Over the last 30 days, the Washington Nationals’ bullpen has posted the second-lowest ERA in the NL (3.02), the lowest FIP (3.01), second-lowest BB/9 (2.92), third-highest K/9 (9.80 K/9), the lowest BAA (.187), and lowest WHIP (1.00). It’s almost enough to make a fan of the team forget just how bad the bullpen was in the first half of 2017. Almost.
Mike Rizzo’s reconstructed relief corps was named Major League Baseball’s Bullpen of the Week by MLB.com on Monday afternoon, based on a system developed by, “.... an industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James,” who have, “... constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.”
The additions of Ryan Madson (currently on the DL), Sean Doolittle (11 for 11 so far in save opportunities with the Nationals), and Brandon Kintzler (1 ER in 10 IP with the Nats), have definitely settled things down at the back end of Washington’s bullpen.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo said recently he owed it to everyone involved to sort things out.
“This team grinded out so much and worked so extremely hard through a lot of trials and tribulations I felt that I owed the team to rectify a weakness on our roster,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN’s Sports Junkies earlier this month.
“We went out — our staff scoured the major leagues,” he explained.
“We logged a lot of scouting hours looking at — we focused in on about eleven bullpen guys throughout the league and we sat on them and watched them. We knew every move that they made and put these things together and tried to get ourselves who are the best one or two and it turned out to be three guys it turned out to be that we could get.”
Dusty Baker talked about the options he has available now, having seemingly settled on a set-up that’s featured Kintzler in the seventh, Madson in the eighth (until he was injured) and Doolittle in the ninth inning.
“What do you do, you’ve got three All-Star closers, you know what I mean?” Baker asked rhetorically.
“You’ve got to settle on somebody,” he said. “The roles could be interchangeable, but there hasn’t been the proper matchup to — or [there] hasn’t been the need to use the other two guys for a third day in a row. It’s worked out where games have been where they’ve gone two in a row, and plus I don’t like to anticipate problems before there are problems, you know? So, at some point in time I would like to get — especially on an occasion when Doolittle is not available to close, I’d like to get -- Kintzler — he needs two more saves to thirty. So I plan on getting that before the year’s end.”
As for how he settled on the roles for now, and chose Doolittle as the closer?
“He’s probably had — I mean Kintzler, how long has he been closing? And how long has Doolittle been closing? And I talked to Bob Melvin, and I talked to also [Mike Scioscia] on the opposing team and that went partially into my decision on where to put them and where they feel most comfortable.”
Baker is more comfortable too, knowing that he has the arms when he needs them, and with Shawn Kelley back now too, and Enny Romero on a rehab assignment, and some of the holdovers performing better, the Nationals have the depth that was lacking early this season as well, even if Madson is out for a longer period than previously expected as he deals with a troublesome sprain of the right index finger which didn’t respond well to the first test this weekend.
“These guys, they kind of know when they’re going to get used now,” Baker said of the holdovers.
“I was glad to see Kelley get his feet wet. [Joe] Blanton is throwing the ball better than he had been all year. It’s right on time. And just great to see everybody contribute. [Oliver Perez] threw the ball well, Sammy [Solis] threw the ball well, all of them threw the ball well.”
“You feel a lot more comfortable,” Baker said of life after the recent additions.
“Because you don’t have to necessarily match left/right, left/right and run out of your guys in the bullpen. You feel a whole lot more comfortable. And on the real good teams I’ve been on, we had that.”
Now the Nationals do too. But seriously, getting Madson back (nine scoreless, one walk, 13 Ks, .161/.212/.290 line against since joining Washington) sooner rather than later would be nice.