer to get something next year as they did this year.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 1:48,

Exactly right on both issues. I can't believe the over reaction on Storen. Rivera blew 2 saves this week for the Yankees; you think they are panicking in the Bronx?

Anonymous said...

For goodness sake , people, it was ONE game against the PHHHHHILLIEs, gosh darn it.That could have happened -- and has happened -- and will happen -- to any closer , even a veteran. They are a tough hitting team, gunning for another championship, playing in a zoo- like atmosphere. Give the kid a break - he has done very well since Capps left - so have the rest of the relievers, who we were worshipping about a day ago. Simmer down!

natsfan1a said...

Uh, yeah. (a) it's the Internetz; (b) they have considerably more at stake than the Nats. ;-)


Rivera blew 2 saves this week for the Yankees; you think they are panicking in the Bronx?

Harper_ROY_2012 said...

For those of you who do not believe in closers or at least do not think you need a designated one to be a contender please look at the teams in the pennant race right now:

Yankees - Rivera 29, rest of the team 7
Phillies - Lidge 23, rest of the team 13
Rays - Soriano 43 saves, rest of the team 6
Braves - Wagner 35, rest of team 4
Giants - Wilson 43, rest of the team 9
Padres - Bell 42, rest of the team 2
Reds - Crodero 36, rest of team 3
Rangers - Feliz 36, rest of the team 6

The only legitimate oddity that on the stands out is the Twins and they have 3 legit "closers" - Rauch, Capps and Fuentes. The Rockies appear to be an oddity but trades and injuries have played a factor into individual save totals.

Where do the Nats rank you ask!?

Nats - 34 team saves, amongst 5 individuals, most of those going to Capps 26. Yes, you read that right the Nats only have EIGHT SAVES without Capps meaning he is/was the designated close! To make things worse those 8 non-Capps saves came in 20 save opportunities, so I think that stast alone answers Mark's question..Yes we need bullpen help for 2011!!!

Anonymous said...

John Raunch.....I remember after a game at RFK. Me and my son were waiting for the players to maybe get an autograph. Well Raunch comes out in his shiny truck. Everyone crowded around and Raunch angrily put down his window. "Anyone scratches the truck and I'm not signing!" I just took my son away. Then announcer Don Sutton came driving by. We motioned to him and he politely stopped and signed my sons ball. A Hall of Famer to boot, and 3 times the pitcher Raunchy ever was

Mark L said...

Chuckled at your use of the term 'onions'. The first person to use that term, I think, was Bill Raftery. When they asked him why he used that term, he said " I have kids in college and need to keep my job".

Anonymous said...


It's amazing what you can do with statistics; if a reliever gives up the lead; say in the 6th inning that's a blown save. So people like Clippard; Burnett who don't actually get to close out games have many blown saves; Capps was only used in close out situations so while he had some blown saves he also had an opportunity to accumulate many saves wheras the others could only get blown saves but had no opportunity to collect saves.

There is no doubt that it's a good thing to have a shutdown closer but I think spending say 7 - 8 million on one is a great waste of resources for a team such as the Nats; if you can pick up someone like Capps for 2-3 million and then flip him; that's a good spend of money.

Raff said...

I don't believe in closers, Harper_ROY_2012.

Baseball Prospectus had an amazing article laying out this argument:

In brief, if closers are truly the best pitchers in the bullpen, they should be pitching in the most crucial situations -- and holding a 2-3 run lead in the 9th inning is NOT the most crucial situation.

The best relief pitcher should often be used earlier, BP concluded, and when the score is tied.

(Perhaps it's the case that pitchers pitch better when they know they have a specific role to fill. But I haven't seen any evidence that makes me buy that argument.)

Anonymous said...


I agree with you; I think that the difference between a good manager and a so-so manager is that the good one is willing to think outside the box while the so-so one always plays by the 'book'.

I would love to see a manager bring in his best pitcher in say the 6th inning with his team up by 1 and the other team has the bases loaded with 1 out rather than let a mediocre pitcher give the game away in that spot making the 9th irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Capps available when FA starts?

I really can't believe that Batista would be a candidate for antything next year. Olsen has done better recently than him.

Souldrummer said...

@Anonymous 6:27
You don't really want to bring Capps back. He's going to be much more expensive.

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