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Washington Nationals’ 2018 bullpen: Should Nats bring Matt Albers back?

Signed to a minor league deal last January, and then re-signed in March, after he was released, Matt Albers came up in early April and stuck around all season, putting up solid numbers in the Nationals’ bullpen.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Now-former Washington Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker was fond of referring to Matt Albers as the “find of the year” in baseball, which was funny/odd, considering that the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran was a fairly well-known commodity in the majors before he signed a minor league deal with the Nats last January. But you know what he really meant.

Albers actually opted out of the deal with the Nationals on March 27th, then returned to the organization on a one-year deal that paid him $1.15M if he was in the majors, and included several performance bonuses and opt-out opportunities.

The right-hander spent the 2015-16 campaigns with the Chicago White Sox, posting a 1.21 ERA, 3.48 FIP, nine walks (2.17 BB/9) and 28 Ks (6.75 K/9) in 37 13 innings in 2015 and a 6.31 ERA, 5.80 FIP, 19 walks (3.33 BB/9) and 30 Ks (5.26 K/9) in 51 13 IP in 2016.

He was in the majors with the Nationals by April 10th this past season, and ended up putting together an impressive campaign, posting a 1.62 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 17 walks (2.30 BB/9) and 63 Ks (9.30 K/9) in 63 games and 61 IP.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Albers held opposing hitters to a combined .165/.240/.280 line (.171/.267/.316 vs left-handers and .162/.224/.259 vs right-handers), down from a .317/.389/.574 line against in 2016 (.299/.395/.585 vs lefties and .318/.376/.549 vs righties).

He finished the 2017 campaign ranked second among NL relievers in WHIP (0.85), with the second-lowest BAA (.165) and third-lowest ERA (1.62, behind only Phillies/Rockies’ righty Patt Neshek, 1.59, and the DodgersKenley Jansen, 1.32).

Albers was in the midst of a stretch of 17-straight scoreless appearances (August 8th-September 16th) when Baker praised the reliever’s work as part of the Nationals’ pen, after acknowledging he had no idea how long the scoreless inning streak was at that point.

“I was just enjoying the ride that he’s on,” Baker said. “Every good team that I’ve been on, you got to have somebody to come in and get — you play the games to get to the middle relief of another team, because the starters are usually tough, the back end of your bullpen is usually tough, the set-up man and the closer, so I always say, if you can get to the team’s middle relief before they get to the back end, then we’ve got a heck of a chance.”

“Our middle relief happens to be pretty — very good,” Baker added.

“And I think [Albers] can handle almost anything, especially the fact that he was set-up man and closer prior to the trades, so almost every situation we’ve brought him into he’s — man, he’s done an outstanding job. Like I said, he was the find of the year for baseball.”

Albers capped his season in D.C. off with his first career postseason appearances in the Nats’ NLDS loss to the Chicago Cubs, tossing 2 13 scoreless innings in which he gave up just one hit and a walk, retiring seven of the nine batters he faced.

With the right-hander a free agent once again, should the Nationals consider a reunion, and hope that Albers will produce similar results as a 35-year-old? His velocity was right there with career averages, sitting 93-96 mph with his sinker (.154 BAA) and four-seam fastball (93.8-96 mph, .209 BAA), mixing in his slider (87 mph, .186 BAA), and changeup, which he threw just 49 times, along with one curveball.

Albers’ .203 BABIP-against was a career low, down from .259 in 2015, .326 in ‘16, and a career average .289.

For what he will likely command, is it worth the risk for the Nationals to bring him back, adding a durable right-handed arm to the mix in the middle or back of the bullpen?

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo was definitely impressed with Albers’ work this past season, telling 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in September the righty was a great pickup, who took the minor league deal and then earned his spot on the big league roster.

“He not only made the club, he cemented the bullpen when we needed him most,” Rizzo said.

“And then when we got some reinforcements, has continued to be a key contributor, getting key outs at key times, and is gonna be a big part of us going into the playoffs.”

Rizzo also said he was a great teammate and good member of the clubhouse, but once he gets on the mound...

“When he gets on the mound, though, he’s all business,” Rizzo said. “You see him — he gets fired up when he gets some big outs, and those are the kind of guys that we like.”