Nationals Season Preview: Five Random Thoughts on Pitchers/Catchers

As we continue our season preview (check out the podcast episode we did here: (https://dccrossover.com/2019/03/04/dc-pitchers-catchers-preview-2019/) I wanted to add some other key thoughts as a companion to our preview podcasts. For this installment, I’ll go over five random thoughts regarding the Nats Pitchers/Catchers. 

1. I’m terrified about the Nationals Bullpen

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Overall the Nats are getting glowing reviews regarding their off-season acquisitions, and deservedly so. But an area that still absolutely terrifies me is the bullpen.

Per RotoChamp (and various other projections) here is the current setup for the bullpen:

Closer: Sean Doolittle

Relievers: 

Kyle Barraclough

Matt Grace

Justin Miller

Trevor Rosenthal

Sammy Solis

Jimmy Cordero

Koda Glover

(other candidates include Kyle McGowin, Tanner Rainey, and Austin Adams)

Last year’s Nats were just “okay” in the pen. They gave up the 6th most Home Runs (81), were near the bottom of the league in strikeouts, and as a team were middle of the pack in ERA (4.05).

For a team that is trying to contend for a World Series, they didn’t do a lot to improve in this area. Barraclough is an innings-eater and brings some value, and Rosenthal is more of a low-risk gamble but is coming off a major injury and hasn’t been good for 4-5 years.

Koda Glover has already been bitten by the injury bug early in his career and left a spring training game with forearm tightness, Sammy Solis is only around because he is left-handed, and a lot is riding on guys like Matt Grace and Justin Miller to repeat their strong 2018 campaigns.

I’m nervous, the bullpen has constantly been an issue for the Nats and Mike Rizzo as they shipped out Madsen and Kintzler last year after a failed season. A lot is riding on Doolittle who is also coming off a shortened season due to injury.

Rizzo either needs to make a few more moves, or cross his fingers and pray this group can get the job done.

2. I think Strasburg will beat the projections

MLB: Washington Nationals at Atlanta Braves

Everyone is very hesitant to give Strasburg the benefit of the doubt that he will come back strong in 2019. I get this somewhat, last year wasn’t disastrous but it also wasn’t great (10-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 156 K’s, with opponents hitting .309 on balls in play). He got hit around a bit, and only pitched 130 innings.

In both 2016 and 2017 Strasburg tallied 15 wins each season, with his 2017 campaign being in contention of a Cy Young with a 2.52 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He was dominant, and most projections say he won’t get back to that level this season. I’m seeing a lot of 12-8 records with an ERA in the 3.50 range but I think a fully health Stras can get back to his 2017 form.

That is the key though: fully healthy. Strasburg made his spring debut early this week and looked good (2 scoreless innings with a couple strikeouts). The big thing last season was the disappearing velocity, but his fastball topped out at 94 in his Spring debut so hopefully he can push that up a tick before the season starts.

I think a healthy, confident, Strasburg can rebound from a roller coaster 2018 season and snag 14+ wins with a sub 3.30 ERA.

3. I like Justin Miller and you should too

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In case you wanted a quick background on Miller:

This was a guy that signed with the Nats in a minor league deal last year, and worked his way up to the big club. Prior to last year he had pitched sparingly, 42 innings in 2016, 33 innings in 2015, and 8 innings in 2014.

Last year for the Nats here’s what Miller was able to accomplish:

52 Innings, 3.61 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 60 K’s, 17 BB’s, 12.8% Swinging Strike percentage, 83% of runners Left on Base, and opponents only his .254 on balls in play against him.

Miller has a 94-95 MPH Fastball, decent slider, and solid changeup and really held together the broken bullpen last year with his performance. He is known to be a good clubhouse guy as well.

Unfortunately, right now he’s got an injury that could possibly keep him from being ready for Opening Day, but when he gets back I’m sure he’ll go back to having a key role in this questionable bullpen.

4. The Nats don’t seem to think Pedro Severino is ready

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Pedro Severino had a pretty bad 2018 (to be fair, so did the Nats as a whole). With an injury-prone Matt Wieters also playing the same position, Severino had a great opportunity to solidify himself as the catcher for the immediate future. Instead he hit .168 in 70 games, with only 2 HR’s, 15 RBI, with a .254 OBP and .247 Slugging.

You can see in the highlight reel there is still potential obviously, and he is still very young:

The twenty-five-year-old now has to wait a bit, as the Nats bring in Yan Gomes and bring BACK Kurt Suzuki to split time at catcher.

Neither is expected to blow away the league offensively but both are improvements over last year and Suzuki brings Veteran leadership and already was a beloved National before.

Severino still will have time to grow, but the position has now gotten a little more crowded. My gut is the Nats simply don’t think Severino is ready whatsoever to take the reigns, the trust just isn’t there yet.

5. Please for the love of god can we just pick a 5th starter

On the 1st, Hellickson was quoted discussing his desire to solidify the 5th spot in the Nationals rotation: https://www.federalbaseball.com/2019/3/1/18243361/jeremy-hellickson-wants-fifth-spot-washington-nationals-rotation-wants-to-go-deeper-in-starts

And to be fair, he probably has earned that after a strong run in 2018 (5-3 Record, 3.45 ERA, 1.07 WHIP) but it appears Davey Martinez has not fully decided on that 5th spot. Joe Ross is clearly the guy with the highest upside, but he is only some months removed from his full recovery from surgery, and Fedde didn’t have a great 2018 but then again he only threw 50 innings and is still young.

I would love for this spot to be solidified out of camp. Here is how the guys are doing so far (though Spring Training stats themselves don’t mean THAT much)

Joe Ross: 5.2 Innings, 5 K’s, 1.59 ERA, 1.59 WHIP

Erick Fedde: 5.1 Innings, 5 K’s, 11.81 ERA, 3.19 WHIP

Jeremy Hellickson: 5 Innings, 7 K’s, 1.80 ERA, 0.80 WHIP

Based purely on that it is clearly a two-dog race between Ross and Hellickson for that 5th spot. Do you lean on the younger, higher upside Ross? Or do you go with the 31 year old Hellickson who performed last year when the Nats needed a band-aid?

Please just make a choice and stick with it, we know this rotation tends to get banged up anyways so I’m sure whoever doesn’t make the initial rotation will work their way in. What I don’t like is any idea of working in different guys constantly. Pick a man, let them perform, and adjust from there.

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