Previewing the Washington Nationals Bullpen Heading into 2016


The Washington Nationals ranked tenth in all of baseball in reliever ERA last season. How is their bullpen shaping up heading into 2016?

As the calendar year comes to an end, I will be taking a look at where each of the components of the 25-man roster stand entering 2016. Next up: the bullpen, which fell apart towards the end of last season and was due for a much needed makeover this offseason.

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Jonathan Papelbon (35, bats right, throws right) owed $11 million in 2016

2015 Stats: Compiled a 2-2 record with a 3.04 ERA (4.87 FIP), 1.099 WHIP, a 6.1 K/9, 4.0 K/BB, 4 home runs, and 7 saves (9 opportunities) across 22 appearances in 23.2 innings pitched for the Nats after being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies on July 28th.

After the Papelchoke fiasco, not many imagined that Jonathan Papelbon would still be in the Nationals’ pen by Opening Day 2016. As the offseason has progressed, however, it is appearing more and more likely that the six-time All-Star remains put in Washington. If you put his off-the-field issues aside, Papelbon is still one of the elite closers in the National League; another All-Star season could be still be in store for him yet.

Set-up Man

Drew Storen (28, S/R) projected to earn $8.5 million in arbitration**

2015 Stats: Compiled a 2-2 record with a 3.44 ERA (2.79 FIP), 1.109 WHIP, an 11.0 K/9, 4.2 K/BB, 4 home runs, 5 holds, and 29 saves (34 opportunities) across 58 appearances in 55.0 innings pitched.

While his late-season collapse made career National Drew Storen a perfect change-of-scenery trade candidate heading into the winter, he, like Papelbon, has slowly watched his odds of changing clubs slim down. Granted he struggled in the eighth inning after giving up the closer role to Pap, but Storen was one of the top closers in the NL before being demoted to the setup role. The former number ten overall pick could potentially form the front-end of one of the more formidable bullpen combos in all of baseball.

Set-up Man

Shawn Kelley (31, R/R) owed $4 million

2015 Stats: Compiled a 2-2 record with a 2.45 ERA (2.57 FIP), 1.091 WHIP, an 11.0 K/9, 4.2 K/BB, 4 home runs, and 7 holds across 55 appearances in 51.1 innings pitched.

If you read through those numbers and thought they looked really similar to Storen’s, you’re not alone. 31-year old Shawn Kelley signed a three-year, $15 million deal with Nats in early December, bringing experience and a big sense of humor to a Washington bullpen that badly lacked both aspects in 2015. The former Mariner, Yankee, and Padre could fill nearly any role manager Dusty Baker plans for him, but will most likely be taking over 7th inning duties barring anymore offseason additions.

Lefty Specialist

Felipe Rivero (24, L/L) owed approximately $500,000

2015 Stats: Compiled a 2-1 record with a 2.79 ERA (2.64 FIP), 0.952 WHIP, an 8.0 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 2 home runs, 6 holds, and 2 saves (3 opportunities) across 49 appearances in 48.1 innings pitched.

After posting an impressive rookie campaign out of the bullpen for the Nats in 2015, Venezuelan-born Felipe Rivero heads into his sophomore season with high expectations. As the primary left-hander out of the bullpen, Rivero will most likely be tested early and often in high leverage situations to start off the season.

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Right-Handed Reliever

Trevor Gott (23, R/R) owed approximately $500,000

2015 Stats: Compiled a 4-2 record with a 3.02 ERA (3.74 FIP), 1.238 WHIP, a 5.1 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, 2 home runs, 14 holds and 0 saves (4 opportunities) across 48 appearances in 47.2 innings pitched.

Following his first season in the majors, 23-year old Trevor Gott was traded by the Los Angeles Angels alongside Michael Brady to the Nats for Yunel Escobar and cash considerations. With six years of control still left on his rookie deal, Gott provides the Nationals with a young arm capable of eventually developing into a dominant closer. For now, he will be a driving force in the front end of the bullpen bridging the gap to the late-inning relievers.

Lefty Specialist

Oliver Perez (34, L/L) owed $3 million

2015 Stats: Compiled a 2-4 record with a 4.17 ERA (3.30 FIP), 1.317 WHIP, a 11.2 K/9, 3.4 K/BB, 4 home runs, 10 holds, and 0 saves (3 opportunities) across 70 appearances in 41.0 innings pitched.

A former starter with the Padres, Pirates, and Mets, Perez rejoins the organization he rejuvenated his major league career with in 2011. While the left-hander finished 2015 on a sour note after being traded to the Houston Astros in August, he put together a 3.06 ERA in his previous three and a half seasons. He will most likely be taking on the main lefty specialist role, after holding lefties to a .194/.242/.290 slash line last season.

Long Reliever

Yusmeiro Petit (31, R/R) owed $2.5 million

2015 Stats: Compiled a 1-1 record with a 3.67 ERA (4.09 FIP), 1.184 WHIP, a 7.0 K/9, 3.9 K/BB, 11 home runs, and 1 save (1 opportunity) across 42 appearances (1 start) in 76.0 innings pitched.

Yusmeiro Petit signed a one-year deal with the Nationals after spending his last four with in San Francisco. An integral member of the 2014 World Series winning Giants, Petit boasts postseason experience as well as the ability to make spot starts on his resume. His main role will be in long-relief situations, and would be the next man up if any members of the rotation are struck by the injury bug. 

**Projections according to MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes