After Washington’s relief corps put up an NL-worst 6.08 ERA, a 4.72 FIP (the NL’s 4th worst FIP), a .277 BAA (also the worst in the NL), and 1.55 WHIP (an NL-worst WHIP as well) in the first-half of the 2019 campaign, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo acquired three relievers to try to bolster the bullpen, adding Daniel Hudson, Hunter Strickland, and Roenis Elías to the mix.
In the second-half of the season, the eventual World Series winners’ relief corps posted a combined 5.24 ERA (2nd-worst in the NL), a 5.19 FIP (the 3rd-worst), a .251 BAA (the 4th-highest), and an ugly 1.40 WHIP (which was the NL’s 5th-highest WHIP after the All-Star Break).
So, clearly, the bullpen was an area of need as the defending champions built their roster for the 2020 campaign, right?
“I think that it’s part of our offseason plan,” Rizzo told reporters at the Winter Meetings.
“That’s one of the holes that we have to fill, and we’re certainly going to be aggressive to address the needs that we have.”
While Rizzo declined to offer specifics when asked what he was after this winter, Manager Davey Martinez said he wanted a back-end-of-the-bullpen arm who could complement in-house closer Sean Doolittle, and bolster a bullpen that figured to feature arms like Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elías, and Wander Suero.
According to reports last night, Will Harris is the reliever Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office landed on, with the 35-year-old veteran getting a 3-year/$24M deal from the club that beat Harris’s Houston Astros in the 115th Fall Classic this past October.
Harris finished the 2019 regular season with a 1.50 ERA, a 3.15 FIP, 14 walks (2.10 BB/9), 62 Ks (9.30 K/9), and a .196/.246/.294 line against in 68 games and 60 IP, appearing in at least 60 games for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and topping 60 innings for the third time in that stretch, over which he’s put up a 2.36 ERA and a 2.99 FIP. He did give up home runs in each of his last two appearances in the World Series, including Howie Kendrick’s eventual game-winner in Game 7, after he’d allowed a homer in Game 6, but before that he’d tossed nine scoreless postseason innings for the AL champion Astros.
A.J. Hinch, who replaced starter Zack Greinke with Harris in the top of the seventh inning in Game 7, with a 2-1 lead after Anthony Rendon homered and Juan Soto walked, talked after a 6-2 loss to the Nationals, about what the reliever meant to the Astros during a five-year run with the team.
“I’ll try to find some time to spend with him, because I hate that for him and for us that his last feeling this season is about as low as you can feel coming out of Game 7 of the World Series,” Hinch said.
“He’s answered the bell so many times. He’s gotten us out of so many jams. He’s been a go-to guy. He’s a stand-up guy. He’s somebody that you can certainly be proud. If you ever want to wear his jersey, you ever want to collect his baseball card, you ever want to go somewhere where he’s doing something good in the community, then you’re absolutely on the right track.”
Harris had a 54.6% ground ball percentage in 2019, working with a 92 MPH cutter (against which hitters had a .242 AVG), and an 82 MPH curve (.151 BAA).
Rizzo, after confirming that the team had discussions with Hudson’s representatives in a talk with reporters on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings last month, said one way or another that the defending World Series champs would improve their bullpen.
“I think we can upgrade,” Rizzo said. “We feel confident we’ve done it in the past. We’re going to be active in the reliever market still, and there are a lot of relief pitchers that we have targeted that we’ve identified that would be an upgrade for us that would help us.
“We think that we’ve got a lot of options in that part of our roster, and we’ll be looking to upgrade there.”
The addition of Harris certainly does that, giving the Nationals a late-inning arm who was a seventh and eighth-inning reliever for the Astros in 2019.
Are the Nats done adding high-end relievers now that they have Harris in the fold?