Aaron Barrett: 2014 Year in Review


Jul 31, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Aaron Barrett (30) throws during the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

For Aaron Barrett, 2014 couldn’t have started and ended under more extreme circumstances. From picking up his first win on Opening Day in his first Major League game to uncorking a wild pitch in Game 4 of the NLDS (and even uglier overthrow of Wilson Ramos when trying to walk Pablo Sandoval) that allowed Joe Panik to score the go-ahead run, Barrett made 2014 memorable one way or another.

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Barrett made the Nationals roster out of Spring Training and rewarded the Nats coaching staff by treating the first two months of the season like it was A-ball. Using a combination of a fourseamer, sinker, and a filthy slider, the righty recorded a team high 11.44 K/9 while batters hit just .217/.313/.261 against him. His slider proved especially troublesome as batters went just .161 with 21 of his 25 strikeouts. In his 21 appearances through the season’s first two months, Barrett allowed runs in just two of them and had but four outings where he failed to strikeout at least one batter (three of those four outings were he faced two or fewer batters).

In June, he saw his first real struggle when he allowed three earned against the Giants, but it was at the end of the month into July his struggles began in earnest. He allowed runs in three straight outings and in six of eight. He was sent down to Syracuse to limit his innings and he returned in September pitching well again.

In terms of stats, Barrett finished the season 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA. Eh, whatever. What do those really mean anyway? He tossed 40 2/3 innings spread across 50 appearances, allowing batters to hit .220/.312/.293 off of him, though his .311 BABIP allowed was behind only Craig Stammen of the bullpen regulars. His 10.84 K/9 did lead the bullpen however, and that sinker/slider combo allowed just one homer, fewest for anyone making regular appearances. His 4.43 BB/9 also lead the team (even more than Gio Gonzalez, yikes!), but looking at his minor league numbers there’s not much to worry about. He wasn’t Dennis Eckersley coming up through the ranks, but he wasn’t Mitch Williams either.

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Even though strikeouts are as plentiful as sunflower seeds in today’s game, Barrett’s 10.84 K/9 ranks 38th all-time for rookies with 40 or more innings pitched. Of course, take that stat for what it’s worth considering the abundance of strikeouts and how relievers are used in today’s game, but it’s fun. Enjoy that one.

Both Barrett’s fourseamer and sinker sit comfortably in the 94-95 mph range with the ginger-bearded Hoosier relying predominantly upon his sinker and especially so to left-handers. He throws his slider, as noted a particularly nasty pitch, roughly a third of the time, and it causes batters to miss roughly 29% of the time. Barrett will throw his slider in all counts, but with two strikes it’s almost a certainty it’s coming.

His change is a work in progress.

Looking forward to 2015, Barrett should take a primary role in the Nationals bullpen. The Rafael Soriano rollercoaster has likely run its course and Barrett would slot in nicely in the seventh inning. If the Royals taught us anything this postseason, a well-defined bullpen hierarchy of competent relievers can be murder on opposing batters, and triple-headed monster of Barrett, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen can match up with just about anyone in terms of efficiency. That is working under the assumption that Storen will remain the Nats closer. Since it’s doubtful GM Mike Rizzo will allocate resources to an expensive reliever (think Andrew Miller) the seventh-inning role is Barrett’s for the taking.

The worry for 2015 is if there will be any lingering confidence issues for Barrett after the Game 4 struggles. These guys are human. Sometimes issues last a while. On the extreme is someone like Rick Ankiel who was never the same after his 2000 postseason meltdown, and to a lesser degree there was Brad Lidge. For help coping, Barrett could always speak with Storen who experienced his own postseason failures (2012 and Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS) and see how he put the past behind him.

Another pitcher Barrett may want to discuss pitching philosophies with is teammate Clippard. Both pitchers bring the ball down to their hip prior to the drive toward the plate, which can lead to timing issues and a touch of wildness. Early in his career, Clippard was walking batters in the 4+ per nine range, and he’s brought that down to more manageable numbers over the years. It would serve Barrett well to follow suit.

The good news for Barrett is that pitchers that strike out a lot of batters tend to do well. Of the qualified relievers in 2014 who had a K/9 of 10 or better, only two produced an fWAR below replacement level. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but of the 537 pitchers who appeared in relief (qualified or otherwise) fewer than half recorded an fWAR above zero. Barrett’s 0.6 for ’14 was tied for fifth for the Nats bullpen arms, just a tick behind Soriano’s 0.7 in 20 fewer innings.

Striking out batters and being relatively competent provides value.

Barrett’s spot in the Nats bullpen is all but assured for ’15, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect his strikeouts to remain in the 10 K/9 range with a slight decrease in walks. The .220 average is subject to the vagaries of randomness, but with his stuff a decrease in that .311 BABIP is a pretty safe bet.