I’ve mentioned it several times before, but the bench this season has been, to put it succinctly, stinky. Rather go into the details, I’ll just show you this list of how most of the backup outfielders have performed, when playing OF or PHing.
Seriously, there’s two bench hitters with an OPS over .611. One of them is Scott Hairston, who’s only batting .245/.268/.415, and one of them is Corey Brown, who has 11 PAs.
Now that we’ve gone over that, let me put a correction out there. There have been some great performances, even seasons, from guys considered “bench players.” These are guys that we never expected to contribute, and yet they’ve done so, and done so quite well.
The thing is, they aren’t sitting on the bench in the dugout. They’re sitting out on the bench in the bullpen. Ok maybe that’s not totally accurate, but you know what I mean. We typically think of bench players as position players, but the “backup” pitchers have done some truly great things this year.
And I’m not talking about any bullpen pitcher here. A guy like Tyler Clippard, who has been great this year, was always expected to play a big role with the team. I’m talking about guys who we didn’t think would have a huge role, maybe even guys we didn’t know about before they pitched for the Nats:
Tanner Roark – With his win on Tuesday, Roark improved his record to 7-0. But it was the game that he pitched that was really special. With only a 1 run cushion, Roark held the Braves scoreless through 7, striking out 6, walking 1 and giving up only 2 hits. In now 41 1/3 IP this year, he’s managed a miniscule 1.08 ERA and has simply been incredible. He’s a 25th rounder, traded for Cristian Guzman, who wasn’t considered a prospect even when he was brought up this year. As Adam Kilgore points out, he’s got some stuff, but it’s the command and the brains that have brought him here. He won’t be this great all the time, but he could be just plain good, which is something not many people expected.
Ross Ohlendorf – Ohlendorf paints the picture of the archetypal journeyman pitcher, a “6th starter”, a swingman, a barely acceptable starter that gives you innings in exchange for some, but not an overwhelming amount, of runs. For Ohlendorf, a career 5.10 ERA pitcher in 73 starts over 108 total appearances, this might have even been a high expectation (although not unrealistic considering his early time in Pittsburgh). Instead, he has managed, in 6 started and 9 other appearances, to have a 3.15 ERA. He is 4-0, and he has gifted fans by being better than any 6th starter while looking better, too, with a thoroughly mesmerizing old school windup.
Taylor Jordan – It’s hard to even think of him as a backup guy, after his 9 starts with a 3.66 ERA. But he was a surprise to most, a guy who didn’t make the Nats top prospect lists suddenly showing up in the majors with a devastating sinker. He finished the year with a 104 ERA+, while this is only good, not spectacular, his 1.39 GB/FB ratio was, ranking 7th among NL starters. That ERA is plenty good for a 5th starter, and at only 24 years old, the Nats probably see him as at least that next year.
Ian Krol – His numbers might not be spectacular, with a 3.95 ERA out of the bullpen, but for a team that started the season without a LHP in the bullpen, the 22 year old gives them faith that they’ll have one for a while. Perhaps he’ll figure out how to be more effective to righties as he matures, but for now he fits perfectly into that LOOGY mold, as evidences by his awful .304/.350/.607 given up to RH hitters, and his impressive .220/.273/.320 to lefties.
Fernando Abad – Another LHP who has been very useful out of the pen, Abad’s 3.09 ERA overall is better than Krol’s, as is his strikeout rate. He’s 5 years older, and may not be here for years to come, but he’s been very good this year, as yet another guy that wasn’t expected to get much, if any time, with the Nats this year. Curiously, he’s been much better against RHHs than LHHs this season, an aberration from the rest of his career.
Those are pretty darn good seasons from 5 different pitchers right there. It isn’t enough to make up for some of the lack of hitting, especially from hitters in similar spots as these guys were in at the beginning of the year. But either way, it shouldn’t be overlooked that there have been some very good, and very unexpected, performances this year from some very unknown pitchers.