Nationals Bullpen Woes Might Be A Quick Fix
April 12, 2011 in Uncategorized
If you've watch the Nationals this season it has been evident that their pitching is vastly improved this year. What used to be the Nationals biggest weakness has now become one of their strengths, except of course for their bullpen. Now it isn't the entire bullpen that is an issue, just half of it, but that is the half that needs fixed if the Nationals are to remain competitive. Given the apparent power outage and injuries plaguing the Nationals offense, fixing the bullpen is even a greater priority.
Now on the good side of the Nats bullpen is the usual suspects, LH Sean Burnett, RH Tyler Clippard, and RH Drew Storen. Combined the three pitchers have given up just one earned run in 20.1 innings pitched. They are averaging just under a strikeout per inning pitched and have a combined WHIP of 0.70. While I don't want to fully lump him with the top three guys, LH Doug Slaten has been pretty effective as well. His walks and hits are higher than you want to see, but he has spread them out (or other relievers have finished off the innings) so that none of them have translated into earned runs. Slaten also has looked pretty good in terms of strikeouts, so hopefully that will balance out the walks.
On the flip side the Nationals have RH Todd Coffey, RH Chad Gaudin, and RH Brian Broderick, who haven't been so hot. In a combined 11 innings, they have given up 14 earned runs. To put that in perspective they have pitched 13% of the Nationals innings, but have accounted for 37% of the earned runs. Their combined WHIP is 2.27, and only Gaudin has shown any ability to really strike guys out. And while normally you'd look at Gaudin's high K rate and expect him to be effective down the stretch, he has the worst HR, BABIP (batting average on balls in play), GB%, and the 2nd worst BB% on the team.
I think the Nationals need to shake up their bullpen now and not just hope that these stats normalize. And I should preface this by saying that I believe to some extent these stats will get better, and Gaudin won't have an ERA over 8.00, but I still think some changes need to be made, because Broderick, Gaudin and Coffey are the weak links in the Nationals bullpen armor. Here are the changes I'd look to make:
1. Complete a trade with the Cardinals to allow the Nats to send Broderick to the minors:
Although Broderick has been nothing short of horrible in his 2.1 innings pitched, I would rather not see the Nationals give up on him entirely. I know the easy solution would be to just offer him back and take the 25K return fee, but Broderick could be worth keeping around longterm. He won't ever be a starter, but his stuff could play up in the bullpen, and I think it is worth the shot. He is just 25 (will turn that later in the season), and this is his first go at transitioning to the bullpen. Given the productive Spring Training he had, and his age I think it would be worth offering the Cards some financial considerations (i.e. 100K) to see if you can retain his services. Also by doing so, it will allow you to keep him in the organization in case of a rash of injuries to the bullpen later in the season.
2. Recall RH Henry Rodriguez from his rehab stint to fill Broderick's spot:
Rodriguez looks to be ready, after a Spring Training where he wasn't even close to being effective. Whether the neck injury was legitimate or just a way to get him some more work before facing big league hitters. In 4 innings he has 7 strikeouts and has given up just 3 hits with no runs. Although I'm still not sure that he is over his "Wild Thing" command, he is easily an upgrade over Broderick, and will give the Nats yet another potential back end reliever.
3. Cut Chad Gaudin:
If I thought you could trade him I'd suggest that, but at this point I feel one of Gaudin or Coffey needs to go and I'm going to say Gaudin is the one who draws the short straw. I know he can be a long reliever and that he has some decent major league experience, but the peripheral numbers are pretty bad, and while it is a small sample size they look pretty similar to his numbers last year. If Gaudin will accept an assignment to AAA that's great, but if not I don't see it as a huge loss. I can definitely see the case for cutting Coffey as well, but just think that Gaudin makes a bit more sense.
4. Bring up RH Colin Balester to take Gaudin's spot:
Balester probably should have made this team out of Spring Training, but the fact that he still had a minor league option worked against him in the numbers game. Balester has completely remade himself as a valuable reliever for the Nationals system. Last year in 21.0 innings down the stretch he had a 2.57 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. He followed that up with an impressive ST, where he allowed just 2 earned runs in 11.1 innings. So far in AAA in 5 IP he has not allowed a run and struck out 6.
Given his previous experience as a starter Balester could fill in the role of a long man if need be, but he looks to be a pretty good high leveraged reliever going forward. I would much rather see any innings that Gaudin was to get, go to Balester.
I know some people might say it is too early to do something drastic like cutting Gaudin, but we gave it a shot and now it is time to move on. Guys like Balester and Rodriguez are the Nationals future and if they are ready there is no reason not to use them. Also, releasing Gaudin could add a roster spot that could be used to add another minor league bat, that very well could be needed.