Washington Nationals: Matt Grace makes himself almost indispensable
By Blake Finney
Matt Grace is next up to receive his 2018 report card. The lefty reliever managed to have something off a breakout season and now seems almost indispensable
The 2018 report cards for the Washington Nationals are rolling right along here at District on Deck. In this edition, we look at one of the most underrated Nats from 2018, Matt Grace.
The left-hander seemed to establish himself at the major league level in 2017 with 40 appearances for the Nationals, registering a 4.32 ERA. Then this season, he was able to do even better with 56 appearances to go along with a 2.87 ERA.
The reliever entered the year out of options, and given the promise he had shown previously, he had a chance to cement his big league spot. It’s fair to say that he grabbed that chance with both hands and is now seen as an integral part of the bullpen.
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The Positives for Grace
Grace’s command was absolutely outstanding during the 2018 season as he did everything you could want from a stable reliever. He pounded the strike zone at a startling rate with 67 percent of his pitches going down as strikes, and the percentage of his pitches seen in the zone was 53.2% when the league average was 43.0%. He dotted the corners of the zone and forced the issue on the hitters perfectly, which meant he had the most successful season of his career.
The left-hander was a perfect fit for the Swiss Army Knife role in the bullpen, being able to fill multiple needs. He had 15 multi-inning appearances throughout the year, including a superb four inning, one-hit effort against the Boston Red Sox when starter Erick Fedde had to leave early. He had eight holds during the season and had successful six LOOGY appearances. He really could do it all for the Nats and will be a valuable piece moving forward in that regard.
Areas for Improvement
The only real legitimate knock on Matt Grace is that he arguably doesn’t strike out that many batters, with just a 7.2 K/9 out of the bullpen. A lot of which can just come down to not having elite stuff in comparison to other modern relievers. His fastball sits at 91-92 mph, a changeup at 86 mph and a slider at 82-83 mph, but he does make the most of the arsenal he’s got.
Other than the lack of strikeouts, the only other thing that didn’t go as well as expected was his health. He ended up missing almost a month with a left groin strain that had been bothering him for a while. Thankfully, he came back fine and was able to stay healthy the rest of the year, and isn’t likely to be a concern moving forward.
The Final Grade
Make no mistake, Matt Grace isn’t going to be a closer anytime soon. However, every bullpen needs the reliable guys who can either eat a few innings if a starter can’t go deep, or fill in with a small lead if other arms are unavailable.
Grace is exactly that kind of pitcher, and having a versatile arm who will pound the zone is invaluable to a team. He’s a virtual lock to be back on this team again after a stellar season in last campaign. A
Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.