Bullpen Report: July 16, 2017

It’s officially that time of year. A deal was struck between the Oakland Athletics and Washington Nationals on Sunday that sent relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nats in exchange for Blake Treinen and two prospects.

That the Nationals made a move for bullpen help doesn’t come as a surprise, but Doolittle and Madson weren’t necessarily the most obvious candidates. Now that the deal is done, the question is: who’s going to serve as closer for a Nationals bullpen that has struggled so mightily this season?

According to SB Nation’s Federal Baseball, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was non-committal:

“I’m not sure. I’ve got to talk to [A’s manager] Bob Melvin. Like I said, both of them have closed, I know both of them have had some arm problems in the past, so it could be both of them, you know what I mean, so we’ll see.”

Although Baker wouldn’t name an official closer, it would appear that the job will go to one of the two newly-acquired relievers from Oakland.

Doolittle is seven years younger than Madson, and he has the strikeout stuff more typical of a closer. He’s striking out nearly 40 percent of batters faced this season, and his career mark is north of 30 percent. He’s always been exceptional at limiting walks, too, as his 4.8 percent career walk rate indicates. He’s also managed to limit homers to the tune of a career 0.78 HR/9 despite being a fly ball pitcher.

When he’s healthy, Doolittle is an elite reliever, but arm injuries have limited him to just 64 innings since 2014. He has spent time on the disabled list this season with a strain in his throwing shoulder.

Madson, meanwhile, has pitched at least 60 innings in each of the last two seasons and already has 39.1 innings this season. This year, he’s featuring a career-high 27.1 percent strikeout rate, and he’s struck out 20.8 percent of batters he’s faced in his career. Like Doolittle, command has never been an issue, as his 7.0 percent career walk rate indicates. Perhaps most impressively, Madson hasn’t allowed a home run per nine innings or worse in any single season since 2006, when he was still a starting pitcher. His consistently excellent home run prevention is made possible by his sterling 48.4 percent career ground ball rate.

Since Doolittle is the more electric of the two, he will probably get the first shot at save opportunities. His recent arm issues and flyball tendencies, however, make him the riskier option. Should Doolittle falter, or if the Nationals decide to go the safer route from the start, Madson is a reasonable ninth-inning option who could do well if called upon. Stay tuned for updates on how this all shakes out.

On Saturday, Alex Claudio picked up his third save of the season for the Rangers. With a 1-0 lead in the ninth, right-hander Jose Leclerc walked the leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain on four pitches, and so the lefty Claudio was summoned for Eric Hosmer. He struck out Hosmer, then got Salvador Perez to hit into a game-ending double play. On Sunday, Claudio pitched a scoreless bottom of the eighth in a tie game. Claudio has emerged as a possible closer for the Rangers, as Al Melchior pointed out on Friday. He doesn’t boast exceptional strikeout stuff, but he does have a terrific 63.5 percent career ground ball rate that allows him to limit homers and induce weak contact.

The Cardinals are going to a closer by committee, but it didn’t work in their or Brett Cecil’s favor on Sunday. Cecil blew a one-run lead as he allowed two runs on three hits and a walk against the Pirates, and it’s a full-blown red situation in St. Louis. Seung Hwan Oh has struggled all season, especially against lefties, who have a .447 wOBA against him, so Cecil was brought in to face a lefty-heavy part of the Pirates lineup and couldn’t get the job done. Anchored by a strikeout rate near 40 percent, former closer Trevor Rosenthal has the best peripherals in the Cardinals ‘pen, so he should get a consistent opportunity to close at some point in the near future. He’s the most desirable Cardinal to target for now. Despite Sunday’s failed opportunity, Cecil may also be worth an add for those in need of saves, as he’s clearly in the mix for save opportunities moving forward. Cecil boasts solid peripherals in his own right.

Other closer activity: Aroldis Chapman notched his ninth save of the season. Kenley Jansen picked up his 23rd save in 1.1 innings of work. He struck out three. Zach Britton pitched a scoreless inning with the Orioles down six runs. He allowed a hit and a walk. Ken Giles allowed a run on a hit and a walk but picked up his 20th save of the season. Hector Neris allowed a couple of bloop singles to open the ninth with a three-run lead, but he closed things out with a strikeout and two popups. It was his eighth save. Justin Wilson struck out one in a perfect ninth inning in a tie game at home. David Robertson also struck out one in a scoreless ninth inning in a tie game at home. Edwin Diaz needed just 12 pitches to strike out all three batters he faced against the White Sox in the 10th inning to pick up his 16th save of the season. Bud Norris escaped a bases-loaded, one-out situation with the tying run on third base. He allowed a run but notched his 14th save.

Closer Grid:

Closer First Second DL/Minors
ARI Fernando Rodney Archie Bradley J.J. Hoover
ATL Jim Johnson Jose Ramirez Sam Freeman Arodys Vizcaino
BAL Brad Brach Zach Britton Mychal Givens
BOS Craig Kimbrel Joe Kelly Matt Barnes Carson Smith
CHC Wade Davis Koji Uehara Carl Edwards Jr.
CWS David Robertson Tommy Kahnle Anthony Swarzak Nate Jones
CIN Raisel Iglesias Michael Lorenzen Drew Storen
CLE Cody Allen Andrew Miller Bryan Shaw
COL Greg Holland Adam Ottavino Jake McGee
DET Justin Wilson Alex Wilson Shane Greene
HOU Ken Giles Will Harris Michael Feliz
KC Kelvin Herrera Joakim Soria Mike Minor
LAA Bud Norris Cam Bedrosian David Hernandez Huston Street
LAD Kenley Jansen Pedro Baez Luis Avilan
MIA A.J. Ramos David Phelps Kyle Barraclough
MIL Corey Knebel Jacob Barnes Carlos Torres
MIN Brandon Kintzler Taylor Rogers Matt Belisle Glen Perkins
NYM Addison Reed Paul Sewald Jerry Blevins Jeurys Familia
NYY Aroldis Chapman Dellin Betances Adam Warren
OAK Santiago Casilla Liam Hendriks Daniel Coulombe
PHI Hector Neris Pat Neshek Luis Garcia
PIT Felipe Rivero Juan Nicasio Daniel Hudson
STL Seung Hwan Oh Trevor Rosenthal Brett Cecil
SD Brandon Maurer Brad Hand Ryan Buchter Carter Capps
SF Sam Dyson Hunter Strickland George Kontos Mark Melancon
SEA Edwin Diaz Nick Vincent Tony Zych
TB Alex Colome Tommy Hunter Brad Boxberger
TEX Matt Bush Jose Leclerc Alex Claudio Keone Kela
TOR Roberto Osuna Ryan Tepera Danny Barnes Joe Smith
WSH Sean Doolittle Ryan Madson Matt Albers Koda Glover

[Green light, yellow light, red light: the colors represent the volatility of the bullpen order.]

Ben Kaspick is the host Locked On Giants, a daily San Francisco Giants podcast on the Locked On Podcast Network. He is also a former contributor for the baseball statistics and analysis websites RotoGraphs and Beyond the Box Score. Follow him on Twitter @BenKaspick.

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Cat Tesla
5 years ago

In a points league (SV 8) (HD 4) (K 2) (BS-6) would you rather Doolittle or Rosenthal?

John Morgan
5 years ago
Reply to  Cat Tesla

Probably Rosenthal.

Just by Steamer:

Rosenthal: 78 points for Ks, 20 points for holds, 56 points for saves, and it’s hard to say for blown saves. 154 points.

Doolittle: 48 Ks, 12 holds, 0 for saves (which is probably wrong.) 60.

Doolittle is likely a matchup dependent closer in a committee. Rosenthal could win the job outright before next Sunday. The two are dead even as measured by every metric but SIERA. Rosenthal’s SIERA is still excellent. And Rosenthal is the more consistently healthy of the two relievers.

Turd Furgeson
5 years ago
Reply to  John Morgan

agree totally. probably use both, doolittle if theres a lefty due. I don’t think the nats are done though & bet both end up in a setup role.