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Figuring out the last spots in the Nationals bullpen

The final makeup of the Nationals bullpen, like the makeup of their bench and the makeup of the back end of their starting rotation, is a murky matter. Matt Capps, Brian Bruney and Sean Burnett are locks, while Tyler Clippard is a near lock and Tyler Walker seems safe, too. After that, you would need a dartboard or a Ouija expert to determine the final two members.

"There's a lot of scenarios where that bullpen could go," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

Consider all the moving parts. Aside from Burnett, Riggleman said today, he could have no other left-handers in the bullpen or he could have two others. Clippard could be used as an all-purpose long reliever or, despite being right-handed, he could be a specialist versus left-handed batters, who hit .122 against him last season. Clippard's role could be determined by how the Nationals choose to use Craig Stammen, who could be a starter or a long reliever.

If Stammen makes the rotation and Clippard becomes the main long reliever, then Eddie Guardado's services as a lefty specialist become more necessary. Jason Bergmann is an interesting case because he is out of options. Riggleman called Ron Villone "a stabilizing force" for the Nationals last season. Miguel Batista punched up a 107 ERA+ in 56 relief appearances last season, and the Nationals are having him start their first full-squad game, presumably a sign they want a good look at him.

For now, the Nationals have a big pot of reliever stew going. At least they have some stability in the back end -- it's not like Joel Hanrahan is their Opening Day closer. Once the games start Thursday, those final bullpen spots will be an interesting story line to watch solidify.

Other notes: Riggleman said he is hopeful Josh Willingham will return Wednesday or Thursday, in time for the first games of spring training. He said he'll speak with Willingham to determine how soon he can play in the games. ... The Nationals have their scheduled rotation for those initial games: J.D. Martin and Garrett Mock on Thursday in split-squad action; Batista on Friday; John Lannan on Saturday; Jason Marquis on Sunday; Somebody on Monday; Stepehn Strasburg on Tuesday.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 1, 2010; 11:01 AM ET
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Next: Adam Dunn takes the mound


I'm repeating this from the previous post, because I think it's interesting and really gives a good picture of the Nat's drafting philosophy since coming to DC and how Stan Kasten's plan hasn't exactly worked out.

Remember he emphasized taking high school guys because they have more upside? (Think Ken Griffey, A-Rod, Derek Jeter)

I actually did some more research on and since coming to DC in 2005, the Nats have come up with 7 players through the draft who have played in a major league game as of the end of 2009: Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, R. Zimmerman, Justin Maxwell, Marco Estrada, John Lannan and Craig Stammen. They were all drafted out of college.

Only seven big league players from the last five drafts so far? And all college players.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Baltova1, BRYCE HARPER (sort of) since he is a College guy technically but age-wise is a High School kid. The Nats have needed immediate help so the College route also works well.

Kasten's 1st Draft was 2007 so given 4 to 5 years for a High School kid to get through the Minors would mean a Kasten HS prospect wouldn't be ready for the Majors anyway.

Posted by: dmacman88 | March 1, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Going back to 2005 doesn't tell much. High school players need more time in the minors. Griffey and A-Rod got to the majors in a couple of years, but they were number 1 overall picks. Even Jeter spent essentially four full seasons in the minors.

Posted by: mw09 | March 1, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

dmacman88, I'm pretty sure Kasten was involved in the '06 draft. I seem to remember him being pleased with the Marrero pick, but I could be wrong.

I agree that the Nats needed immediate help and the college route makes sense. My point is they didn't get enough help from the draft because they didn't draft more college guys. Seven big league guys from five drafts is not enough when you're as bad as the Nats were when they got here.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

okay Adam Kilgore... I love the work you're doing. But remember, we haven't had a baseball team since 1972 or something. While there might be alot of knowledgeable baseball fans in D.C. I don't think many of us are completely up to date with sabermetriuc jargon. I'm 27, and I played baseball my whole life through senior year of high school and follow the sport semi-religiously... but I still have no idea what "107 ERA+ over the last 56 games" means. Someone care to elaborate?

Posted by: destewar | March 1, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"The final makeup of the Nationals bullpen, like the makeup of their bench and the makeup of the back end of their starting rotation, is a murky matter."

I thought the make-up of the back end of their starting rotation had increased substantially thanks to signing Livo...

Posted by: Section506 | March 1, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Briefly, destewar, ERA+ is an attempt to normalize pitching statistics to account for things like RFK being roughly the size of Montana.

100 is considered average. Pedro had the highest ever in the modern era (modern era+?) with 291 for the 2000 Red Sox.

Here's the Wiki, if you're more into the mechanics of it:

Posted by: Section506 | March 1, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

mw09, go back and look at the minor league stats for Griffey, A-Rod, Jeter, Adam Dunn, Prince Fielder, even a guy like Travis Snider, who was taken one pick ahead of Marrero and is already in the big leagues with Toronto, and compare them to Marrero's stats. Or Michael Burgess' stats. Tell me if you still feel these guys are going to pan out.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse


ERA+ adjusts a pitchers regular ERA for the ballpark (hitters park vs. pitchers park) and compares it to the league average ERA.

an ERA+ of 100 is considered average. Anything above 100 is considered above average and anything below 100 is considered below average.

I think the Wikipedia page gives a pretty straight forward explanation.

So Batista had 107 ERA+ in 56 innings last season means he was slightly above average for American League pitchers while factoring in he played most of his games in pitcher-friendly Seattle.

You could assume that he will get even better switching from the AL to the NL, but I think Nats Park is more hitter-friendly than Seattle.

Posted by: SpashCity | March 1, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Guys still young enough (1989-1990) to perhaps still make it would be guys like Destin Hood, Eury Perez and JP Ramirez?

If you can't get them through the draft, or sign free agents then all that appears to be left in International.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Looks like Steven over at FJB wants to give Adam Kilgore advice as well ... my advice is: don't spit into the wind down at the keys. ;)

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

If you can't get them through the draft, or sign free agents then all that appears to be left in International.

Totally agree, periculum. I'd like to have seen at least one signing from Japan this offseason.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I think that they should give Clippard a shot at starting. I think that he may have just figured it out generally over the last 18 months as opposed to the move to the pen being the reason he got effective. If he could throw the way he did last year as a SP, what a difference that would make for the club.

Posted by: dfh21 | March 1, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Baltova1, your specific point about Marrero and Burgess, which may be right, is different than the general point you made in your original post (which is not right).

Posted by: mw09 | March 1, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

mw09, how are my points different? The Nats and Kasten claimed picking high school guys whenever possible was the right thing to do. No team ever just picks high school guys or college guys, there's always a blend. But guys like Burgess, Marrero, Hood and others were early round picks, players the Nats had targeted and described as guys who would likely play key roles in the team's future. It doesn't look that way now.

I think greater emphasis on college players would have brought more guys like Lannan and Stammen, who got to the big leagues and have performed competently (or better, in Lannan's case). I think there were times when the Nats went for potential greatness instead of guys with solid skills.

Look at it this way: in the NFL draft, why do teams pay so much attention at the combines, when guys are running and jumping and lifting weights? Why not focus on what they do on the field in the game? In my experience of watching these things, they guys who do well at the combine and move up in the draft flop, more often than not. Guys who played well at the college level are more likely to do the same in the pros.

That's why Strasburg is so impressive. The radar gun says he has amazing stuff and he's matched it with real performances in college.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

"Totally agree, periculum. I'd like to have seen at least one signing from Japan this offseason."

How many of the 30 MLB teams actually signed someone from Japan this offseason? Just curious, because I don't think it was many. Maybe that's because there weren't that many Japanese prospects available to be signed this year.

Posted by: TBCTBC | March 1, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

I think in the high school vs. college drafting debate, it is common to think that high school players have more upside because they are farther away from their ceiling. College guys are much easier to project because they are closer to their full size and have been playing against better competition than most high school guys.

Look at all the college players who have made impacts soon after being drafted:

Ryan Zimmerman, Evan Longoria, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jonathan Papelbon, Tim Lincecum, Mark Teixeira

All of these guys spent less than three years in the minors before making serious impacts on a major league roster.

Guy's like Griffey and A-Rod are once in a generation type players. Is Bryce Harper one of those guys? Maybe, but I would rather get a close-to-MLB ready college guy, especially when we are going to have a pay him a big portion of the less-than-robust draft budget Rizzo will almost certainly have to work with.

Posted by: SpashCity | March 1, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I've been reading all the comments for the past month of so and let me tell you my story. I will 80 years old in July. I've watched the Senator at old Griffith stadium
and rooted for what was then a last place team. But it was fun. When they came back again to Washington, I rooted for Honda, the Super Jew (Mike Epstein), and our manager the splendid splinter.
Let me tell you I have never been as excited as I am this year. I will be happy to finish with a 500 season but there is always hope we could win 90.
But to sum it up, we have had so much misery with the Senators/Nats over the years, I am just going to go to my half dozen games a year, listen to them all, and enjoy it. Suggest you all do the
same and stop trying to analyse (sp?)
every move the brain trust makes.
Happy 2010 to all.

Posted by: wtait1212 | March 1, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I hope the complications with Willingham's son are nothing serious. Poor Josh has been through a lot in the past year with the death of this brother and all.

Posted by: twinbrook | March 1, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

wtait1212, well said and thanks for the sage advice. Anybody who's watched that much baseball in DC over the years has earned my respect.

I'd just say that, even if it doesn't sound like it, we are enjoying all of this. At least I am. I, too, feel optimistic about this team and think a .500 record after the All-Star break is a legitimate possibility.

But part of my love for baseball comes from analyzing it, the draft picks, the player moves, trades, free agent signings, lineup choices, game decisions, etc. That's what makes baseball better than any other sport, because you can do so much of it.

I may be critical in my analysis but when the game starts, I'm always hoping the Nats win, even if they don't have "the right guys" on the team, according to my deep thinking.

Thanks for your comments and please contribute more. I know I'd love to read your thoughts on how some of the current Nats match up with the players you saw all those years ago.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 1, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm excited about this season because in the past there was never a real competition to make the team, instead of the 7 best pitchers ending up in the bullpen, it was the 7 pitchers that were the least horrible. But now players actually have to earn their spot rather than just not screwing up as bad as the next guy.

I finally feel like this is a real professional baseball team, it's not perfect but at least I dont feel like I am rooting for baseballs redheaded step child anymore.

Posted by: peteywheatstraw | March 1, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

But on the other hand, the stats people say a college player is a much better draft choice because you have a much better idea what you're getting. Nobody is able to tell consistently which of those high school guys are going to become a lot better.

Posted by: markfromark | March 1, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but I just can't for the life of me believe that a guy like Mike Rizzo and that high end staff he has collected will be happy to sit still with a rotation where all hope lies in the walking wounded like JZimm or Wang, the rapid development of Strasburg, and old cagey vets who have seen better days ... and one who might be lying about his age.

It makes absolutely no sense.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Well, peric, at least your sorry about raining on the parade.

Posted by: nats24 | March 1, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Just because they haven't added another pitcher doesn't mean Rizzo is happy with the status quo. He went after Garland, offered 2 years and $15 million, only too see that beach bum sign with San Diego for 1 year and $5 million. He went after Chapman, made a very significant offer, only to get beat out by Cincinnati (not sure how many people saw that one coming).

The problem is there just aren't many other guys available. Washburn and Smoltz are both old and running out of gas. Pedro only wants to play half a season, and obvioulsy for a World Series contender.

Peric, I know you would love to trade forMatt Cain; so would I, the guy is an absolute stud, and it seems like he still flies under the radar somewhat because Lincecum gets all the pub (well-deserved pub). I just don't know that the Nats have the prospects to make that kind of deal, for Cain or somebody else like him (how many young, cheap, dominant starting pitchers are out there on the trading block? Not many I would guess.

I think this is the team of horses we are running with until Wang, Strasburg, and Detwiler come back, and then again until the trading deadline when hopefully we can unload Guzman and Livan for some more prospects.

Posted by: SpashCity | March 1, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I think the Nat's FO is comfortable with what they have as rotation options and they are going to let the next 2 months play out before they consider making a move of significance.

They're going to see what June brings, in terms of Strasburg, Olsen, Wang, Chico, Detwiler etc.

We all would love to see Matt Cain in a Nat's uniform. Unlike you, I don't think the Giants are going to have any problem keeping him for the next few years. Yeah, they just inked Timmy, but it looks to me like they get a pretty decent deal there.
And they have shed contracts from Bonds, Kent and Randy Johnson over the last couple years. I haven't looked seriously into their payroll issues, but arbitration takes length of service into account heavily. Cain can't cost them too much next year, certainly less than they paid Randy Johnson last year.

Posted by: Sunderland | March 1, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

151 days, 14 hours, 10 minutes.

Rizzo still has plenty of time to make trades and acquisitions of new pitchers.

Posted by: Section506 | March 1, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

On International ... so why aren't they going after Jose Julio Ruiz another Cuban defector? Marerro seems on the verge of being washed up as a prospect. Bergmann seems to believe that Dunn is gone if they finish under .500 again and it seems highly likely they will finish last in the NL East. Why not go for that guy as Stebbins seemed to suggest? He wants to go somewhere where he has a chance to rise fast. Welcome to the beleaguered last place Washington Nationals.

I guess I don't see the sort of aggressive FO that one pictured Mike Rizzo running. But, yes, I agree with Boz when he says that Rizzo is just happy at this point to have his own FO to run. I guess I need to follow my own advice and have patience while Rizzo learns to "manage up": both Kasten and ownership.

But, then, there are the long suffering DC baseball fans? How long must they be forced to wait after all these many years of waiting?

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

peric, your pessimism is well documented. You want us to pick up Cain or another ace when we have virtually no players to deal and keep saying we need to sign FA starters when we signed Wang, Olsen and Marquis (not to mention Livo and Batista who I think won't amount to much). You're convinced that Dunn won't resign just as you were sure others wouldn't sign here too. Is there any move the Nats have made over the last three years that you are actually in favor of?

Now, on to the post... Clippard is an interesting guy, he sure improved by leaps and bounds last year and you'd have to think if he could give a solid 5 an outing he might be better used in that role then as the long guy. Whenever I see his glasses I think of Sheen in Major League.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 1, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

"You're convinced that Dunn won't resign just as you were sure others wouldn't sign here too. Is there any move the Nats have made over the last three years that you are actually in favor of?"

SCNats fan is your middle name PollyAnna? How many top rung free agents have the Nats signed since this ownership took over? Other than Dunn? The record shows that they actually signed MORE when they were owned by MLB baseball. Players actually wanted to play for Frank Robby.

The players themselves have stated that they have to do better this year in order to attract those type of guys.

In the case of trades the player often has less of a choice about it. The same is true for the draft.

I am not being any more pessimistic than many others who have been on here ... in fact less so. I think Rizzo can do better as far as the pitching rotation is concerned. I think they have good enough position players. That wasn't the case before last year. But pitching is the key to everything as MIke Rizzo himself often says ...

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I guess Marquis wasn't top rung. Oh I forgot, after Lackey and Tex there were no top run FAs out there. And, of course, Chapman... and now Ruiz.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 1, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse


Besides find someone on any of these forums who was as confident and "positive" about JD Martin? Or Mike Morse for that matter. And there's Trevor Holder who I believe may be a difference maker if he is willing to learn from Spin Williams and company.

Most think Holder was a 10th round signability pick. Perhaps but also believe he can be much more.

The only think you are positive about is Strasburg! Fine we can be the original Washington Senators with only one shining five star light in the team's entire history: Walter Johnson. Is that what you want? Relying on Strasburg to bring a winner is as silly as relying on a guy who may have been the very best pitcher in the history of the game! One guy is not enough dude.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Marquis IS NOT top rung. He, like Lannan, would be 4th or 5th in the rotation of any good team.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

"On International ... so why aren't they going after Jose Julio Ruiz another Cuban defector?"

Word is that the Nats scouts looked at him and decided he wasn't worth pursuing - not from a cost perspective, from a baseball perspective. If people are going to rag on the Nats for not having enough scouts, then they can't turn around and rag on them for letting the scouts they do have make scouting decisions. You can't have it both ways.

Posted by: TBCTBC | March 1, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

And AGAIN I say who would you have signed from this FA crop? If the pitchers aren't available then it makes them real difficult to sign. Pollyanna like ideas are we should trade for Cain, Halliday or Lee... we know we do not have the chips to be in play for those guys. It's one thing to say we should sign better players but it's another to realize those players aren't there in the first place.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 1, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse


Carlos Zambrano (4)
Bronson Arroyo (1)
Kevin Correia (1)
Ross Ohlendorf (1)
Jon Garland (3)


"Who are pitchers number 20, 21, 23, 24, 25 in terms of lowest ERA in the National League and what rank are they on the rest of their staff?"

On the surface (and allowing for all the flaws of ERA, but I've got real work to do right now), this actually seems to lend some credence to Periculum's ranting, since only the Dodgers went to the playoffs.

But looking at the list closer (linked below), these are the other teams with multiple pitchers that have lower ERAs than John Lannan:

St. Louis
Chi Cubs (aforementioned)

One is an NL playoff team, the other two aren't. Colorado and Philly also don't have two starting pitchers with lower ERA than John Lannan.

Working theory: Claims that "X is no better than a 4th or 5th starter, so we'll never win" are overwrought.

Posted by: Section506 | March 1, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Noting that section506 is one who often "rants" about the "Lerners are Cheap". Pot calling the kettle black if you ask me.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Peri, I wonder whether you may be confusing sec 505203 with 506 (disclaimer: I'm not implying that either of them is a ranter, pot, or kettle ;-)).


Noting that section506 is one who often "rants" about the "Lerners are Cheap". Pot calling the kettle black if you ask me.

Posted by: periculum | March 1, 2010 2:50 PM

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 1, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"Miguel Batista punched up a 107 ERA+ in 56 relief appearances last season"



2-though I love all the quirky stats that baesball offers, not all of us recognizes them at first blush

How about, when you list an esoteric stat (107 ERA+), you take a moment and explain what it is? By mid-season, those of us who don't "get it" would be well trained.


Posted by: rushfari | March 1, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Only one word to describe this rotation: SEXY!


Posted by: ajtrue78 | March 2, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

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