Washington Nationals: Matt Grace has become a valuable bullpen arm

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 06: Matt Grace #33 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Nationals Park on June 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 06: Matt Grace #33 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Nationals Park on June 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /
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In July, the Washington Nationals posted the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball. Matt Grace is a big reason for this and is now a very valuable reliever.

The Washington Nationals bullpen has quietly been a huge strength of the team so far in 2018. And going under-the-radar as a really valuable arm moving forward is left-hander Matt Grace.

Grace fired a scoreless inning in the big win over the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday night, issuing just the one walk. He lowered his ERA to 2.70 which is second to Sean Doolittle among Nats relievers that have pitched at least three times this year.

Sorry, Mark Reynolds, your 0.00 ERA didn’t qualify for that statistic.

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Grace’s best skill has been his ability to limit the long ball in his major league career. In parts of four big league seasons, Grace has allowed just seven home runs on 110 innings, good for a 0.57 HR/9 figure.

The main reason he’s able to have such success limiting the long ball is by consistently inducing soft contact from opposing hitters. Among pitchers who have had at least 100 batted balls, Grace ranks 283rd among 323 qualifiers in average exit velocity, according to Baseball Savant.

Essentially, this means he’s in the top 13 percent across the big leagues in allowing consistent soft contact. So while he has a BABIP of .276, which is a touch low by major league standards, it’s feasible he can keep it up with his ability to induce softly hit balls.

As well as Grace’s ability to make the hitter hit the ball softly, he’s been able to eat several innings at a time. This shone through when he went four innings in relief of Erick Fedde against the Boston Red Sox earlier this season.

In nine appearances of more than a single inning this season, Grace has a 1.45 ERA, compared to a 4.22 ERA in appearances of an inning or less. He’s filled the one role the Nats haven’t had all season, a true long man, with great success.

The role that Matt Grace fills now, is similar to that of former fan favorite, Craig Stammen. Now with the San Diego Padres, there was a good argument that he should’ve been a trade target for the Nationals. But now, with Grace, there’s less need to go out and acquire a long man.

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Matt Grace has been a very impressive bullpen piece over the last two seasons for the Washington Nationals. He’s shown good traits that indicate his success is here for the long haul.

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