Washington Nationals: Inability to develop pitching is killing organization
By Brian Foley
The Washington Nationals developed plenty of talented of pitchers who contributed to the team’s first playoff run, but now, that well has dried up.
The Washington Nationals 2018 season has had several flaws, from the manager Davey Martinez, right through to some heavily underperforming players. But at the heart of it, there could be a much deeper issue lurking.
Step back and look at the bigger picture. This isn’t about Martinez. This isn’t about Sammy Solis’ reverse splits. And this isn’t about Matt Carpenter. This is about a complete organizational failure to develop pitchers over the last five years.
Look at the current bullpen. You could argue there are actually zero pitchers on the team who can reliably get outs in a high-leverage situation.
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Let’s go back to Monday’s game in St. Louis. Even if Martinez issues an intentional walk to Carpenter to load the bases, the Nats would still have to deal with future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina right behind him. Solis is certainly better against righties, but I don’t love his chances with the bases loaded and one out. Greg Holland, who ultimately faced Molina after Carpenter’s bomb, was no guarantee either, and ultimately surrendered a rope to Molina that Wilmer Difo was lucky to stab.
Could any pitcher in the bullpen truly be counted upon more times than not in that spot? The answer is no. At a certain point, a pitcher just has to get outs, and the Nats do not have anyone who can do that right now.
While seemingly every other organization seems to pluck stud relievers off trees, the Nats have been forced to fill out their pen with middling free agent signings and hit-or-miss trades.
The New York Yankees seem to pump these fireballers out of some factory in the Bronx. The Boston Red Sox just plucked Ryan Brasier out of nowhere, but now he has a 1.13 ERA with a 97 mph fastball and is throwing in high-leverage spots.
Instead of this, Mike Rizzo picked up Holland and his 7.92 ERA, while the Nats should really at least have some young option coming through the system who can be called upon. Wander Suero has kind of been that guy recently, but he still doesn’t pitch in many big spots.
Look back at the talented, young arms of the past. Solis has totally lost it of late. Koda Glover has only briefly flashed promise in his various major league stints. Blake Treinen and Felipe Vazquez have turned into high-quality arms after the Nationals traded them away, but neither looked like they would ever reach this level in D.C.
Even on the starting pitching side, the Nationals have fallen short. Joe Ross was solid before succumbing to Tommy John surgery last summer, but he probably will top out as a mid-rotation arm at best. Erick Fedde has been extremely disappointing so far in the majors. Jefry Rodriguez doesn’t look to be much to write home so far.
Former top prospect Lucas Giolito has pitched dreadfully for the White Sox, and Reynaldo Lopez has not fared much better. Dane Dunning – the third piece of the Adam Eaton trade – looks good in Chicago’s farm system, but the bulk of his development has been coordinated by the South Siders.
While other organizations seem to frequently hit it big on top prospects and random minor leaguers alike, the Nationals have had no such luck. Did Washington use all their pitching luck on Tanner Roark, who has posted a 3.52 ERA in nearly 900 innings since 2013? It sure seems that way.
So now we flash back to the current roster. Martinez has not helped himself, but he essentially has no options. People mention Brandon Kintzler or Shawn Kelley, but it wasn’t too long ago that groans were let out when we saw those two on the mound.
Other contenders seem to have a stable of relievers or go eight starters deep, this Nats team came into the year with four reliable starters and three trustworthy relievers. After injuries and poor performances, the number of arms Martinez trusted quickly dwindled.
The lack of pitching available has been an organizational failure. The scouts haven’t recommended the right picks. The personnel department hasn’t developed enough arms. Of the pitchers who have reached the majors with a bit of juice, Rizzo has probably traded them away too quickly.
Still, Martinez hasn’t handled this year’s pen with the greatest care. And of course, the players themselves have failed to stay healthy and/or perform with any consistency in big moments. But on a deeper level, there needs to be a deeper talent pool to pick from.
This lost season will have plenty of memorable, heart-wrenching moments, many of which have come in recent days and weeks. But the season may have been lost five years ago when the organization failed to stop pumping pitchers through its own minor league pipeline.