Nationals Bullpen: Good Enough

The Washington Nationals are arguably the most complete team in baseball. They do have one area where they look considerably less impressive than the others – the bullpen. None of Washington’s relievers project to be elite and only one youngster seems to have the components necessary for a breakout. While relief isn’t a strength for the Nationals, it isn’t a weakness either.

It’s easy to dismiss, but starting pitching matters when it comes to relievers. Yesterday, I praised the Phillies bullpen. They’re going to need their talented relievers due to a scary rotation, especially if/when Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are traded. If they aren’t dealt, the disabled list is probably involved. Guys like Jerome Williams, Aaron Harang, David Buchanan, and Miguel Gonzalez cannot be counted on to pitch beyond five innings most days.

Unlike Philadelphia, the Nationals rotation will frequently pitch deep into the ballgame. With the exception of Gio Gonzalez, all of their starters can average between six and seven innings per start. Remember, at least for now, they have six really good starters too. With so much staying power, the Nationals bullpen doesn’t need to be extremely deep.

Between their potent starting pitching and offense, the club should run away with plenty of games. The Tigers employed a similar strategy last season and only suffered the downside in the postseason. As of this writing, the Nationals pen looks a lot healthier than the Tigers’ unit of 2014.

The Big Names

Drew Storen
Casey Janssen
Craig Stammen
Matt Thornton

Fantasy owners will hardly swoon when considering the most recognizable relievers in Washington. After scuffling with results in 2013, Storen buckled down last season. He posted 7.35 K/9, 1.76 BB/9, and a 1.12 ERA. A .259 BABIP, 3.7 percent HR/FB rate, and a left on base rate above 90 percent explain his 3.39 xFIP.┬áThere is more downside than upside in Storen’s profile, which is the main reason I’ll be letting others call his name on draft day.

Next in line is former Blue Jays closer Janssen. Injuries and poor performance left him on the free agent market until just recently. Last season, he was an extreme fly ball pitcher with an 89 mph fastball. Such pitchers aren’t common in the back end of a bullpen, especially if they don’t rely on a dominating pitch like a splitter. Janssen features elite command and control. He struck out nearly a batter per inning as recently as 2013. There is plenty of potential for a bounceback with a healthy season.

Neither Stammen nor Thornton are likely to inherit saves. Stammen’s best quality is the ability to pitch multiple innings. He’ll absorb a lot of late innings when the Nationals are up by four or more runs, saving the other relievers in the process. Thornton, 38, is on the other end of the spectrum. While he’s not truly a LOOGY, he was used as one last season. He appeared in 64 games and pitched just 36 innings.

The Rest

Jerry Blevins
Aaron Barrett
Tanner Roark
Blake Treinen
Taylor Jordan
Taylor Hill

Blevins and Barrett appear to be locks for a job while the role of long reliever will fall to one of the remaining four. Unlike Thornton, Blevins is definitely nothing more than a LOOGY. Last season, he allowed a .352 wOBA to righties compared to a .190 wOBA against fellow lefties. His career splits are much less dramatic, but he’s still a risky play against opposite-handed hitters. He’ll be used to get tough lefties in mid-game situations.

The only guy with big breakout potential is Barrett. He pitched well in his major league debut with 10.84 K/9, 4.43 BB/9, a 12.6 percent swinging strike rate, and a 2.66 ERA. Obviously, the walk rate is an issue. If he can halve it, he’s a closer candidate. As it stands, he’s of better use in the seventh inning.

Roark deserves to pitch with the big league club, but I assume they want him to remain stretched out to start. That leaves Treinin, Jordan, and Hill to cover long relief. It should be a scarcely used role regardless of the pitcher involved.

There are a few factors on the farm, but they won’t earn an opportunity until injuries arise.

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