The 2023 season was one that showed encouraging signs of progress for the Washington Nationals. There are still maybe one or two seasons remaining to think about this team as a contender. Nevertheless, reaching 71 wins, the highest total of wins since 2019, is great progress.
Assuming the Nationals will not make a big acquisition for the bullpen, Tanner Rainey, Kyle Finnegan and Hunter Harvey will seemingly be the best relievers for the Nationals starting the 2024 season. It would be the first time this trio begin the season with the team, since Rainey was on the 60 Day injury list for most of this season and Harvey, acquired via waivers from the San Francisco Giants in March 2022, was in AAA Rochester at the start of the 2022 season.
Potentially the most intriguing of this bunch is Harvey. He was not initially Davey Martinez's pick to be the closer to start the 2023 season, however, after Finnegan's struggles, he became the closer in the middle of May and he stayed in that role until a right elbow strain sent him to the injury list for a month.
Harvey later returned from the injury list and all in all, had a great season. Harvey led the Nationals' bullpen in: fWAR, ERA, xERA, FIP and xFIP. Not to mention, his K-BB ratio was the best by a considerable margin as well.
In save situations, he outmatched Kyle Finnegan:
Hunter Harvey also was way better than Finnegan in medium and high leverage situations, where Hunter has a 22.1% strikeouts to walks difference, and a .271 wOBA against, compared to Kyle who posted a 9.4% K-BB% and a .321 wOBA against opposing hitters. Overall, Hunter Harvey's 23% K-BB% ranked 11th among the National League relievers in the past season. He was one of five relievers in the National League to be at least in the 80th percentile for K% (84th) and BB% (89th). In save situations, you will always feel more confident sending to the mound the pitcher with the best control numbers and being a elite power pitcher makes Harvey more dominant, thus, less dependant on the defense.
The Philladelphia Phillies' Gregory Soto (98.8 MPH) was the only reliever in the National League with a better four seam fastball velocity average than Hunter Harvey. He used his heater 10% less compared to 2022, mainly because this season he introduced a slider that helped him to be more deceptive, alongside his plus change up and his curveball. He has a larger repertoire than years past and knows how to use it. His .252 wOBA against opposing hitters ranked him in the top 4% in MLB, way below the .270 league average.
Another perk of having Harvey as the closer is using Finnegan in lower leverage situations, where he has been way better than when he is pitching in medium or high leverage scenarios.
Imagine using Finnegan in the seventh or the eighth, alongside with Tanner Rainey. This is his career performance in those innings, compared to the ninth:
While Finnegan did settle in later on in the season as the closer, his stuff has always played better in the 7th and 8th innings as opposed to the 9th. Hunter Harvey is the reliever with the best stuff and location on the Nationals and I believe it will be more valuable for the Nationals to use him as the closer.