On December 11, 2013 Jerry Blevins came over to the Nationals for speedster Billy Burns, to be Washington’s left-handed reliever. The one thing that makes Blevins stick out from most left-handed relievers is that he can face both left and right-handed batters with pretty good success. Of course, righties are going have a better clip against him more often than not, but he does a good job of pitching a full inning if need be.
That didn’t change in 2014 as Jerry Blevins pitched to both with regularity, with right-handers having six more plate appearances than lefties. His 2014 season wasn’t as good as 2013 at first glance because of the glaring ERA near 5.00, but if you look closer he had a bit of bad luck along the way.
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He produced a ground ball rate of 38.8%, his best since 2008 with the A’s. Where things start to get of whack for Blevins is when you look at his BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. Batters hit .306, when putting the ball in play, the highest against him since 2010. That could have been due to bad positioning, or just bad defense altogether on the infield. Bad defense doesn’t always mean errors made. Bad defense is a ball that was misplayed but was ruled by the official scorer as a hit. While we are on the topic get rid of official scorers, they are all just guessing anyway. But, when a pitcher is getting that many ground balls, more of them should be outs.
According to Mark Simon of ESPN, the Nationals had a very good infield defense when it came to making plays. This includes misplays on balls, that weren’t recorded as an error. They also keep track of good plays. The only issue on the infield defensively was Ian Desmond, who ranked 30th among shortstops on defense this season.
As you can see by the above graph from FanGraphs, most of the ground balls put in play were toward Desmond. That doesn’t mean that they were all misplayed, but Desmond’s range isn’t the best either. According to FanGraphs he has a below average range for a shortstop, meaning that other shortstops make more plays than him on balls not hit directly at them.
Something to keep in mind is the amount of line drives that Blevins gave up as well. Most of the batted balls you see on the above graph is either a ground ball or a line drive. More often than not a line drive is going to be a base hit. Those base hits with the good outfield defense that the Nats had should become singles. Then after a line drive a ground ball double play, but that didn’t happen often enough for Jerry Blevins.
It will be key to watch next season how the defense plays when Jerry is on the mound. It seems that this season he was a victim of really bad defense. The amount of ground balls he gets is in the Doug Fister range, but he isn’t getting Doug Fister results. I will be sure to keep track of Mark Simon and his graphs and charts on Twitter with defensive statistics, because something has to change for Blevins.
Nonetheless Blevins had a good season being in the National League for the first time. He turned in a FIP, of 2.77, the lowest of his career. This was due to striking out nearly 28% of batters he faced over the course of the season. This was also the highest it has been at the Major League level. Strikeouts, in my opinion need to be the focus going forward. Striking out a batter takes all the luck away from the play. If you can do that more often than not, you will find great success.
In the postseason Blevins was unblemished in three and one-third innings striking out two. He doesn’t have too many postseason innings, but when he has pitched in the postseason he has been solid. Having him be able to pitch against lefties and righties is key in the postseason, knowing every out is an important one. Nationals fans know that all too well.
Jerry Blevins will be back in a Nationals uniform in 2015, for how much money is yet to be determined as he is arbitration eligible. According to FanGraphs, who use WAR to estimate how much a player is worth, have Blevins at $4.1 million. I don’t see him getting that much, but could see him in the 2-3 million dollar range.
Predicting a season for a reliever is very difficult because you don’t know how many appearances a player is going to make, and with those appearances how many innings will they turn in. For 2015, the Steamer at FanGraphs has Blevins making only 40 appearances. He has made at least 60 in three consecutive seasons, but with Matt Thornton now in the bullpen for a full season that number could come down a bit. I don’t see it being as low as 40, but in the 45-50 appearances range.
They have his BABIP back down to normal, because of the luck factor in that statistic, along with his ERA just above three. Having Matt Thornton and Blevins in the same bullpen will benefit them both, and the results should show over the course of a full season. Look for a bounce back season for Blevins in 2015 just like the one Denard Span had this season.