The Struggles of the Nats Bullpen

The Washington Nationals are seven games into the 2013 season and so far the
bullpen hasn’t looked as dominant as advertised. They haven’t made it a six or
even seven inning game. Rafael Soriano has one blown save and gave up another
two runs last night. The only two Nationals relievers with an ERA under 4.00
are Drew Storen and Ryan Mattheus, but at the same time no Nationals reliever
has pitched more than four innings. This is a cripplingly small sample size and
way too early to worry about anything. Tyler Clippard gave up all of his three
earned runs last night on a walk, a weak single, and a Paul Konerko homerun.

All night Phil Cuzzi had a tight
inconsistent strike zone and it shows in the fact that there were 15 runs
scored and a total of six homeruns hit in the game. Pitchers were forced to
pitch to the middle of the plate and when they didn’t Cuzzi was not going to
call a strike. Can’t complain as he was at least consistently inconsistent and
caused pitchers on both teams to pitch in the middle of the zone. Aside from
the poor zone of Phil Cuzzi, Clippard’s homerun was given up to Paul Konerko
who is one of the most underrated players of all time. Konerko has 423 career
homeruns and a career slash line of .282/.359/.498, and has never gotten the
credit he deserves as one of the better players in baseball. There is no shame
in giving up a homerun to Paul Konerko. The only bad part is that there
happened to be two runners on base, but some of that was out of Clippards
control as Cuzzi was only going to give the corners when he felt like it and
that was not a half inning when he felt like it.

That brings us to Rafael Soriano.
Soriano was one of the Nats pick off-season additions and in his last two games
he has given up four runs on four hits. He has given up homers to Shin-Soo Choo
and Alex Rios and an extra base hit to Joey Votto. Before all the injuries
piled up on Choo he was thought of as one of the top three right fielders in
baseball and a five tool player. Now he is leading off and playing center field
for the Reds and so far looks to have rediscovered the power stroke that made
him one of the most feared right fielders in baseball. Joey Votto happens to be
Joey Votto and there isn’t much to say about giving up an extra base hit to
him. When Votto stays healthy for a season he is going to finish in the top
five in MVP voting. He is, simply put, one of the top ten overall players in
baseball right now. Then there is Alex Rios who somehow has four homers so far
this season and is off to a scorching start hitting .407/.467/.852. Rios is
typically a hot starter with his best two months by OPS being April and May,
but since this is 2013 Rios shouldn’t be performing this well. In 2009 he has
an OPS of .691, .791 in 2010, .613 in 2011, and .850 in 2012. As this is an odd
numbered year Rios should be heading for an under .700 OPS, and there is still
time, but he is off to a good start and has had good seasons before.  

The Nationals bullpen overall hasn’t
been nearly as dominant as people thought, but it is also only seven games into
the season. Nationals relievers have a 6.85 ERA compared to 3.20 for the starters,
but it is way too early to pass judgment on how the relievers have performed.
The bullpen has given up most of its runs to the Reds, who might have the best
line-up in baseball, and six of seven runs last night to Paul Konerko and the
hot starting Alex Rios. Looking at who the relievers have faced and how they
fared is much more telling than looking at overall numbers and freaking out.
Soriano has given up two homeruns in four innings pitched giving him a 4.5 HR/9
on the season. His career average is 0.9 HR/9 and it is likely that he ends up
around that number by season’s end.

The overall results for the bullpen
don’t look good so far, but let those stats regress to the mean, look at the
Nats relievers career averages, and don’t worry about these guys. Soriano,
Storen, and Clippard all have career ERAs around or under 3.00, and Stammen and
Mattheus were two of the better surprises in the Nats bullpen in 2012. There
are few bullpens in baseball that are even that deep one through five, and Zach
Duke has done his job as a long reliever. When Dan Haren couldn’t get through
five innings and had already put the game out of reach Duke came in and took
the beating to save the rest of the bullpen. The Nats had a starter only go
four and then managed to use only three relievers. The stats for Duke won’t
look good, but his job as a long man isn’t to put up nice looking stats. It is
to pitch the innings after a starter surrenders a game and save the more
important relievers for another day. It is one of the more important and least
respected jobs in baseball.

A 6.85 ERA is nothing to be happy about but in total all Nats relievers have
only pitched 23 2/3 innings. For a comparison the 2012 Nats bullpen
pitched 515 1/3 innings. It would be prudent to wait until the bullpen has
pitched more than around the 5% of the total innings that they are going to
pitch all season. This is a talented and deep bullpen, and if the struggles do
continue then it is a near certainty that Mike Rizzo will look to resolve the
issue before the July 31 deadline.  




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  1. The extremes of the first 2 series, facing the best and worst the NL has to offer makes any kind of even super premature judgement on the Nats bullpen difficult, here’s a news flash, the Nats are neither as good as they looked vs the Marlins, nor as bad as they looked vs the Reds and ChiSox. I do find it curious though that twitter and the WaPo comment section are both full of doom and gloom based on SSS, yet no one is taking about how 1. Span’s .484 OBP 2. Ramos .923 SLG or Gio’s .82 ERA. Take the good with the bad folks, you get plenty in April.


    1. One of my thoughts on where all the doom and gloom comes from is that DC sports fans know the good won’t continue and fear that the bad will. Look at how many people before the season mentioned possible regressions for ALR, Desi, Gio, and the loss of Morse but never once mentioned the extra playing time of Werth, Ramos, Harper, more consistent production from Zim, possible breakout for Espinosa, and the addition of Span. Just look at Werth’s power production this season he has three homers in 29 PA where last season he had five in 344. I think it is safe to say he is going to top last season’s homer total. In most likelihood the Nats are who we thought they were before the season started and things good and bad are going to happen and end up balancing each other out.


      1. in contrast the @chopattack guy was saying how good the Braves will be once BJ Upton (and someone else) finally "get hot" and without even a smidgen of self awareness talks about Justin Upton’s Slugging %.


  2. Lots of other "funny" numbers on the Nats statpage after 7 games, Jayson Werth is yet to take a walk, Wilson Ramos is yet to strkeout, Gio has a 90% LOB% (JZim has 100% in one game, even in SSS Silly time you can’t make much of ONE game, right?), Strasburg has a 61.9% GB% and Drew Storen has pitched 3 games without allowing a BB. This is only for the Nats, if you want to see other silliness, check out Justin Upton’s SLG of 1.100, that’s not OPS that’s just Slugging (OPS is 1.524, which I’m TOTALLY sure will hold up for the season).


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