Washington Nationals: Maybe it’s time to build a “Super Bullpen”

BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 30: Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 30, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 30: Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches in the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on June 30, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /

The Washington Nationals general manager, Mike Rizzo, added a big piece to the bullpen, but he might want to consider adding another to help bolster the team for the pennant run.

Over the last three seasons at the trade deadline, Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has added to the bullpen. This year was no exception.

They moved quickly to acquire hard-throwing right-hander Kelvin Herrera from the Kansas City Royals. He brings a pedigree of late-inning dominance with a history of playoff success.

Also, he was a member of one of the first “super” bullpens. The Royals introduced the trendy concept, playoff teams building shutdown bullpens.

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Their success was later mimicked by the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers resulting in playoff success.

It is generally thought, the bullpen can be the easiest part of a team to improve at the trade deadline and maybe that should continue to be the focus for Rizzo. So what do the Nationals need to have a “super” bullpen?

Late Inning Relief

First of all, you need to have a dominant backend of the bullpen. Closer Sean Doolittle and Herrera provide manager Dave Martinez with a nasty lefty-righty combination for late in the ball game.

Doolittle has held his opposition to a .130 batting average and has an 11.8 K/9. While Herrera came to the Washington Nationals owning a 0.818 WHIP and an 11.00 K/BB ratio.

Doolittle has an ever-growing case to be selected to the All-Star Game. While Herrera immediately showcased his effectiveness in his first outing for his new team. Overall, the business end of the bullpen is one of the best in majors.

Middle Relief

Secondly, you need to have solid middle relievers to bridge the gap from the starter to the setup man and closer.

After three mediocre seasons with Detroit and Colorado, Justin Miller has been “found money” for the Nationals. In 21 innings he has recorded 32 strikeouts and been handed the ball in some high leverage spots. His success is primarily due to a change in delivery.

In contrast, Brandon Kintzler and Ryan Madson have numbers that appear less than appealing. Both have an ERA over four. Also, Madson has seen an increase in both walks and hits allowed, while Kintzler has battled injuries.

However, their secondary numbers give hope for improved performance. The FIP for each player is around 3.50, which means they have performed better than their primary numbers indicate.

But most importantly, they have had a history of success in high leverage innings. As a result, there is a good reason for both pitchers to rebound to their norms.

Overall, the three relievers project to be a very effective middle relief core the remainder of the season. As well as, provide the Washington Nationals with other potential options for high leverage situations.

Lefty Relievers

Being able to neutralize tough left-handed hitters in high leverage situations is critical.

This is the part of the bullpen that may be the biggest weakness for the Washington Nationals. Sammy Solis and Matt Grace have been victim to the long ball, while Tim Collins hasn’t possessed swing and miss stuff this season.

Solis, prior to being optioned to the minors, struggled with too many walks (4.8 BB/9) and left-handers slugging to a .794 OPS. However, Grace (.333 SLG) and Collins (.133 BA) have had some success neutralizing left-handed hitters.


Thankfully, there is an excellent pitcher who could satisfy the need for another left-hander in the pen and is available. He is just a short drive down the I95, the Baltimore Orioles Zach Britton.

Yes, he has missed for most of the season due to injury and has struggled since coming off the disabled list. But as Eddie Matz of ESPN wrote despite his 7.04 ERA, there have been positives.

Six of his eight outings have been scoreless and he has been able to pitch on back to back days. Britton’s velocity and location have been down, but he believes that is due to missing spring training and playing catch up.

Britton has been one of the most dominant left-handed relievers in the game and he may be a great buy low, high reward candidate with the trade deadline looming.

For a team looking to finally win a playoff series and go on a run to the World Series, Mike Rizzo should be aggressive one more time in the reliever market. Bet on Britton pitching to his norm and acquire him before one of your competitors.

Next: Grading the Nats Bats

Create the Washington Nationals rendition of the Royals Herrera-Davis-Holland 2015 World Series bullpen with Britton-Herrera-Doolittle. Now that would be a “super bullpen”.