The Nationals Bullpen: How Good Will it be?

Following a season in which the Nationals bullpen took some major steps toward being sufficient , they entered the '10/'11 off-season still some distance from being a pitching staff that can compete with the rest of the NL. That said, their current pitching staff is by no means good enough to win a division or even wild card.

However, I can really see their bullpen taking an even bigger leap to being one of the better young pens in the game. You see, the work that Mike Rizzo has done this off-season in attempt to secure the 7th through 9th innings in the Nationals favor, has been successful on paper. Locking up Sean Burnett to a 2yr/3.75MM deal along with taking the hard throwing Elvin Ramirez in the Rule 5 Draft, and even acquiring the command-less but hard to hit Henry Rodriguez may go along way to setting up for Drew Storen in the 9th inning.

As it stands, the Nationals projected bullpen is Doug Slaten, Tyler Clippard, Elvin Ramirez, Henry Rodriguez, Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, and Brian Broderick. There is a good chance that either Ramirez or Broderick do not remain with the team come Opening Day, thus Collin Balester and even Chien-Ming Wang are other viable options for Jim Riggleman's squad. So say Broderick does not make it but Balester does, here's what the Nationals bullpen looks like based on 2010 stats:

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Clearly, not too shabby. One of my favorite writers, Kevin Goldstein, does his "top 11 prospects" on Baseball Prospectus and one part of it is where he describes a team's system in 20 words or less. So I'll do the same for the Nats bullpen: "The bullpen consists of hard throwing right handers and lefty specialists who are coming off career years of unproven." There you have it, 19 words. Furthermore, Elvin Ramirez's average fastball velocity is deceiving due to the fact that he spent winterball throwing 98 MPH and getting guys to swing and miss but did walk almost a batter per inning.

Thus the addition of Adam LaRoche at 1B should even help this pitching staff even more, especially those like Sean Burnett and Doug Slaten who are known to get a ground ball or two. Finally, the average fastball of the projected bullpen is 93.2, which is quite good when talking about guys who get ground balls as well. Again, keep in mind that if Elvin Ramirez makes the team, you might as well call the average bullpen fastball 94.0, or something like that.

Nevertheless, I expect to see improvement if that's possible for some of the guys like Clippard and Burnett, their '10 stats suggest that their career year isn't impossible to replicate, but their FIPs are all completely respectable (with the exception of Collin Balester) and some in line with their other career stats. However, this is a young inexperienced bullpen, so regression is possibly in the cards. I personally foresee the pen in the middle of the pack among Major League 'pens, but again, anything can happen.

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