The Washington Nationals entered the offseason with a clear need for a left-hander out of the bullpen. Dan Jennings is the perfect man to fill that role
The Washington Nationals have lacked a left-handed reliever who can get fellow left-handed batters out since Oliver Perez departed following the 2017 season. Dan Jennings is the left-hander that the Nationals need to bring in to finalize the bullpen.
With less than $11 million to spend before going over the luxury tax, the Nationals can’t dip into the upper tier of the relief market. They can, however, afford to bring in a left-hander who will do a better job of getting left-handed batters out than Sammy Solis will do, and it will likely only cost a bit more than the $850,000 Solis is scheduled to make this season.
Jennings was non-tendered by the Brewers after turning in a season where he posted a 3.22 ERA through 64.1 innings. More notably, Jennings held left-handed batters to a .226/.266/.304 slash line last season.
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In fact, he was so good against left-handers that in a must-win game against the St. Louis Cardinals in late September, the Brewers decided to use him as a starter so that he could immediately face red-hot Matt Carpenter, who he got to ground out.
Solis, on the flip side, turned in a season where he sported a 6.41 ERA through 39.1 innings. Left-handed hitters hit .329/.398/.595 against Solis last year. Unfortunately for the Nationals, the only left-handed reliever currently on the roster who can consistently get fellow left-handers out is their closer, Sean Doolittle, and that’s going to need to change.
Jennings isn’t a strikeout guy, having only struck out 45 batters through his 64.1 innings this year. Jennings is a ground-ball pitcher who induced 10 double plays last season, which was good for 13th in the Majors for relievers and more than any Nationals reliever.
According to MLBTradeRumors arbitration projections, Jennings was projected to earn $1.6 million this season. When compared to the $5 million that Justin Wilson just received from the Mets, getting Jennings at $1.6 million would be a great value. For comparison, Wilson, who is more of a strikeout pitcher, posted a 3.46 ERA through 54 1/3 innings with 64 strikeouts, holding lefties to a .190/.301/.342 slash line.
Jennings actually held left-handed hitters to a lower OPS than Wilson did, holding them to a .570 OPS compared to Wilson’s .643. The only left-handed relievers that hit free agency this offseason with a better OPS than what Jennings posted were Oliver Perez with a .490 OPS, who will earn $2.5 million next season, Andrew Miller with a .556 OPS, who landed a 2-year $25 million contract and Tony Sipp with a .557 OPS, who is still a free agent and would be another good Nats target, albeit a bit more expensive.
Giving Dave Martinez a reliable left-hander to face Freddie Freeman, Robinson Cano, Michael Conforto and potentially Bryce Harper late in games against divisional rivals would be huge. Matt Grace did a fantastic job out of the bullpen last season, but his .258/.305/.315 slash line against lefties could be improved on, and Dan Jennings is just the man for the job.