The Washington Nationals finally made some moves and acquired quality bullpen arms after the All-Star Break. On Sunday, relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the Oakland Athletics joined the Nationals in exchange for Blake Treinen and two prospects. Washington has been quiet regarding trades but relief pitching has been on their minds since Opening Day. They own the worst ERA in baseball and the closer situation has been a chaotic revolving door of unproven talent. While acquiring Madson and Doolittle is a step in the right direction, does it solve the Nationals’ issues?
Picking up Ryan Madson bolsters the bullpen for Washington. He has 2.06 ERA, which is already better than most Nationals’ relievers. In 40 games, Madson has allowed nine runs and fanned 39. Madson is doing his job better than the current bullpen and there is no doubt he will clean up the later innings. While he’s doing well so far, his numbers from last year aren’t as impressive. In 63 games, Madson had a 3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with the A’s. Granted, he did record 30 saves and fanned 49 but his numbers are necessarily elite. Will he thrive in Washington? It’s possible, but it will be hard to tell if Madson is doing well or if the rest of the bullpen is just that bad. Look for Madson to provide quality innings, but his contribution alone won’t fix the issues.
Since Madson can’t do it alone, Sean Doolittle came to Washington with him. The leftie has a 3.38 ERA and a 0.66 WHIP which is not stellar, but is better than most of his new Washington teammates. Doolittle has three saves and eight holds on the season with just one blown save. Doolittle is unusually effective against lefties; no left-hander has been able to hit against him this season. Given the strength of hitters out West, this is a stat that can’t be ignored. Injury has been one of his greatest weaknesses in recent years, he has gone on the disabled list for a strained left shoulder three times since 2015. Doolittle will be a niche reliever, being lights out against lefties while still effective against right-handers. He may not be the best option but he is a much-needed improvement.
Madson and Doolittle came to Washington and the Nationals’ didn’t give up anything juicy. Blake Treinen has struggled all season long and showed no signs of getting better. Treinen has a 5.73 ERA, has allowed 24 runs and three blown saves. He had a short stint as closer until he was replaced by Shawn Kelley. Trading Treinen and getting two better relievers is practically highway robbery. The Nationals also traded away prospects Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse who haven’t been doing anything noteworthy in the farm system. The strength of this deal is not just in the talent coming in, but the lack of talent leaving. Washington basically got Madson and Doolittle for free. If the front office could steal one or two more players like this in the future, they could continue to walk away with good talent at a fraction of the price.
So, can Madson and Doolittle transform the bullpen? Well, the problem still remains at closer. Koda Glover was moved to the 60-day DL and hasn’t played since June 10. The only reason Washington is making deals right now is because they failed to land a real closer in free agency. Madson could be the solution, but last year he did have a 3.62 ERA and seven blown saves. Those numbers are hard to ignore, even while recording 30 saves. Doolittle is way too good against left-handed batters to designate him as the closer. Depending on the situation, he would be best used against a heavy hitter in the seventh or eighth innings. Between the two, Madson would probably be the closer based on his experience in the position and decent numbers.
Look for the Nationals to make a deal or two closer to the deadline. Madson and Doolittle are great additions but the closer situation won’t be fixed with them. The Chicago White Sox’s David Robertson is the best closer on the market but Washington probably can’t afford him. Chances are the front office already has someone else in mind for the job. Dusty Baker has preached all season that the bullpen will fix itself once there is a consistent closer, now is the time to put that theory to the test.
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