Washington Nationals 2015 Player Review: Matt Thornton

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As we continue our player reviews of the Washington Nationals’ 2015 roster, we are going to take a look at one of the left-handers in the Nats’ bullpen. Before the season began, Washington had a competition to see which lefties would fill out the ‘pen. They dealt Jerry Blevins away to the Mets for Matt den Dekker and they kept Xavier Cedeno on the roster while Rich Hill was sent to the minor leagues.

Throughout that competition, the one veteran that stayed as the lead lefty in that bullpen was Matt Thornton. Even though Felipe Rivero emerged as one of the top relievers on the team in the second half, the 39-year-old still had a good season. Thornton had a 2.18 ERA in 60 appearances (2-1 record) to go with a 1.06 WHIP.

Even though Thornton continued his domination of lefties (.198 batting average against), he was hittable at times. If you go back to the month of June (3.38 ERA in nine appearances), opponents hit .385 against him. In fact, during the two months where opponents hit over .250 against Thornton, those were the only two months he gave up home runs (June and September).

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When you look at his season close up, Thornton’s 2.18 ERA was the lowest he has had in a single season. However, if you look at it from a sabermetric standpoint, he did have a 3.52 FIP, but his 187 ERA+ was the highest he has had in a single season.

For a reliever that once had a dominating velocity on his fastball that would sometimes average at 95-96 miles per hour, Thornton had to make adjustments. This season, his average fastball velocity was 93.6 miles per hour (according to Fangraphs).

However, because of the lack of an overpowering pitch, Thornton used his slider and changeup more often. The left-hander threw the changeup about ten percent of the time, which was the most he has thrown that pitch since his first season with the Seattle Mariners in 2004.

With Thornton a free agent this offseason, it remains to be seen if the Washington Nationals will bring back a reliever who would be entering his age-40 season despite the team’s need for more bullpen arms. Plus, according to Thornton, it doesn’t sound like he wants to end his career anytime soon:

"“If I continue to go out and throw 60 games a year, then why not keep on doing it. I love another great group of guys here and getting to know everybody with this organization. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of this.” (h/t James Wagner, Washington Post)"

If it’s at an affordable contract, the Nationals should bring Thornton back into the mix because of his veteran presence. While he only struck out five batters per nine innings this season, he did show that he could get hitters out consistently with his offspeed stuff. All in all, Thornton does deserve a high grade for this season.

LHP. Washington Nationals. MATT THORNTON. B-.

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