Washington Nationals Editorial: What The Nats Can Learn From The Royals


Last night, the Kansas City Royals clinched their first World Series title in 30 years as they defeated the New York Mets, 7-2 in 12 innings. With the hot stove season now officially underway, it’s a good time to take a look back and see what the Washington Nationals could take away from this series. For me, the main takeaway is the bullpen, which has been dominant for Ned Yost each of the last two seasons.

This postseason, the Royals’ bullpen went 8-0 with a 2.51 ERA and had 89 strikeouts over 64.2 innings. Keep in mind, Kansas City was without Greg Holland down the stretch because of Tommy John surgery, but they did not miss a beat. Whether it was closer Wade Davis, setup men Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson, or former starters Luke Hochevar and Danny Duffy, all of them did their job.

If you look at the World Series itself, Kansas City’s ‘pen held the Mets to a .193 batting average, went 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA and gave up five earned runs over 23.2 innings. Over the last two postseasons, the Royals’ bullpen is 15-1 with Brandon Finnegan taking the lone loss in Game 4 of last year’s World Series loss against the Giants (gave up five runs).

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In an era of baseball where starters are being limited because of innings and pitch counts, the bullpen has become essential in building a World Series champion. Teams are paying relievers more money because of the way Kansas City has utilized their bullpen.

When you look at the Nationals’ bullpen this season, they did finish with a 3.46 ERA (eighth in the National League), but they had the fewest strikeouts of any team in the NL. While the Royals put an emphasis on their bullpen, the Nats dealt away setup man Tyler Clippard this past winter to Oakland (even though they got Yunel Escobar in that deal) and demoted their good closer midseason, Drew Storen, when they traded for Jonathan Papelbon. Plus, Sandy Alderson did a better job at improving the Mets’ bullpen when he traded for Clippard and Addison Reed.

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Normally, you don’t want a team to spend a lot of money or give up their best prospects to improve a bullpen. But, with the Nats’ state of uncertainty as to whether Papelbon or Storen will be with the team in Viera in February, the bullpen is one of the top needs Mike Rizzo has to address this offseason.

They should get Craig Stammen back next season after he underwent forearm surgery in September and Felipe Rivero emerged in 2015 as being a good late-inning option going forward, but could the Nats look to trade for a Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman this winter to help shorten the game should Papelbon not be with the team?

Some of the pluses for hiring Bud Black for the manager job are because of his ability to handle pitchers and his ability to build a bullpen. From 2012-2014, San Diego’s bullpen ERA was in the top six in the National League, including a 2.73 ERA in 2014, which led the league. There’s young talent in the Nats’ bullpen, but Rizzo needs to add some experience to those group of young pitchers to try to build a ‘pen that could even come close to what the World Series champions have.