Sean Doolittle has been the only reliable arm in the Washington Nationals bullpen through 20 games. Despite his success, are the Nats overusing Doolittle?
The Washington Nationals bullpen has been a clear disaster 20 games into the 2019 season. If you have watched even five Nationals games, you likely have seen at least one bullpen collapse.
As a whole, the Washington bullpen holds a 7.41 E.R.A., worst in all of Major League Baseball. Opponents are hitting .293 against the Nats pen and in 54 innings have given up 45 runs and walked 30 batters.
Through trial and error, Washington has attempted to find the perfect 7-8-9 combination to close out games, but still, 20 games in there seem to be no clear answers in sight.
The lone bright spot in the Nationals bullpen has been the success of their All-Star closer, Sean Doolittle. In 2018 when Doolittle was forced to the disabled list with a foot injury, Washington watched its bullpen implode before its very eyes.
The Nationals knew that they needed a healthy Doolittle in the backend of their bullpen for it to be a success, and so far he has been healthy and producing like one of the best closers in the league. In 10 appearances Doolittle has given up just one run which has him holding a 0.90 E.R.A. and a 1.400 WHIP.
The left-hander clearly has been the All-Star the Nationals needed at the back of their bullpen, but a big question has arisen from Doolittle’s usage at the beginning of the season. With such a bad pen is Nationals manager Dave Martinez using Doolittle too much?
A great example of this is Sunday against the Miami Marlins. The Nationals started the ninth with a 5-0 lead, but Martinez felt the need to pull Kyle Barraclough with the two outs to bring Doolittle in to ensure Washington closed out the game.
Now I understand Martinez’s feelings. With all the collapses the bullpen has had to this point, it makes sense to be extra careful, but at some point, you have to let these other guys sink or swim and think about the long-term ramifications on your All-Star closer.
Doolittle has appeared in half of Washington’s games through the first 20 of the 2019 season, clearly on pace to break his career high in appearances of 70 back in 2013, but he is not the same pitcher he was back then.
The All-Star’s fastball velocity has been down this season, and while still being successful, it is clear injuries and age have taken a toll on the left-hander.
If Washington wants any chance at making the postseason, they need a healthy and productive Sean Doolittle down the stretch. To ensure this, they need to be more careful about how much they are using their All-Star this early on in the year.