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Do the Nats have a stealthy postseason bullpen option?

The Nats postseason bullpen seems to be set outside of the final spot. With a starter moving to the bullpen already, they could use that last spot on an extra position player. If they go the traditional route, though, they'll be deciding between Rafael Soriano and Jerry Blevins...... What if we could add another candidate to that mix?

Blake Treinen has been terrific out of the rotation this season both in Syracuse and for the Nats. If they're not happy with Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, or Ross Detwiler for those final bullpen spots, I'm sure Treinen could fill in just fine.
Blake Treinen has been terrific out of the rotation this season both in Syracuse and for the Nats. If they're not happy with Rafael Soriano, Jerry Blevins, or Ross Detwiler for those final bullpen spots, I'm sure Treinen could fill in just fine.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, I took a look at the options for the Nationals' postseason bench spots.

On Monday, Patrick asked us if Rafael Soriano belongs in the postseason bullpen. I voted in the poll (Yes, because the question was "Will" not "Should" he be in the postseason bullpen), but didn't really respond in the comment section because I felt the following question was something that required an in-depth look.

If Rafael Soriano isn't in the postseason bullpen, who fills that last spot? Is it Jerry Blevins and his 5.17 ERA? Could the Nats decide to go with Xavier Cedeno, who spent most of his time in Syracuse this season but was a lights out LOOGY? Will they decide that a seven man bullpen (including the loser of the rotation battle) is more than enough and carry a sixth bench bat? Is there some sneaky candidate that nobody is paying attention to?

These are all possibilities. At any rate, let's look at the seven guys who are probably going to be in the bullpen first.

  1. Drew Storen
  2. Tyler Clippard
  3. Matt Thornton
  4. Aaron Barrett
  5. Craig Stammen
  6. Ross Detwiler
  7. Tanner Roark/Gio Gonzalez

Breaking down the obvious choices

Storen, Clippard, Thornton, and Stammen are all fairly obvious choices. Storen and Clippard have formed a dominant one-two punch all season long. Thornton hasn't allowed a run since joining the Nats in early August. Stammen has been a mainstay in the Nats bullpen for years and is versatile enough to work multiple innings or be a shutdown short man in the bullpen.

Let's look at the less obvious choices that appear to have their spots sewn up:

Aaron Barrett

Barrett was strong out of the gate this season, but appeared to hit the "rookie wall" in July. From June 30 through July 27, Barrett appeared in ten games. He allowed at least one run in six of them. He spent August in Syracuse, but has looked terrific since his return, allowing just four baserunners (and two unearned runs) in seven innings. He's seen a lot of leverage work as one of the seventh inning setup men in September, and looks to have secured a spot.

Ross Detwiler

Before I looked at his game log, I was sure Detwiler belonged on the postseason roster. It feels like he's put those early season struggles behind him, doesn't it? In reality, Detwiler has pitched three games over the past calendar month (8/22-9/22) where he has allowed at least three earned runs. In fact, his ERA over the past month is 8.68. The expectation is that Detwiler really wouldn't be used in a game unless it's out of hand, but I'm not really so sold on him. Detwiler's season ERA (4.11), FIP (4.17), and xFIP (4.43) are nothing to write home about either.

Detwiler's big advantages are that he can work multiple innings (so can Stammen and whichever starter moves to the bullpen) and that he's left-handed (gee... so are Thornton, Blevins, and Cedeno). I didn't anticipate doing this before I started writing today, but I've talked myself out of Detwiler as a sure thing for the postseason bullpen.

The Candidates

Rafael Soriano

Soriano obviously makes us all nervous, and he has a major problem with his recent play.

1st Half 37 0.97 19 4 1 4 4 1 11 36 .153 .222 .226 .208
2nd Half 24 6.75 32 10 1 19 18 3 8 23 .311 .372 .525 .388

Yes... Those second half numbers are mortifying, though part of it is due to an insane .377 BABIP allowed (.207 in the first half, so this actually comes out to a fairly reasonable .287 BABIP allowed for the year). Of course, the eye test isn't helping much either. After watching outings like his "save" on Sunday in Miami, one could marvel that his second half BABIP allowed is only .377. Of the nine pitches he threw, four of them were down the middle.

Soriano seems to be having a lot of trouble keeping his velocity up lately. I'm not just talking about the fastball.

Soriano's slider has been in the 84-86 range throughout the entire season. In his past two outings, he's thrown nine sliders. Six of them were below 80 MPH. If this meant that he was getting more movement on the ball, that would be fine. However, his vertical and horizontal movement with his slider in those outings was actually down.

So Soriano is struggling with velocity, command, and movement. That doesn't seem like a great combination for a pitcher trying to make the postseason roster.

Jerry Blevins

Let's just get this out of the way early:

vs L 30 109 16 6 0 0 6 35 .155 .208 .224 .196
vs R 24 119 31 4 0 3 16 25 .304 .403 .436 .359

These are Jerry Blevins' numbers against lefties and righties this season. I'm well aware that his splits weren't nearly as egregious when the Nats acquired him this past offseason. I'm well aware that 54 innings is a pretty small sample and that relievers' numbers don't always necessarily have time to normalize over the course of one regular season.

The fact of the matter is that it's now late September and this is the pitcher that Jerry Blevins has been in 2014. He's a pitcher who, while capable of getting right-handed hitters out, hasn't done a particularly good job of doing so this season. If used as a left-handed specialist, he should prove more than adequate as a bullpen arm.

While most will assume that this is instead of Soriano, I think there's an argument that he should be carried instead of Detwiler. Detwiler doesn't have nearly the platoon edge over left-handed hitters that Blevins has shown. Detwiler's advantage (his ability to go multiple innings) is mitigated by the move of a starter to the bullpen. Detwiler just hasn't been all that spectacular for much of the season (or recently). Blevins is also more used to being used in a role where he's a left-handed specialist, even if he hasn't been treated as such this season.

This move would require one thing, and one thing only:  It would require that Matt Williams uses Jerry Blevins as a LOOGY! I did chop off the Runs Allowed for the lefty-righty split because, in truth, it's a split that doesn't make a ton of sense without context. For instance, a pitcher could allow 20 runs against LHH, but 15 of those baserunners could have been RHH that reached base against him. In that sense, it's kind of irrelevant. In Blevins' case, it might have made sense to include them. Why?

Blevins has allowed 22 runs with a RHH at the plate. He's allowed 9 runs with a LHH at the plate. More importantly, Blevins has allowed an All Star level triple slash line (.304/.403/.436) against RHH and has faced 10 more RHH than LHH this season. The fact that he's been allowed to face 119 RHH is a pretty significant problem. Again, I'd be all for carrying Blevins on the playoff roster over Soriano and/or Detwiler. He has to be a LOOGY, though.

Xavier Cedeno

Cedeno is clearly fourth on the depth chart among the Nats' left-handed relievers, as evidenced by the fact that he made just three appearances at the big league level prior to September. He's been brilliant both in Syracuse and in the majors this season, though. In 45.2 innings between AAA and MLB, Cedeno has a 2.17 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP, and a 62:12 strikeout to walk ratio. He almost certainly won't make the roster, but those numbers are pretty jaw dropping. Given that neither Blevins nor Detwiler have inspired much confidence in 2014, maybe he should have been given more of a shot.

I promised a stealth candidate, so how about Blake Treinen?

Not happy with carrying two of Blevins, Detwiler, and Soriano? Do you think they're too left-handed already to carry Xavier Cedeno? Fine. Let's check out some numbers:

Chiefs 80.2 7.14 2.23 0.45 .300 3.35 3.31
Nationals 46.1 5.63 2.33 0.19 .322 1.94 3.06 3.53

Sure.... We all want to think that Blake Treinen is a potential fit in the rotation moving forward, but that doesn't mean he can't help the Nats out of the bullpen in 2014. His strikeout rate is far from overwhelming, which may be the biggest indictment on him pitching out of the bullpen. Treinen would give the Nationals yet another option capable of throwing multiple innings if necessary, but I think that his contributions to the bullpen could be in more of a ROOGY capacity. More splits:

vs L 19 89 28 3 1 1 4 11 .329 .360 .424 .347
vs R 27.1 104 21 2 0 0 8 18 .223 .298 .245 .250

Again, we see a pretty pronounced split, with more than a 100 point difference in batting average and a 97 point difference in wOBA. Treinen has been incredibly effective against right-handed hitters, though, and he's taken advantage of every opportunity the Nats have given him to showcase his stuff. If you're dead set against Soriano but think that the Nats should carry another right-handed arm in the bullpen, is there really a choice other than Treinen to fill that spot?

Who should it be?

Much like the bench article from the other day, let's start with who I'd like to see make it. After breaking everything down, I'm still kind of undecided. Based on his experience and his performance over the entire season, it's hard to say Soriano shouldn't make the roster. However, he's been brutal lately, and recent performance has to factor in when I'm deciding who I want to carry for a short series. I'd be making sure Soriano gets three more outings this week. If he looks good, the spot is his. If not, I'll go in a different direction. I'd also like to see Cedeno and Blevins get an outing or two in a true LOOGY situation, assuming the Mets and Marlins comply.

At the end of the day, I'm going to go off the board. I'll take Blevins over Detwiler. I'll stick with a seven man bullpen. I'll carry an extra bench spot and give it to a pinch running threat like Michael Taylor or Jeff Kobernus.

Who will it be?

There hasn't been a lot of talk about Detwiler missing the postseason bullpen, which means I believe he's going to be there. It likely comes down to Soriano or Blevins for the final spot. I would think that this week will be important for both of them in determining who makes it. I would also think that the Gio Gonzalez vs. Tanner Roark "battle" for the final rotation spot could play a role in determining whether the Nats want that final bullpen arm to be right-handed or left-handed. I think they'll go with Soriano when everything is said and done.