With the upcoming “more free” Free Agency of Craig Kimbrel, one of the actual very best relievers in the current iteration of Major League Baseball will probably finally join a team. In June. Wild.
Maybe that team will be the Nats, who many suggested should have signed him in March, with questions about their bullpen abounding, and their current closer advocating for his signing. They should sign him today, or Sunday or whatever, because he’s great, and they desparetely need him, and will need him next year and the year after and the year after that.
But that got me thinking, what if they had signed him in March like some of us said, or after Game 2 of 162 like the rest of every said. I wondered, would they be in much better shape right now if they had just decided to bite the bullet in March and sign him?
I decided to check out the number of times the Nats had a lead going in to the opponents’ half of the 8th inning, but ended up losing. This, of course, isn’t a perfect measure, bullpen usage has ripple effects, and if Doolittle is pitching the 8th, you’d assume the 7th inning improves, and on down the line…
Shockingly, I only found 5 instances of these games! Here’s what I found
- April 6 (Mets): Nats were losing 3-2 going in to the 8th, but scored 3 in the top of the inning to take a 5-3 lead! Justin Miller and Tony Sipp combined for 3 ER, Nats lost 6-5
- April 12 (Pirates): Nats are winning 2-1 going in to the 8th, Pirates scored 2 to take the lead off Sipp and Barraclough. Nats tie it up in the bottom of the 8th, Justin Miller loses it in the 10th
- May 21, 22, 23 (Mets): Unbelievably (unless you’ve watched this team this year, then it’s just… believably) the Nats managed to lose three games in a row in this excruciating fashion! On the 21st they lost 6-5 after giving up single runs in in the 8th and 9th, despite giving up 3 in the 7th and then regaining the lead in the top of the 8th. On the 22nd they gave up 6th in the 8th to lose 6-1 which is just… Anyway, and on the 23rd, they scored 3 in the top of the 8th, took the lead, then gave up 3 in the bottom, to lose 6-4.
That’s it, that’s the list. Maybe just don’t play the Mets, right? Ok so, yes, 5 is probably too many for a good team in 2 months, but even if they had won every single one of those games, instead of being 24-32 right now, they’d be 29-27. That’s pretty good, it would actually put them ahead of the Mets, 4 ½ games out of first, one game behind the Braves. It’s not bad, but still not great. So maybe Kimbrel wouldn’t have made that much of a difference…
(Please note, because of the rule I arbitrarily instituted where they had to have been leading entering the 8th, this list of 5 doesn’t include the following 9 other obvious games:
- March 30 (Mets): Game was tied 4-4 going in to the 8th, Trevor Rosenthal pitched his immaculate 0th of an inning and they lost 11-8
- April 8 (Phillies): Nats were losing 2-3, and Justin Miller gave up a run in the 8th, meaning the run the Nats scored in the 9th was meaningless for anything but tightening that run differential in a 4-3 loss
- April 14 (Pirates): Nats gave up a run in the 9th with Wander Suero pitching because Doolittle had already pitched 2 days in a row, and at the time, Suero was arguably their next-best choice
- April 22 (Rockies): Game tied going in to the 7th and the Nats gave up a run in that inning, as well as another in the 8th, to lose 7-5.
- April 26 (Padres): They were leading 2-1 entering the 7th and lost 5-4 after giving up a single run in each of the last three innings
- April 27 (Padres): An impressively big 8-3 loss in 10 innings
- May 3 (Phillies): A 4-2 loss to the Phillies on May 3 where Dan Jennings and Jeremy Hellickson combined in the 6th inning to give up 3 runs and blow a 2-1 lead in what would be a 4-2 loss
- May 6 (Brewers): Nats were winning 3-2 going in to the 7th before Dan Jennings came in again to try to bridge them to the 9th. He was unsuccessful, they lost 5-3
- May 28 (Miami): Nats were winning 2-1 going in to the 7th, but by the time the 8th inning rolled around, Tanner Rainey had already blown the save. So when Barraclough gave up a run in the 8th to put them on the losing side, they hadn’t been in the lead)
So I mean, sure, signing Kimbrel might have gotten them to, like, .500, but so would have just not playing the Mets, it seems. So would they really be that much better if they had signed him? I guess the world will never know.