Friday, April 17, 2015

The Mighty Rizzo Has Struck Out

In a move most casual Nationals fans probably only glanced at, Craig Stammen was sent to the DL with a torn flexor tendon and will likely miss the remainder of the year. Stammen is a middle reliever, usually called upon to pitch multiple innings when the game is out of hand or to keep a game close in the middle innings. Stammen excelled in that role, and the Nationals will miss him in more ways than one.

First off, to truly appreciate Stammen, let’s take a look at what he meant to the 2014 team. He was 6th on the team in innings pitched at 72.2, the most of any reliever and higher even than workhorse Tyler Clippard (70.1) and closer Rafael Soriano (62). He had a 3.84 ERA with a 3.19 FIP that points toward some bad luck. By FanGraph’s measure of leverage (the seriousness of the game situation a pitcher experiences when entering the game, measured by runners on base, inning, number of outs, among other things), Stammen entered games in slightly above average leverage situations, so he wasn’t pitching only in blow outs. Stammen ate up innings in big chunks and he was very successful in doing so.

Now the Nationals will have to replace those innings with someone from the minor leagues and that, 2 paragraphs in, finally leads me to the title of this post. If you remember back near the beginning of the season, Mike Rizzo flipped lefty reliever Jerry Blevins to the Mets for outfielder Matt den Dekker. This move came amidst a flurry of activity and DL moves and mostly got lost in the shuffle. It didn’t seem to be a big enough move at the time to spend a lot of thought on it, but, with the benefit of hindsight, the move looks terrible.

On the surface, Rizzo traded a slightly expensive reliever for a young but flawed outfielder. At the time, the Nationals were struggling with how to replace an injured Span and an injured Werth, and Rizzo got trigger happy. If the Nationals had wanted den Dekker and planned on actually using him, the deal made some sense. Bullpens are relatively fluid and replacing a single reliever isn’t a herculean task, so one season of a reliever for several cheap seasons of a position player adds up. Except the Nationals didn’t play den Dekker. In fact, in place of Span and Werth the Nationals used players who were already on the roster: Michael Taylor, Tyler Moore, and Clint Robinson mostly with a helping of Reed Johnson sprinkled in (that doesn’t even include the other veteran players in spring training with the Nationals that could didn’t make the Opening Day cut). That means they had all the options they needed internally, without having to resort to a trade. All told, den Dekker saw action in a total of 4 games with 2 plate appearances before being shipped back to the minors to make room for a healthy Werth. When you really boil it down, Blevins got shipped out of town for 2 plate appearances.

Knowing what we know now (I know, I know, hindsight is 20/20, yada, yada, but Rizzo is judged fairly or unfairly on results as much as process), Rizzo lost this trade. With Stammen out and the bullpen struggling, Blevins would be a useful piece right now. He had experience pitching multiple innings in games, topping 60 innings pitched with the A’s several times. He didn’t have a great year with the Nationals last year, but he held left handed hitters to a .153 average in 2014 and had a track record of success before joining the Nats. He would have been a capable fit in Stammen’s old role. Instead, the Nationals have been cycling through relievers (3 call ups in the first week alone) hoping Matt Williams can find a combination that works.

Don’t get me wrong, trading Blevins won’t make or break this season. I have faith that the Nationals will find a bullpen that works, the team will just have to deal with some growing pains between now and the end of the season. Those growing pains might end up looking a lot like this first week, with blown leads and pitchers throwing the ball into the stands, though. The Nationals have enough of a cushion between themselves and the rest of the division thanks to the gap in talent that those games lost due to relievers shouldn’t come back to bite them. In a year when you are all in for the World Series like the Nationals are in 2015 though, you can never take anything for granted. And that includes Mike Rizzo’s ability to win a trade. Even the best GMs still strike out from time to time and it looks like Rizzo took a swing and a miss on this one.


  1. Ok I agree to a point. I too hated to see Blevins go but we were going to lose him after this year anyway. At the time we needed an outfielder and Rizzo didn't know we were going to lose Stammen. Do you think he might seek another reliever in a month if the current setup doesn't work? We have plenty to offer to other teams and this is a go-for-broke year.

  2. I would agree with the process if they had actually planned on using den Dekker. In terms of value, a walk year reliever for a back up outfielder probably comes out about even. Instead, he's sitting at AAA, providing zero value.

    I think Rizzo waits it out until the All Star break at least. There is some talent in the bullpen, have to wait it out to see if it sticks