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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

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5 things you should know about new Nationals pitcher Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals traded for Royals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera this evening. 

Not only did the Nationals trade for Kelvin Herrera, but they did so without losing Juan Soto, Victor Robles, or Andrew Stevenson. The first two were never in any real danger of being traded for a relief pitcher who will be a free agent at year's end, but the Nats escaped only giving up their 10th and 11th ranked prospects:

On the surface, this deal looks exceptional for the Nationals. Herrera is another back-of-the-bullpen type that only further deepens the Nats' options in that department. Here are a handful of things you should know about the Nationals' newest pitcher:

1. Herrera's strikeout "issue" is complicated 

Herrera, like many other closers over the last half-decade, has made his name in strikeouts. He topped out at a 30.4 percent strikeout rate in 2016, and has a 23.4 percent clip for his career. His K% this season sits at 23.2 percent, which is both higher than last season and lower than his career average. 

People will look at his dramatic K/9 drop as a red flag, but "per/9" stats are flawed and not generally a worthwhile stat to build an argument around. A pitcher who gets knocked around for five runs in an inning -- but gets three strikeouts -- can have the same K/9 of a different (much more efficient) pitcher who strikes out the side in order. 

2. Herrera has basically stopped walking batters 

His career BB% sits at 7.1 percent. His highest clip is nine percent (2014, 2015) and his lowest was a shade over four percent (2016). 

This season, he's walking batters at a two percent  rate. In 27 games this season, he's walked two batters. Two! 

3. The jury seems to still be out on how good of a year he's had so far

Analytics are frustrating. On one hand, they can serve wonderfully as tools to help peel back the curtains and tell a deeper story - or dispel lazy narratives. On the other hand, they can be contradictory, confusing, and at times downright misleading. 

Take, for instance, Herrera's baseline pitching stats. His ERA sits at 1.05, while his FIP sits at 2.62. On their own, both numbers are impressive. On their own, both numbers are All-Star level stats. 

When you stack them against each other, however, the picture turns negative. While ERA is the more common stat, it's widely accepted that FIP more accurately represents a pitcher's true value (ERA's calculation makes the same per/9 mistakes that were mentioned above). 

More often than not, when a pitcher's ERA is lower than his FIP, that indicates said pitcher has benefited from luck. 

Throw in a 3.51 xFIP (which is the same as FIP, but park-adjusted) and we suddenly have a real mess on our hands. Is he the pitcher with the great ERA, the pitcher with the Very Good FIP, or the pitcher with the medicore xFIP? 

4. He was a fastball pitcher, and then he wasn't, and now he is again

Take a look at Herrera's pitch usage over his career in Kansas City:

In only three years, he's gone from throwing a sinker 31 percent of the time to completely giving up on the pitch. That's pretty wild. 

Since 2014, he's gone to the slider more and more in every year. 

His current fastball usage would be the highest of his career. He only appeared in two games during the 2011 season, so those numbers aren't reliable. Going away from the sinker probably helps explain why his Ground Ball rate has dropped 10 percentage points, too. 

5. The Nats finally have the bullpen they've been dreaming about for years

Doolittle, Herrera, Kintzler, and Madson is about as deep and talented as any bullpen in baseball.

Justin Miller, Sammy Solis, and Wander Suero all have flashed serious potential at points throughout the year. Austin Voth is waiting for roster expansion in September. 

The Nats have been trying to build this type of bullpen for the better part of the last decade. Health obviously remains an important factor, but Rizzo's got the deepest pen of his time in D.C. 

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Brain Dozier left out of lineup with toe injury

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Washington Nationals Roundup: Brain Dozier left out of lineup with toe injury

The Washington Nationals survived a ninth inning scare to beat the San Francisco Giants 9-6 Wednesday.

Here's the latest Nationals and Giants news:

Player Notes: 

NATIONALS:

Second baseman Brian Dozier was left out of the starting lineup Wednesday due to a toe injury. Dozier fouled a pitch off his toe and had to have it drained, according to Nats manager Davey Martinez. Howie Kendrick took Dozier's place at second base.

In other injury news, Martinez told reporters there is still no definitive timetable for shortstop Trea Turner's return to action, but said the shortstop is "doing everything possible" to get back in the lineup. Turner is on the 10-day injured list with a non-displaced fracture in his right index finger. 

GIANTS:

First baseman Tyler Austin tested his right arm after batting practice Wednesday to see if he could return to the lineup Thursday. Austin has been dealing with inflammation in his right elbow. 

Injures: 

2B Brian Dozier: Toe, Sidelined

SS Trea Turner: Finger, 10-Day IL 

RP Koda Glover: Elbow, 10-Day IL

RP Justin Miller: Back, 10-Day IL

Coming Up: 

Thursday, 4/18: Giants @ Nationals, 1:05 p.m., Nats Park

Friday, 4/19: Nationals @ Marlins, 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Saturday, 4/20: Nationals @ Marlins, 6:10 p.m., Marlins Park

Source: Rotoworld

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Nationals squeak past Giants, survive yet another careening night from the bullpen

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Nationals squeak past Giants, survive yet another careening night from the bullpen

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giants, 9-6, Wednesday night to move to 8-8. Here are five observations from the game...

1. We have data for spin rates, ball drag, swing paths and everything possible in baseball.

Most decisions are predicated on that information. Who to pitch, who to hit, when to do so.

Matt Adams and Davey Martinez didn’t bother with the data in the seventh inning Wednesday. Adams has a career .593 OPS against left-handed pitchers. It’s the reason he’s a bench/platoon player instead of a full-time first baseman. But, Martinez let Adams face left-hander Travis Bergen, who came into the game with a 1.69 ERA. Adams hit a three-run homer off Bergen to blow the game open.

Kurt Suzuki also homered in the seventh.

The bullpen barely took the seven-run lead across the finish line to back Jeremy Hellickson’s effective start (5 ⅔ innings, two earned runs). It, of course, was a bumpy ride to get there. Austen Williams started the ninth inning with a 9-2 lead. He faced four hitters, retired none, allowed two home runs and was yanked when San Francisco pulled to within 9-6, forcing the Nationals to use Kyle Barraclough and to warm up closer Sean Doolittle.

Barraclough picked up an out, then was removed. Doolittle entered a game he never anticipated coming into. Buster Posey hit his first pitch for a double. Brandon Belt walked, bringing the tying run to the plate. Brandon Crawford struck out. Evan Longoria popped out on a 3-2 pitch. Mercifully, it was over just short of disaster.

“That happened really fast,” manager Davey Martinez said. “You guys saw it; everybody saw it. The biggest -- to have to use Doolittle up seven there in the ninth, was tough. We have to close out the game.”

Barraclough was used for an out to keep Doolittle’s pitch count down in hopes of using him against Thursday. Barraclough threw just four pitches. But, the mere fact they had to enter the game was damning.  

“In that situation, as well as things were going in that game, when you pitch in the closer’s role you can never really check out and you have to stay in the game mentally,” Doolittle said. “If something does happen, often times it happens really quick and it snowballs.”

Patrick Corbin is on the mound Thursday afternoon to chase the series win. The bullpen has a short night to move on.

2. Adjustments for Juan Soto in Season Two are ongoing.

The league’s pitchers have decided to not throw him fastballs. Soto came into Wednesday seeing fastballs just 42.9 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs. That’s a league low.

Along with a reduction in the fastballs thrown to him, the number of pitches in the strike zone to Soto has also declined significantly, down to 36.3 percent from 43.6 percent in 2018. And, his strikeouts are up accordingly. His K-percentage has risen from 20.0 percent to 28.8 percent.

Coming into Wednesday, Soto struck out 19 times this season. Of those, 12 were against off-speed pitches. Half of those were against changeups.

So, the book on him is clear: do not throw a fastball.

What did Giants starter Jeff Samardzija throw Soto on the second pitch in his first-inning at-bat? A fastball. Where did it land? In the right field seats.

That yin-and-yang for Soto is something to keep an eye through the season. Will he take walks when watching off-speed out of the zone? Will he not miss the rare fastball?

The league was expected to push back in Soto’s second season. It has. Soto needs to figure out how to best handle it.

3. Martinez modified his lineup Wednesday for multiple reasons.

He wanted Adams on the field against Samardzija. Adams came into the game with a 1.732 OPS against the Giants right-hander in 17 at-bats. He wanted Howie Kendrick in the lineup somewhere -- Kendrick hit his third home run in his 18th at-bat this season when he came to the plate in the first inning Wednesday. He also wanted Victor Robles to stay in the No. 9 spot.

The lineup:

Adam Eaton
Anthony Rendon
Juan Soto
Matt Adams
Howie Kendrick
Kurt Suzuki
Wilmer Difo
Jeremy Hellickson​​​​​​​
Victor Robles

So, mark Game 16 as Martinez’s first notable deviation in lineup structure. He wanted a set lineup during the season as often as possible. Wednesday was a change because of the opposing pitcher, Brian Dozier’s struggles (and injured toe following a foul ball Tuesday night), and Kendrick’s hot hitting

4. Dozier fouled a ball off his front foot Tuesday night. He had the blood-filled toe drained Wednesday, which removed him from the opening lineup. Martinez said Dozier was available to play late, if need be.

Dozier seemed undeterred by the toe issue. He took early batting practice on the field with Ryan Zimmerman. He later took grounders during regular batting practice.

Dozier tried to play through a knee problem much of last season. His work today despite the toe injury appeared as much a statement as preparation. It was enough to show Martinez he could enter as a defensive replacement for Kendrick in the eighth inning.

Martinez stopped short of using the “P” word -- platoon -- when discussing Dozier and Kendrick pregame.

“We’d love for him to play every day, but we have to take care of Howie,” Martinez said. “He’s going to play. But then again, I have to make sure he’s with us for the duration of the season.”

5. Hellickson has an interesting run going since joining the Nationals: In his 21 starts, he’s allowed three or fewer runs in 20 of them.

Hellickson doesn’t last long. He’s pitched more than six innings once. Hellickson’s starts also are not filled with bliss. Wednesday he walked four, struck out none, yet allowed just two earned runs.

However, he has kept the Nationals competitive in most of his starts as the No. 5 starter.

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