For what seems like an eternity, the Nationals and bullpen problems have been synonymous with each other.
Over the years, Washington has been dealt meltdown, after meltdown, after meltdown. From Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS, to Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS and Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS, the bullpen has always been the team’s Achilles heel.
However, during the 2010s, Washington had the offensive firepower to overcome this setback. In a season full of heartbreak and disappointment, the Nats bullpen continues to stand out for its issues. At the start of the year, Brad Hand and Jeremy Jeffress were brought in to join Daniel Hudson, Kyle Finnegan, Tanner Rainey, and Will Harris in what was supposed to be a stout relief core.
Unfortunately, it has been anything but. Jeffress was cut, while Harris only made eight appearances before landing on the IL and has yet to return. Hand and Hudson were shipped out at the trade deadline and Rainey has battled multiple injuries. After a strong start as the Nat’s new closer, Finnegan has hit a rough patch.
From the start of the season till July 31, the Nats bullpen ranked 22nd in ERA (4.61) 20th in FIP (4.34) and fWAR (1.6), 27th in left on-base percentage (LOB%) (68.5%), 17th in saves (25), and 16th in blown saves with (15). But since the trade deadline, the bullpen is 28th in ERA (5.49), 29th in FIP (5.74), last in fWAR (-1.4), 26th in LOB% (67.1%), 28th in saves (8), and last in blown saves (15).
This off-season, like clockwork, the bullpen needs to be the main priority for Mike Rizzo and company. Even with a new young core who are going through growing pains, they have put the team in a position to win multiple games. Yet, the bullpen has rarely taken advantage.
This was on full display last night against the Marlins. Up 7-4 in the seventh, the lead immediately evaporated with Austin Voth and Patrick Murphy unable to get the team out of the jam. (One of the three runs scored that inning was unearned). Washington went on to lose 8-7 in ten innings.
The bullpen should be built around Mason Thompson, Tanner Rainey, and Kyle Finnegan, with Ryne Harper given an extended opportunity. Yes, those four have struggled at times, but they have the most promise.
Since being called up from AAA on Sunday against the Rockies, he has made two appearances, striking out six straight. Thompson who was acquired in the Daniel Hudson trade has impressive movement on his stuff, but needs to work on his command. Finnegan belongs in a seventh-inning role, while Harper has never been given a fair chance.
Even though the upcoming free-agent market will be littered with superstar position players, the Nats need to target relievers. A reunion with Daniel Hudson should be at the top of the team’s off-season plans. In 78.1 innings with the Nats, Hudson went 10-3, with a 2.99 ERA, 99 strikeouts, and a 3.81 FIP. This year, he had a 2.20 ERA, 48 strikeouts, and a 2.45 FIP before being shipped out to San Diego.
Two other relievers that should be on the Nats radar are old friend Craig Stammen and Aaron Loup. After spending the first seven years of his career in D.C., Stammen has spent the past five seasons in San Diego. This year he is 6-3, with a 2.90 ERA, 76 strikeouts, and a 3.94 FIP. Loup has been an excellent weapon for the Mets out of the bullpen. The lefty is 6-0, with a 1.00 ERA, 54 strikeouts, and a 2.40 FIP in 62 appearances.
Washington wouldn’t have to break the bank for the trio and would receive stability throughout all levels of the bullpen. For the rebuild to move forward, the bullpen needs to be addressed. Until then, the team will be stuck in a vicious cycle.