Imagining the Season with the Nats Current Bullpen

Like it or not, the Nationals bullpen may not change much before April. With the signing of Greg Holland by the Rockies, it’s starting to look like a well-known closer is not walking through that door, fans. So, are they doomed? Of course not, they have some obvious, in-house closer options.

And if you’re worrying about closer, you’re probably worrying about the wrong thing. They have guys who will make for perfectly cromulent closers. It’s just that, they have a thin bullpen. Acquiring a star closer would have both given them a star closerand pushed their current potential closers into 7th and 8th inning roles, leaving more room for unexpected poor play, or injuries.

So, let’s take a look, at what this bullpen’s season would look like in two different scenarios – one good, one bad – to see how good it might be, and how bad it might be.

Scenario 1: All Set

Starting with the the potential good scenario, the first thing to note is the obvious one – everyone stays relatively healthy. And when a guy gets hurt, it is short-term, and it’s next man up… they get by just fine. As for the individuals

  • Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen close out games, at least at the beginning of the year. I’m not saying they share the role, just that one does it, the other takes the 8th inning role, and they succeed at it. Lack of major injuries, and repeats of 2016 performances (2.28 ERA for Treinen, 2.64 for Kelley, who also had 80 Ks in 58 IP) keeps the back of the bullpen strong, albeit not necessarily intimidating / best in the league
  • Koda Glover is healthy and continues to develop. He had a strong debut after a really meteoric rise through the system. But he got rocked in September, and it turned out he was hurt, and didn’t speak up. A healthy Glover, if he is what we saw in August, could turn a decent bullpen into a very good one and could have people starting to talk about how he should pitch later in games
  • Trevor Gott gets good. He appears to have the stuff, and he definitely has the velocity. His numbers in MLB in September were good, but that usually doesn’t mean as much as we hope. And his AAA numbers this year leave something to be desired. But he’s young, and with another year under his belt, he figures it out and becomes another reliable late-inning type
  • Sammy Solis or Oliver Perez is effective against lefties. While you’d prefer both, you really don’t need it. If one can succeed, you’re just fine. Two might be needed in the playoffs, depending on the matchup, but a single strong lefty reliever is good enough for the season.
  • Either Tim Collins or Joe Nathan pitches just like they pitched before their injuries
  • Added bonus:
    • Edit: Bryan Harper, who allowed lefties to hit a measly .383 OPS against lefties in AAA last year (My mistake here, Harper had TJ surgery in November, so let’s play the same game with, I don’t know…) Matt Grace gets some playing time and proves to be an effective LOOGY

A wholly realistic scenario for sure. If the Nats can pull this off, they won’t mind not having a big name closer. They might get most of this and decide to do something similar to the Melancon trade, getting a guy like Steve Cishek or Jake McGee before their contracts expire.

But it depends on health and recovery from Kelley, Solis and Collins, and growth and improvement from Gott. They’d also be fine if most of these things happened and only one, maybe two didn’t. But much more than that, and it’s going to be a struggle.

Scenario 2: All Wet

Speaking of  struggle, here’s the alternative scenario that isn’t so hard to imagine:

  • Kelley or Treinen can’t hack it as the 8th and 9th inning guys all year. They’re both good enough that I’ll assume one will succeed, but even if just one does, it starts a domino effect that pushes everyone else up in the bullpen. Maybe Kelley gets hurt again. Maybe Treinen can’t find the zone again. Heck, maybe both, but realistically, let’s say one of these happen. Now, you’ll have a closer, but the rest of the bullpen has to step up for the 8th inning role
  • Glover’s rehab doesn’t go well, or he re-injures the torn hip labrum and ends up in surgery. Glover looks great, but can’t stay healthy enough to make a real difference this year
  • Gott continues to be unimpressive. 31 Ks in 39 IP in Syracuse last year. 27 in 47 2/3 with LAA the year before. That’s just not what you want from a guy who throws just above 96 mph. And so, he again doesn’t find it this year, and the Nats use him, but can’t really depend on him. Winds up a moderately effective middle reliever, with very streaky results
  • Solis seemed healthy despite his shoulder injury, but it was a shoulder injury… Let’s be nice assume he stays ok. But with one of the other guys out, he has to be used more and more against righties, due to lack of reliable arms. Except it turns out his isn’t so reliable against RHHs, and while he’s effective, he’s nothing special. Oliver Perez, meanwhile, is more June-August 2016 Perez than Apr-May/Sept 2016 Perez and just can’t be trusted even against LHHs. The Nats call up
  • Tim Collins just isn’t the same guy after TJ surgery, or his rehab has a hiccup and he isn’t even ready in 2018, let alone June
  • Joe Nathan isn’t good anymore

With the above issues, the Nats have to turn to a bunch of second-tier guys who aren’t ready or may never be. They end up with way too many innings from journeymen Rafael Martin, and Josh Outman, the wild but 100+mph fastball throwing Jimmy Cordero who looks really impressive as he walks everyone, and unproven lefties Bryan Harper and Matt Grace , whose stuff doesn’t translate to the majors.

Collectively, they don’t look awful, but the Nats blow too many leads to keep up with the rest of the NL East, and a close race turns on its head and they actually lose the lead after blowing a few games… oh wait now I’m just reading the 2015 obituary.

The Nats are not doomed to repeat 2015’s fiasco in the bullpen. First of all, they can’t even trade for Papelbon if he’s not on a team. In all seriousness, they have some real talent there, even if the names aren’t going to impress anyone. They had solid bullpen numbers last year, albeit with Melancon. Kelley and Treinen just have to continue doing what they’ve been doing, Solis and Glover just have to be healthy, and one or two more things have to go their way for it to look quite good.

But the problem, at the moment, is that the alternative is way too possible. Getting another reliable arm, even if it’s not a closer, just to prevent the thin bullpen from being run through, seems prudent. Until that happens, I think I’ll pray that Koda Glover is about to be a big time star.

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