When Jonathan Papelbon landed on the DL for the first time in his career, the Nationals faced a tricky question.
With the team reportedly looking for bullpen help already, the injury to their closer -- albeit one who was struggling of late -- was a blow to an already shaky bullpen.
Two games have passed, and the Nats went with Shawn Kelley, who has experience closing games with the Yankees.
Here are Kelley's splits:
After Kelley, the Nats best options are, in no particular order, Felipe Rivero, Sammy Solis, and Blake Treinen. Who's the best option? Is there a best option?
And now Solis:
And finally, Treinen:
So, the Nats have some intriguing options.
On the surface, Kelley looks like the best option. His 13.11 K/9 is best among the group, as is his K%, BB%, WHIP and FIP, just to name a few. All four of these relievers have thrown somewhere between 21-28 innings this season, so their numbers are comparable.
For those who are into such things, Kelley's fastball (91.9) averages about 4 mph slower than Treinen and Rivero (95.0 and 95.3, respectively) and 2 mph slower than Solis (93.5).
How are batters hitting against the four of these guys? Here are Kelley's contact numbers:
Considering both Treinen and Solis have Z-Contact%'s in the high 80s, the two lowest SwStr% and BB% above 12 percent, it's not terribly risky to assume that neither are going to be the first choice. Blowing a tie-game in the top of the 9th and taking the loss on Tuesday night probably doesn't do wonders for Solis' chances, either.
Rivero and Kelley's contact numbers are fairly similar, with Kelley taking the slight edge.
In your perfect world, your closer throws hard and Rivero does just that. Despite having a fastball in the mid-90's, he's actually throwing it less: he threw it 76% of the time last year vs 59% of the time this year. He's sacraficing that fastball usage for a new changeup, which he's increased usage of by almost 18% (4% to 22%).
Despite adding another pitch, the Rivero's numbers have actually taken a step back this year. His Hard% has gone up almost 10%, and his HR/FB ration skyrocketed from 4% to 20%. Rivero's contact % is down, but when batters are hitting Rivero, they're doing more damage than they did last year. He stranded 73% of batters last year; this year he's hovering at around 56%.
Kelley only throws fastballs and sliders, and he throws each about 50% of the time. At 17%, his SwStr% is three percentage points higher than at any point in his career. Because of that, naturally, his Contact% is also pacing to be the best of his career.
For the first time in his career, batters are swinging at over 50% of his pitches, and they're doing it mostly by chasing pitches outside the zone. While his Z-Swing% has stayed relatively consistent in the 67-68% range, his O-Swing% has gone from 32% last year to 38% this year. Batters are also hitting only 18% of his pitches for line drives, the lowest since 2010.
In the end, minus some sort of trade for an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman type pitcher, Jonathan Papelbon is the Nats closer when he returns from the DL. Papelbon has been consistently good in the role and durable up until now.
Even despite his recent struggles, there's no one else in the Nats bullpen who has the makings of someone who would repalce Papelbon going forward. As a stopgap, Shawn Kelley looks to be the smart pick -- not just because of his "experience" closing games in the past, but because the numbers say he's the best choice.