August 21, 2017

Dusty Watches from the Wings with a Grin

August 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

It was another trading deadline where Hollywood and Broadway got all the press. The rest was just community theater. The Dodgers walked away with the biggest prizes and the Yankees did well in a supporting role. But for all of the ink that Yu Darvish and Sonny Gray will generate, Washington Nationals manager, Dusty Baker, has to be wearing a pretty big smile.

Baker has been watching the long-running Washington Nationals bullpen disaster every night since April. It cannot have been much fun, but Mike Rizzo has rewarded Dusty’s patience. Now the Nats’ manager finally will have the pieces to put his off-Broadway bunch out for a test run in August and September.

Did the Nationals front office get the bullpen of their dreams? Probably not. After all, they bid on Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon and badly wanted Greg Holland, but those off-season efforts failed largely because of ownership. In the run-up to the deadline however, without trading a top tier prospect, Washington added Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler, all three of which have closing experience and can still get the job done in the final innings. It may be more appropriate to evaluate the Nationals additions more as a repertory group, rather than as individual stars.

Los Angeles got two Tonies at the deadline: Cingrani and Watson, but neither ranks among the elite late inning arms in 2017. By contrast, adding Brandon Kintzler to Washington’s existing assortment of relievers is particularly effective where the sum of the parts becomes greater than the individual pieces. Kintzler is a ground ball machine. He does not have the put-away fastball that characterizes Ryan Madson and to some degree Sean Doolittle. Those two, brought in from Oakland in a five-player deal several weeks ago, were solid complementary parts. Doolittle is death to left-handed batters. Over his six-year career with Oakland, Doolittle has held left-handed batters to a .185 batting average. Righties has only hit .215, but it is his strength against lefties that may prove key. For Madson there is little difference. His 97-98 mph fastball is deadly against all comers. But Kintzler is a totally different pitcher and there will be situations where he will be particularly well-suited and more effective than Madson or Doolittle.

One Sirius/XM radio commentator aptly described the deadline moves as a chess match, with the GM’s for contending clubs moving their pieces to maximize post-season advantage in predictable matchups. Sean Doolittle will test the Dodgers left-handed heavy lineup, as will Madson. Oddly enough, Kintzler has even more notable splits that maximize his effectiveness against left-handed hitters. He has a .197 batting average against him by lefties, versus a .286 for righties. But his forte is getting ground balls. Eno Saris of FanGraphs said it this way: “If you want a ground ball, you want Kintzler. ” He specifically cites Kintzler’s low spin rate sinker as the most effective pitch among any reliever traded at the deadline in inducing ground balls.

You can say what you want about the other relievers traded in the last week or so, but Dusty Baker has added far more capacity to his tool selection than any other manager. True, he had the worst going in, but it is easy to see him bringing Kintzler into any budding rally to get a double-play ball directed at his very capable infield. Then there is Madson for the eighth and Doolittle for the ninth. There is no Aroldis Chapman, but taken together, Washington’s bullpen suddenly has some very deadly arms to direct at teams over the final three innings, especially those whose lineups are heavily left-handed.

There is no mistaking the advantage that Los Angeles gained by adding Yu Davish. That move checks the Nationals edge in starting pitching depth and may swing the advantage back to the Dodgers. Kershaw versus Scherzer, Strasberg versus Darvish and Gio Gonzalez versus Alex Wood. It doesn’t get much better than that. The national media would posit that the Dodger bats are the most potent in the NL, but the Nationals have outscored them by almost a full half-run per game. Although the national baseball media are Hollywood 24-7-365, a post-season contest between Los Angeles and Washington would be a toss-up.

Getting past the first round has not been easy for the Nationals. As the standings look now and for the future, Washington is likely to play the NL Central champ for the privilege of facing LA. The Cubs made their own moves adding Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, but the advantage remains with Washington on paper going in. No, the Nationals have to be targeting their roster for a matchup with the Dodgers in 2017. Mike Rizzo has given Dusty Baker and company as good a fighting chance as could have been imagined a few weeks back. So bring down the house lights and raise the curtain on what should be an excellent final two months.

 

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