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Report: Papelbon files grievance vs. Nationals


Report: Papelbon files grievance vs. Nationals

NASHVILLE — The Nationals' already unenviable dilemma with Jonathan Papelbon appears to have become even more complicated after a report Sunday night that the controversial closer has filed a grievance against the organization over his unpaid suspension at season's end.

Citing multiple major league sources, Boston radio station website reported the former Red Sox reliever filed his grievance against the Nationals for failing to pay his salary during the 4-game suspension the club imposed on him during the season's final week.

The Nationals said general manager Mike Rizzo is expected to comment on the reported grievance Monday during his daily meeting with reporters at the Winter Meetings. Most club officials were scheduled to arrive at the Opryland Resort late Sunday night.

Papelbon's case is built upon the question of whether an MLB club is allowed to withhold pay from a player it unilaterally suspended. Players who serve league-imposed suspensions aren't paid, but that process is spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement signed off by the players' union.

Papelbon, according to the report, claims there is no precedent of a player having his salary withdrawn after a team-issued suspension. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled.

The 4-game suspension was handed down September 28, one day after Papelbon and teammate Bryce Harper got into a heated argument in the Nationals' dugout that resulted in the fiery closer choking the eventual NL MVP. The club announced at the time the suspension was without pay, with Rizzo saying he informed Papelbon of the punishment during a phone conversation.

"He was upset with the suspension, and we discussed about the nature of the incident and how I felt that it was an unacceptable way to handle yourself as a Washington National," Rizzo said that afternoon. "We parted amicably, and I left it with: We will see him shortly after the season."

Papelbon has not spoken publicly since he was suspended.


One of the Nationals' reasons for acquiring the veteran closer from the Phillies prior to the July 31 trade deadline was the fact he was already signed for next season. Papelbon, who held (and still holds) limited no-trade rights as part of his contract, agreed to reduce his 2016 salary from $13 million to $11 million.

The Phillies actually picked up $4.5 million of the $4,830,601 that Papelbon was owed after the trade, so the Nationals were only responsible for $330,601 of his salary in 2015. Four days' worth of his full salary would amount to roughly $288,000.

Since season's end, the Nationals have been trying to figure out how to proceed with Papelbon. Sources have said the club has been gauging trade interest from other teams, but given his situation and his salary, they face a tough task trying to find a willing partner. If they release him, the Nationals would be responsible for his entire 2016 salary.

Rizzo has said he would only deal Papelbon and/or disgruntled reliever Drew Storen (who lost his closer's job to Papelbon after the trade) if it makes sense from a baseball standpoint.

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5 things you should know about new Nationals' pitcher Kelvin Herrera


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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Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera


Nationals trade for Royals' closer Kelvin Herrera

The Nationals made the first major trade of the season this evening. 

Midway through their Monday night game against the Yankees, the team announced that they had completed a trade for Royals' relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera:

Herrera's a major acquisition for the Nationals, as the pitcher is in the middle of a career year. He's currently pitched 25 innings so far, posting a 1.05 FIP, 2.62 ERA and 0.82 WHIP. His 2.1 percent walk rate this season is a career low.