Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It sure felt like nine innings of hell*

You can actually pinpoint the second when Nationals fans' hearts ripped in half. (Image courtesy of FanGraphs. Quote ripped off from The Simpsons.)

Combine another putrid Bruney appearance with a Clippard who appears to be in the middle of regressing to the mean all at once, and I can't believe that anyone watching last night's game was truly stunned at the result.

Coming into the season, I wouldn't have thought you totally crazy if you said that you were cautiously optimistic that Mike Rizzo had put together a semi-decent bullpen for 2010. After all, it had to be an improvement over Jim Bowden's 2009 barrel-bottom-scraping special, right?

In 2009, the manager knew that no matter which reliever he put on the mound, that reliever was going to give up some hits and walks and fuck up the game. In 2010, Riggleman can feel confident about Capps' performance so far, and he can feel good enough about Clippard to worry that he's overworking him, but there's really no one else he can trust to be effective. It's a real problem when Riggleman has to lean on Batista because he's worried about breaking Clippard.

How did we get here? Rizzo trades for Bruney and signs Capps and Batista, giving him the confidence to abstain from further free agent acquisitions and forge ahead with waiver pickups like Jesse English and players already in the organization. (And really, once you subtract players that resigned with their 2009 clubs, who should the Nats have signed? Maybe Chan Ho Park, but no one would have felt good about it.) After some early success, the bullpen starts to show the strain of starters not pitching deep enough into games, leading to Bergmann being DFA'd and an early-season bullpen reshuffle. Bruney keeps failing in the setup role, so Riggleman tries to bandage the situation by using Clippard in the 7th and 8th innings, along with giving Capps the occasional five-out save opportunity. 

Two people are responsible for the state of the Nationals' bullpen: Mike Rizzo and Jason Bergmann. Rizzo made a mistake in having faith that Bruney would come back healthy from last season's elbow problems. No disrespect intended towards Rizzo, but if Brian Cashman threw Bruney on the trash heap, I'm probably not going to second guess that decision. (Not that Cashman is infallible.) And if Bergmann hadn't screwed the pooch, the bullpen might not be the problem it is today.

It's an untenable situation. Riggleman keeps giving Bruney new opportunities to fail (17 appearances already) because he has no other options. And there are no alternatives. He's already overworking Clippard, he knows Batista is lousy, and Burnett can't even manage to be a serviceable lefty specialist. Start stretching out Walker and Slaten over multiple innings? Even more Batista? Nah. There's not much to be done with the current bullpen roster.

Look at the Nats' pitching depth chart, and the choices become clearer.
  1. Give another shot to retreads like Bergmann, Joel Peralta, or Andrew Brown
  2. Throw "prospects" like Zech Zinicola, Josh Wilkie, and Victor Garate to the lions
  3. Drew Storen
There's a money argument to keep Storen in AAA a little longer. And there's also a convincing rebuttal to that argument. While Storen could probably use a little more time in Syracuse to prove that he's absolutely ready for his shot at the big time, the holes in the bullpen need fixing. Rizzo's dithering means he's missed out on a short flight from Syracuse to LaGuardia, but there's still one seat left on tonight's Syracuse-Denver flight.

*"When we lace it up, we're going to give you nine innings of hell." Brian Bruney, 5/10/2010.


Sec 204 Row H Seat 7 said...

Your analyisis is correct as for the short term outook. Dribble keeps saying Bruney will shape up, but all many more games can on wait? Bergman has been making good appearences in Syracuse so he may get another shot. The case for Storen not coming up sooner than ykw, is not as great (less money and time saved). Still, if the starters hold up, 2 out of 3, 4-4 series should continue.

Sec314 said...

What price Drew Storen!?

Wilkie, English or even McDougal would be an improvement over Bruney and Batista or Bergmann-- the Nats' version of the Killer B's