Among Washington Nationals circles, the name Grant Balfour really does not mean very much. However, in recent days the former Oakland Athletics closer has had his name linked to our team here in D.C. as a potential landing spot for the 36-year-old right-hander.
— CSN Washington (@CSNwashington) January 19, 2014
Just a few weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles and Balfour had all but locked up a 2-year, $15 million deal to be the Birds new closer (former closer Jim Johnson was traded to the Oakland Athletics for second baseman Jemile Weeks). As the I’s were being dotted and the T’s crossed, the ho-hum physical that every new player takes revealed some lingering issues in Balfour’s knee and wrist. The information spooked the Orioles and the deal fell through.
Because of this ‘blessing in disguise’, the Nationals are now showing serious interest in making a move to acquire the hard-throwing righty. With the news of a botched physical, prices for the reliever are down, so now would be the time to strike. This interest the team is showing in Balfour furthers the notion that Drew Storen is considered expendable and the team is willing to trade him for the right price. But enough about rumors and roster moves, lets take a look at what the Nationals would be getting in fiery Australian.
In his final two seasons in Oakland, Balfour posted some extremely impressive numbers, including a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 144 strikeouts in 137.1 innings pitched. Last season, he boasted an ERA+ of 145, while the person he will likely be replacing (Storen) had a ERA+ of 84. If you remember my sabermetrics article on the subject, ERA+ is basically a measurement that takes into account a pitcher’s ballpark and his defense. Anything above 100 is considered above average, so 145 is extremely solid.
So, what type of roll would Balfour be expected to perform for the Nationals in 2014? Recently, it seems like GM Mike Rizzo wants Tyler Clippard as his eighth inning guy, but I would not be surprised one bit if Balfour took over that job. He may also do some closing if Rafael Soriano struggles at any point this coming year (he posted an ERA+ of 122 in 2013). Having him on the roster over Storen for the next 2-3 years would be a considerable upgrade in my opinion.
Let’s go over a quick scouting report of Mr. Balfour. His motion and delivery are very powerful and explosive, but his athleticism allows him to maintain proper mechanics through release point. His ability to hide the ball and tilt in upper body at release point allows him to pitch effectively to both righties and lefties. Balfour is an extremely passionate and vocal player on the mound and I feel this will help the Nationals both in the bullpen and in the clubhouse. Now we wait and see what happens.