July 24, 2014

Statistically Speaking: Finding the Nats’ pipe shots

Much like last week’s Statistically Speaking article, this week’s will have a bit of an All-Star flavor to it. While this season’s game has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Nationals fans due to the lack of some very deserving players, the team ultimately selected, Nats player or otherwise, appeared to be a reasonable representation of the respective leagues. Adding insult to injury for the National League, however, was this peachy comment from the NL’s starting pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals righthander Adam Wainwright:

“I was gonna give him a couple pipe shots. He deserved it,” Wainwright said. “I didn’t know he was gonna hit a double or I might have changed my mind.”

The player deserving of said pipe shots—a pitch grooved right down the middle of the plate—was of course soon-to-be-retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Not surprisingly, Jeter did exactly what Wainwright (and everyone else) expected him to do with the gimmie, knocking the 90 mile-per-hour offering into the outfield for a double. Upon realizing the gravity of his ‘pipe shot’ comment, Wainwright about-faced on giving Jeter the mulligan:

“Sometimes my humor gets taken the wrong way,” Wainwright said in a dugout interview in the eighth inning. “I feel terrible about this if anyone is taking any credit away from what Derek Jeter’s done today or off me. It was mis-said. I made a mistake.

Regardless of the ultimate result or intention of the pipe shot, the pitch was exactly as published:

numlocation.php

The PITCHf/x data also shows us (courtesy of Brooks Baseball), the pitch’s ‘px’ value was 0.1545 feet and its ‘pz’ value was 2.320 feet, which are the left/right distance of the pitch from the middle of the plate as it crosses the plate and the height of the pitch as it crosses the plate, respectively, while having 0.3206 inches of horizontal movement and 9.667 inches of vertical movement. Add it all up, and it was about as close as a pitcher could get to putting the ball on a tee for a hitter.

For Wainwright, this location and ‘grooving’ was intentional; sometimes, it isn’t quite the case, and pitches end up rolling down that pipe and right into a hitter’s sweet spot; has this been an issue for Nats pitcher this year, as talented as they are? First, let’s look at what Nats pitcher’s have done in terms of pitch location for all fastball types (the pitch of choice when you’re looking to groove a pitch), with Wainwright’s pitch in red for reference:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.10.26 PMThere appears to be quite a few pitches that could fit the bill as a pipe shot, so let’s slim the field down with some additional criteria, with some help from an old Greek. By taking the px and pz information from Wainwright’s pitch and considering that the bulls eye for all pips shots, we can use the following calculation to figure out how close each of the above 8935 fastballs were to being pipe shots:

(x-center_x)^2 + (y - center_y)^2 < radius^2 

where x is a given pitch’s px value, center_x is the Wainwright pitch px, y is a given pitch’s pz value, and center_y is the pz for Wainwright’s pitch. From here, we apply a numeric value to the radius to shrink our sphere of influence for what we will consider pipe shots. To cut to the chase and to keep numbers to a dull roar, I selected a radius of 0.001 for our pipe shot ‘winners’, which are displayed below, with the Wainwright’s pitch again in red and the average strike zone outlined in black for reference:

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 11.09.46 PMHere, we find seven winning pitches, from, surprisingly, seven different pitchers; for those curious the table below provides additional information as to count, velocity, and pitch movement (HMov and VMov):

name pitch_type pitch_result start_speed HMov VMov balls strikes
Clippard, Tyler FF Flyout 90.7 -1.22 11.59 1 1
Fister, Doug FF Groundout 89.2 -7.278 6.27 1 2
Gonzalez, Gio FF Called Strike 92.5 6.475 9.676 0 0
Jordan, Taylor FT Called Strike 88.2 -9.67 6.25 3 0
Roark, Tanner FF Called Strike 92.6 -7.61 8.37 1 0
Stammen, Craig FT Called Strike 91.4 -10.97 4.82 2 1
Strasburg, Stephen FT Called Strike 94.5 -9.03 10.17 0 0

Overall, the pipe shots from the Nats haven’t been terribly egregious, with a pair being first pitch strikes and only one grooved in a hitters count, courtesy of Taylor Jordan. Thankfully for the Nats, all of these grooved pitches ended up without any damage being done in the form of hits balls or runs scored, unlike Wainwright’s cookie to Jeter; despite this sliver of luck with the approach, the infamous pipe shot probably isn’t the best method of garnering strikes and outs, and should be best left to the Home Run Derby.

***

Data courtesy of Baseball Savant, unless otherwise noted.
__________________

Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Camden Depot and Gammons Daily. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

 

 

 

Washington Nationals Game 92 Review: Nats Top Phillies 5-3 in Extras

In an extra inning affair at Citizens Bank Park in the city of brotherly love, the Washington Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Phillies with two runs in the 10th inning for their 50th win of the season by a score of 5-3.

Ryan Zimmerman’s RBI single in the 10th was the difference. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals Game 87 Review: Zimmerman’s single in eighth delivers Nats 2-1 win

Since moving back to his more familiar third base, Ryan Zimmerman has coincidentally also been on a tear at the plate. The run continued Sunday, as his eighth inning single scored Denard Span, lifting the Washington Nationals to a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs before 32,941 at sun-drenched Nationals Park.

Zimmerman is now 11-for-21 with six RBIs since Bryce Harper returned to the lineup and Zimmerman re-took his spot at third base.

Span led off the eighth inning with a hustle double to right field. After Anthony Rendon lined out and Jayson Werth struck out against Cubs reliever Pedro Strop (L, 1-4, 3.03), Adam LaRoche was intentionally walked, bringing up Zimmerman. The Nats’ veteran laced a 1-1 slider to left field which easily scored Span. LaRoche drew the cutoff throw away from the plate and was tagged out between second and third for the final out of the inning.

Rafael Soriano pitched an eventless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth for his 21st save of the season.

Zimmerman’s heroics made a winner of Tyler Clippard, who put his first two runners on, then wiggled out of the jam to pitch a scoreless top of the eighth.

Jordan Zimmermann turned in another exemplary start for the Nats (48-39). The stoic righty gave up no runs on seven hits and one walk over six innings, striking out five.

The Cubs(38-48) managed their lone run off Drew Storen in the seventh, as the reliever gave up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning. Jerry Blevins struck out Luis Valbuena with runners on to keep the game tied at that point.

The Nats scored their first run in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Span doubled, went to third on Rendon’s groundout and scored on Werth’s hard-hit grounder to third.

The Nats start a two-game series with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.53) hosts Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21) at 7:05 pm.

Statistically Speaking: Bullpen Efficiency

The Washington Nationals bullpen as a unit are having a fantastic season in support of their more acclaimed starting rotation brethren. While the actual ranks differ by which all-encompssing statistic you prefer to use—the bullpen ranks tied for second in MLB with 2.8 wins above replacement (WAR) and fourth in RE24 at 27.53—the overall sentiment that the team’s relief corps is among the best in the business is not lost without the statistical confirmation.

It hasn’t been a smooth ride throughout the course of the season overall, with the likes of ever-dependable setup man Tyler Clippard and immensely talented former starter Ross Detwiler taking their lumps in the form of blown leads and inherited runners scoring. Yet, these shaky outings have been countered and exceeded by the efforts of Drew Storen, Rafael Soriano, and rookie Aaron Barrett, among others, and has kept the bullpen ledger in the black and the team in whispering distance of first place in the NL East.

Looking further at the polarizing outings of Clippard led me to come to this particular stat last week:

With the polarizing outings of Clippard to go along with the some similar clean outings by polarizing personality of Soriano, the Nats have a pair of relievers that face the minimum number of hitters half of their outings, which goes a long way to accruing the WAR and RE24 values the bullpen has thus far. It also speaks to how efficient the guys in the ‘pen are in getting hitters out and preventing the big inning for the opposing team. Do the rest of the Nats relievers follow suit and could this ability to keep additional runners (and potential runs) at bay be a reason for the success of 2014 from a group that hasn’t changed much in terms of roster from last year’s staff that finished 18th and 20th in MLB in WAR and RE24, respectively?

First, let’s outline what bullpen efficiency means. Efficiency is essentially how many batters a pitcher faces over the number that was expected from an outing. From there, we will also look at ‘clean outings’, where a pitcher faces the minimum number of batters for a given outing, with game situation considered. The fewer batters faced over the minimum, the better, as this obviously keeps runners off the base paths.

Let’s look at some data.

Name G IP xIP IP, Diff TBF xBF BF, Diff Efficiency(%) AppClean/Pct. RE24
Aaron Barrett 28 25.2 26.2 1 108 77 31 59.74 13/46.4% 2.77
Craig Stammen 22 38.1 39 0.2 152 115 37 67.83 6/27.3% 6.72
Drew Storen 29 24.1 26.2 2.1 93 73 20 72.80 16/55.2% 5.94
Jerry Blevins 33 27 29.1 2.1 116 81 35 56.80 16/48.5% 2.82
Rafael Soriano 31 31 31 0 114 93 21 77.42 17/54.8% 9.83
Ross Detwiler 20 29 31.2 2.2 137 87 50 42.53 4/20% -7.08
Tyler Clippard 37 34 36.1 2.1 137 102 35 65.70 19/51.4% 2.11

 

The table above is a little busy, but the explanations of the various columns are very straightforward and on the lighter side, mathematically. Aside from the standard games, innings pitched, and RE24 values, we also have a couple of variables that were calculated to help capture efficiency.

The first of these is expected innings pitched (xIP), which is the number of inning pitched that were expected from a pitcher, with game and outing specific information included. For example, if a pitcher has an outing where he pitched 0.2 IP, he could have an xIP of 0.2 if he came in relief with one out in the inning—he was only expected to get the other two outs to complete the inning.

Conversely, he could have a xIP of 1, but failed to get the third out of the inning before being pulled. Calculating xIP and confirming game situations was dine using game log data from Baseball Reference. Total batters faced (TBF) is simply that and expected batters faced (xBF) is calculated similar to xIP, with game situation taken into account. With xIP and xBF, care was taken with the Nats bullpen members who are more situational relivers, in particular, Jerry Blevins, to account for how they were pulled.

If they left an outing due to poor performance with runs scored or runners put in scoring position, then they were allotted the full inning of work expected and the batters faced. If they were pulled due to situation—bringing in Blevins to face a tough lefty, for example—then a full inning pitched was not assumed. Differences between actual performance and expected data re capture with the ‘Diff’ categories. From the game log data also comes the clean outing data (AppClean/Pct.), where the number of clean outings specific to game situation were tallied, with percentages also provided for comparison.

With the variables exhaustively described, let’s talk results. Not surprisingly, the Big Three of the Nats bullpen—Clippard, Soriano, and Storen—lead the way in clean outings, with Soriano and Storen also showing the most efficiency in terms of batters faced over the minimum (BF, Diff.).  Percent efficiency was calculated by taking the percentage difference between xBF and TBF and then subtracting this value from 100 and again shows how well both Soriano and Storen have been, not only in terms of performance, but in terms of being economical.

Not to be forgotten are the performances of Barrett and long man Craig Stammen, who both show a high rate of efficiency, despite subpar clean appearance numbers. Despite some encouraging recent outings, a very rough start to the season skews Ross Detwiler’s numbers greatly and shows a propensity for big innings and difficulties in keeping hitters off of the base paths.

Does this idea of efficiency trend with performance?

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.45.04 PM

In our very small sample, it indeed does, as the above graph of RE24 by number of batter faced of the minimum (BF, Diff in our table above) shows. As the number of extra hitters faced rises, RE24 drops, which makes this a negative correlation with a very strong R-squared of 0.72, providing us confirmation of good fit of the data. However, with seven data points, it would be very unwise to make any grand inferences out of these results. Despite this, we do see an interesting aspect of the bullpen’s success that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score or in the formulas of the numerous advanced metrics available—not only are they keeping runs off of the scoreboard, they’re doing so in tidy fashion.

Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference and current through 6/24/2014.
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Stuart Wallace is a Contributor to District Sports Page. A neuroscientist by day, the Nevada native also moonlights as an Associate Managing Editor for Beyond the Box Score, stats intern at Baseball Prospectus, and a contributor at Camden Depot. A former pitcher, his brief career is sadly highlighted by giving up a lot of home runs to former National Johnny Estrada. You can follow him on Twitter @TClippardsSpecs.

Washington Nationals Game 74 Review: Nats’ Pitching Staff Silences Braves in 4-1 Win

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon for baseball at Nationals Park, the Nationals’ pitching staff shutdown the Atlanta Braves to lead Washington to a 2-2 split of the series with a 4-1 win. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals vs St. Louis Cardinals Series Preview

After taking three-of-four from the Giants out in San Francisco, the Washington Nationals now roll into St. Louis for a three-game set with the Cardinals. District Sports Page has you all set with this series preview. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals vs Philadelphia Phillies Series Preview

After going 2-1 in their series against the Texas Rangers, the Washington Nationals now welcome the Philadelphia Phillies to Nationals Park for a three-game series to finish off the homestand. Here’s all you need to know to be ready for the NL East showdown. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals vs Cincinnati Reds Series Preview

CIN    WAS

This Monday through Wednesday, the Washington Nationals welcome the Cincinnati Reds to D.C. Here’s a series preview to get yourself ready for the three-game set. [Read more...]

Statistically Speaking: Tyler Clippard’s Shaky Start

It’s another math light week for Statistically Speaking—you don’t need much advanced knowledge of math or statistics to realize that Washington Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard has struggled mightily out of the gate this season, coming to a crescendo in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where the usual reliable Clippard was on the hook for all four Angels runs. Clippard sputtering to start the season isn’t anything new, as the table of selected stats over the setup man’s first 11 appearances each year since 2011 below shows:

Year IP ERA FIP OPS BABIP Strikes RE24
2014 9.2 3.72 4.49 0.798 0.300 63.00% -4.99
2013 10.1 4.35 4.89 0.538 0.160 60.00% -1.48
2012 11 4.91 2.55 0.667 0.333 66.00% -0.80
2011 14.1 1.26 1.70 0.456 0.290 65.00% 8.09

Yes, Clippard is a notoriously slow starter; however, this season, it’s been a molasses-in-northern-Minnesota-in-January slow start. While he hasn’t been helped out by batting average on balls in play like he has historically—he owns a career .238 BABIP—he also has not helped himself out, with fielding independent pitching (FIP) nearly a run higher than his ERA, indicative of Clippard being responsible for the elevated OPS more so than any defensive miscues.

So what could explain the historically bad start by Clippard? Let’s go through some of the usual suspects that can sometimes induce performance declines and see if we can get to the heart of the matter with Clip’s shaky start.

First, let’s look at velocity; with drops in fastball velocity often come performance drops, as hitters no longer fear the velocity or the difference in velocity between the hard stuff and the offspeed stuff, so perhaps this is the culprit:

Brooksbaseball-Chart(1)

With the above chart, we find the exact opposite—Clippard’s fastball velocity has actually increased a hair in 2014, averaging 93.4 mph and maxing out at a little over 96 mph. His other most frequently thrown pitches (split-fingered fastballs are not shown due to small sample size) are also within shouting distance of one another with respect to velocity, so we can put to rest any questions over the demise of Clippards velocity, fastball or otherwise.

Thinking about all of his pitches, let’s see how he’s used each of his pitches in 2014. SL stands for slider, CH for changeup, FC for cut fastball, and FF for four-seam fastball:

TC_2014

…compared to 2013; IN indicates an intentional ball:

TC_2013

There is a slight change in how Clippard attacks hitters this season compared to 2013—he is going to his fourseamer 10% less now than last year, opting for more sliders and changeups, primarily.

More secondary offerings in place of a fastball that’s at an all-time best, velocity-wise—how well is Clippard locating, with the caveat that he is unique in that he thrives in the upper half of the strike zone with his fastball.

First, 2014:

TC 14 Loc

…compared to last year:

TC 13 Loc

By the looks of it, Clippard is just missing with his pitches, in particular, his bread and butter, the fastball and changeup. Unfortunately, just missing means missing in the strike zone. For the fastball, there isn’t as much rise in the pitch so far this year, concomitant with less drop with the changeup and the slider, which has been left up in the zone a little more this year compared to last.

Let’s finish this brief analysis with a look at Clippard’s swinging strike rate since 2011; this rate is typically above average for the righty:

Season SwStr%
2011 16.1 %
2012 10.6 %
2013 14.3 %
2014 12.8 %
Total 13.0 %

Again, nothing really screaming out as the reason for Clippard’s demise. Let’s look at the swinging strikes on 2014 broken down by pitch type for 2014:

TC SwStr

…and the same thing, looking at last year:

TC 13 SwStr

The first obvious difference is the lack of any swing-and-miss from a slider so fat in 2014; however, given the pitch isn’t used much by Clippard, this really isn’t anything of concern. However, despite the small smattering of data so far for this season, we do see that hitters aren’t chasing or missing the high fastball, just out of the zone. Hitters are also not apt to chase the changeup out of the strike zone this season, by the looks of it. Overall, we see Clippard’s ability to get hitters to chase not as strong this year, with those swings and misses just out of the zone being spit on, leading to working behind in the count more often, leading to both increased walk rates (5.6 BB/9 in 2014) and grooved pitches to get strike calls.

It’s been a discouraging start to the season for Clippard, but it appears that with a slight tweak in approach and possibly mechanics, the rough start will get smoothed out, bringing a return to the form that Nats fans have enjoyed for the last few years and the normally reliable Clippard back on track towards getting hitters to chase his pitch.

 ***

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Brooks Baseball, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part V: The Bullpen

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard pitched 8th inning and earned 10th hold against Baltimore Orioles, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard in action of May 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

THE BULLPEN

Rafael Soriano, RHP: The saves were there last year, the elite skills were not. Soriano’s ERA and WHIP were their highest in any season he’s been a team’s top closer. On top of that, his K rate went down precipitously as he transitioned from a pitcher with a slider out pitch to a fastball pitcher, one who’s lost velocity each of the past four seasons. He lowered his walk rate, which obviously is good, but his hit rate jumped. His ground ball rate has dropped the past three seasons as his line drive and fly ball rates have risen, more evidence of him abandoning anything but the fastball. If the walk rate goes back to his normal seasonal allowance, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, the velocity and strikeout rate drops are a big warning sign for a 34-year-old pitcher who hates not closing.

Tyler Clippard, RHP: Clippard turned in another exceptional season for the Nats with a 2.41 ERA and ridiculous 0.859 WHIP. All was bolstered by an incredibly unsustainable 4.7 H/9 rate and .172 BABiP, which completely mirrored his 2011 All-Star campaign. Those types of numbers are just unheard of, so he’s unlikely to repeat them, but he’s a funky pitcher. He succeeds with high fastballs and a changeup that almost impossible to identify out of his unusual and, frankly, weird delivery. The strikeout and ground ball rates were down just a tick but not alarmingly so. Clippard should be just fine in his established role. The big thing to worry about him is the price tag. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $5.88 million contract and he isn’t a free agent until after 2016, so the price tags is just going to keep going up. That’s a lot for a non-closer reliever — albeit one of the best in the game.

Drew Storen, RHP: Oh boy. Where do we start? Storen was fairly terrible in the first half, pitching to a 5.95 ERA, fueled by a .355 BABiP and outrageously high hit rate. The walks were fine, the Ks were fine, he was just simply unlucky as to balls finding their way into green space. He was sent to the minors on July 26 after wearing a the final inning of an 11-0 drubbing by the Mets on a day that he ran a 103 degree fever. When he came back Aug. 16, he was the same old Storen. Well, not really. He ditched the silly straight leg kick for a more conventional one that allowed him to have a more consistent delivery, but the results were more attributable to normalization. He held batters to a .200/.263/.214 line upon his return.

Jerry Blevins, LHP: Obtained from the A’s for Minor League Player of the Year Billy Burns, Blevins is more than a typical lefty specialist — he actually owned better numbers against righties than lefties last season. Overall, a 3.15 ERA and 1.067 WHIP were solid. He has a four-pitch repertoire and faced four or more batters in more than half of his appearance last season. Blevins won’t overwhelm with his fastball, and his K rates will keep him in a set up or LOOGY role, but he knows how to pitch. Has improved his walk rate each of the past three seasons.

Xavier Cedeno, LHP: Want the good news? Cedeno enjoyed his career year last season at age 26, earning a 1.50 ERA and 1.000 WHIP for the Nats. He struck out 9 per nine innings and walked just 1.5. Want the bad news? He also suffered his worst season as a big leaguer last year, as he allowed 11 runs (eight earned) in 6.1 innings for Houston before they cut him in April. Am I being dramatic? You betcha. But Cedeno’s numbers for the Nats came in just 6.0 over 11 games. Against lefties, Cedeno provided a .231/.333/.269 slash. Against righties, that jumped to .391/.517/.522. Granted, we’re talking 29 and 31 plate appearances here. Call me skeptical, but I just don’t see Cedeno coming anywhere near approaching his numbers for the Nats last season again. He’s not a kid, and nothing in his history indicates this was anything more than a couple of good appearances in a row against limited competition.

Craig Stammen, RHP: Stammen could start for half the teams in baseball. His stuff is that good. All his peripherals continue to go in the right direction and his traditional numbers are solid across the board. Is this a pitcher that has found his spot? Or are the Nats hiding a gem, either intentionally or not. Either way, Stammen has proven to be an absolutely invaluable arm in the long role that he’s occupied the past two season for the team. His walk rate dropped by 0.7 this year over last — if that holds, he should earn higher leverage late innings if Clippard gets too expensive.

Ryan Mattheus, RHP: On the other hand… Mattheus was unlucky, sure. His BABiP of .405 screams it. But look at the rest. Rising walk rate. K rate less than 6 per nine. Lost velocity on his sinker. Punching a locker, breaking his hand and being completely and utterly lost once he returned. The hit rate is going to stabilize somewhat, but how much is luck and how much is just erosion of skill? He’s 30, not a youngster that needs to figure things out. He needs to prove health and competence or there are plenty of arms that will push him out of a job.

Josh Roenicke, RHP: Roenicke is famous for being the son of former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke and also being Ian Desmond’s brother-in-law. Roenicke the pitcher, however, is mediocre at best. He was brought in as an NRI and will provide depth in Syracuse most likely. He walks way too many (5.2 per nine in 62 IP last season) without the high K rate (just 6.5/9) that allows you live with it.

Erik Davis, RHP: Davis made his MLB debut last season at age 26, compiling a 1-0 record, 3.12 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 8.2 innings, striking out 12 while walking just one. This was after going 3-7 with 15 saves, 3.10 ERA and 1.433 WHIP in AAA, so small sample caveats abound. Davis was slated to compete for a role in this year’s pen, but was placed on the 60-day D.L. with an “elbow strain” on the same day the Nats traded for Jose Lobaton. It’s quite possible he never throws a pitch to Lobaton.

Christian Garcia, RHP: “If only Garcia could stay healthy…” Any Nats fan that knows more than just Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg will cite Garcia as their secret weapon. He’s got the stuff, he knows how to pitch, and he’s still young enough (27) that he could impact the MLB roster. Unfortunately, that part of staying healthy just keeps eluding Garcia. He’s already had two Tommy John’s while he was property of the Yankees and last season he was limited to 13.1 innings in the minors after suffering a torn wrist tendon, which triggered shoulder soreness and hamstring injuries. He owns four quality MLB pitches, he just needs to get on a mound to show them off. Problem is, he can’t.

Manny Delcarmen, RHP: Delcarmen, 32, hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010 with the Rockies. Why is he here? Well, he’s always had good stuff and has had several full seasons of downright goodness at the big league level. In 07-08 with the Red Sox he was a quality righty in their pen and some thought he had closer written all over him. Problem is, his walk rate was always high and got higher the older he got and his K rate plummeted after he hit 27. When he should have been in the peak of his career, he busted. Read into that however you want. Last year in AAA, he went 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.222 WHIP in 54 innings, so there might be something left. At the triple-A level, anyway.

Aaron Barrett, RHP: Barrett was drafted four times: by the Dodgers in the 44th round of the ’06 draft, by the Twins in the 20th round in ’08, by Texas in the 27th round in ’09 and finally by the Nats in the 9th round in 2010 after his eligibility ended for the University of Mississippi. Barrett, at age 25, dominated AA last year for Harrisburg, going 1-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 1.093 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 and outrageous 12.3 K/9. In fact, in 149.2 IP in his minor league career, Barrett owns a 12.0 K/9 rate. He does this all with an average fastball, but a slider that Baseball America deemed best in the Nats’ system. At 6’4″, 215 he has a big league build. He needs to pitch against players his own age this year but his arm is definitely intriguing.

Clay Hensley, RHP: Hensley is a slight (5’11″, 190) righty that for the past few seasons has been able to fool enough batters to keep getting chances in the big leagues. But at 33 now, he’s running out of gas. Last season for San Francisco in 50.2 IP he walked 5.3 per nine and his ERA (4.62) showed it. Coupled with a 5.19 ERA for Florida in ’12, Hensley’s hanging on to the end of his rope.

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