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Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams gets away with first questionable bullpen call of 2015

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You all knew it was coming. When Matt Williams made his first questionable bullpen call of the year, I was going to be on him about it. He got away with it as the Nats held on to beat the New York Mets 2-1 on Wednesday night, but he didn't leave this writer with a lot of optimism about his growth as a manager heading into his second season.

Blake Treinen looked pretty comfortable pitching the eighth inning in last night's 2-1 win over the Mets. Still, with Granderson and Duda scheduled to bat in the inning, Matt Williams should have gone to Matt Thornton.
Blake Treinen looked pretty comfortable pitching the eighth inning in last night's 2-1 win over the Mets. Still, with Granderson and Duda scheduled to bat in the inning, Matt Williams should have gone to Matt Thornton.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Nationals held on for a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets on Wednesday.  I don't want this to sound all DOOOOOMMMMMy. We should be happy that the Nats got a home victory against one of the stronger contenders in the division.  I'm pleased with the result, but Matt Williams' process still left a little something to be desired.

Williams made his first extremely questionable bullpen decision of the year in last night's win.  The Nats held a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth inning.  The Mets had the top of their order due up, which consists of Curtis Granderson, David Wright, and Lucas Duda.  Granderson and Duda are both left-handed.  Using both his minor league and major league numbers, let's have a look at Treinen's splits over the past four years....

Year BA vs. LHH OBP vs. LHH Slug vs. LHH BA vs. RHH OBP vs. RHH Slug vs. RHH
2014 .310 .358 .434 .231 .284 .274
2013 .286 .354 .455 .238 .270 .290
2012 .303 .338 .477 .250 .300 .395
2011 .269 .345 .385 .174 .208 .196

Those are some pretty drastic splits, aren't they?  We talked about his splits last month, so this isn't exactly new information.  Treinen has the potential to develop into a shutdown reliever, but the primary thing that he's going to have to do to really emerge as a leverage guy is figure out a way to get left-handers out.

As for the lefties he would face... Granderson is kind of a weird case.  His career numbers still provide us with some pretty gaudy splits (.268/.353/.503 vs. RHP, .228/.299/.409 vs. LHP), but he's actually been stronger against LHP the past few seasons than he has against right-handers.  While some of this is due to a smaller sample size against LHP (too small to correct itself), Granderson did draw praise for how much improvement he showed against left-handers back in his Yankees days.  I'd still rather attack Granderson with a lefty.

Wright bats between the two lefty sluggers, and his presence batting second is the one thing that keeps me from screaming, "Use the LOOGY!"  Wright has had significantly more success against LHP throughout his career (.340/.433/.572 vs. LHP, .284/.357/.468 vs. RHP) and the difference was even greater last season (.367/.412/.508 vs. LHP, .241/.299/.335 vs. RHP).  Wright is certainly capable of hurting any pitcher, but he destroys lefties.

Duda has spent much of his career as a platoon hitter, and it shows in his splits.  He mashes right-handers (.262/.362/.485 career, .273/.372/.543 last year) and hits lefties like Danny Espinosa hits right-handers (.212/.291/.317 career, .180/.264/.252 last year... with a K rate of over 32% in both).  In a game that's close and late, unless you're out of left-handed pitchers, there is absolutely no way Duda should ever face a righty.

So.... Treinen has poor career splits against lefties.  Two of the three hitters that were due up were left-handed hitters with career splits that are significantly better against right-handed pitching.  It's the second game of the year and the Nats had an off day on Tuesday, so both Xavier Cedeno and Matt Thornton were fresh.  Of course Matt Williams decided that Treinen was the guy to go to against that part of the order in the eighth inning of a one run game.

Treinen did escape the inning unscathed, so a lot of you will view this as one (of many) early overreactions by Jim.  It wasn't pretty, though.....

  • Granderson absolutely smoked a grounder towards the 3.5 hole that Ryan Zimmerman made an outstanding diving play to get to.  One out, but Grandy was BABIPed.
  • Wright was the one batter in the inning that you figured Treinen might have the advantage over, but he ripped a ball over Dan Uggla's head and into the gap.  Bryce Harper made one of his many fantastic plays cutting a ball off in the gap and held Wright to a single on what looked like a sure double.
  • Duda ripped one up the middle that Treinen made a terrific reaction play on.  He snagged the liner for the out and just beat a sliding Wright to the bag at first for a 1-3 double play.

Treinen actually did look pretty good throughout the inning.  He didn't look like a deer in headlights being thrown into a leverage role immediately.  His sinker/fastball had an easy delivery in the high 90s.  His breaking ball actually looked pretty nasty.  That said, all three hitters that he faced hit rockets that could easily have been hits if not for some stellar defense.

I like Treinen in a leverage role for the Nats, and I know that Matt Williams has a tendency to put roles ahead of matchups. I do think it's important for Williams to realize (quickly) that we're not dealing with an established setup man like Tyler Clippard here, though.  If he'd gone to Clippard to face Granderson, Wright, and Duda, I would have been less squeamish.  It wouldn't have been because Clippard has handled pitching the eighth inning (role) before, since that's kind of ridiculous.  It would have been because I would have been confident that based on what we'd seen from Clippard over the years, he was the best pitcher in the bullpen.  As much as I like Treinen, there's a little more doubt that he's far and away a better option to get that big out than Matt Thornton or Xavier Cedeno would have been... particularly considering who the opposing batters were.

Is it possible that Treinen achieves Clippard's level of success (or something close to it)?  Sure... I hope he does.  He hasn't yet.  If your best lefty (Matt Thornton) is fresh, he has to be the guy you use in that situation.