2012 Nationals Grades: Bullpen
Probably one of the most undervalued aspect of a team is their bullpen. From year to year, a bullpen can look completely different with a select handful of players staying with the team for an extended period of time. The 2012 Nationals had a very good bullpen that, surprisingly was very similar to the roster on the previous year, 2011. The Nationals had some issues with injuries, forcing some adapting along the way. The Nationals were lucky in the sense that there were a few surprises for the team along the way. Additionally, the Nationals bullpen was statistically solid all the way around.
In spring training, the Nationals were gearing up for what was going to be a year with a lot of the big pieces healthy and ready to play. The Nationals added a pitcher in Edwin Jackson and a few bench players that would go on to make an impact in the regular season, such as Chad Tracy. The one thing that did not change a whole lot though was the Bullpen. 14 pitchers would come out of the bullpen for the Nationals in 2012 and 9 of those 14 pitchers had made an appearance for the Nationals in 2011. The five pitchers who were not with the Nationals in the previous year had been acquired in free agency or called up from the farm. Those new pitchers were Christian Garcia, Michael Gonzalez, Zach Duke, Ryan Perry, and Brad Lidge. Brad Lidge was brought on before the season started to be a mentor for the young pitchers in the bullpen, such as Drew Storen and Henry Rodriquez. The bullpen had been shaping up nicely with some young talent and a veteran presence.
Unfortunately for the Nationals, injuries sidelined some of the young talent. Drew Storen ended up having elbow surgery early in the year and missed a siginificant amount of time during his recovery. Due to the unexpected bump, Henry Rodriguez, Tyler Clippard, and Brad Lidge had to jump into different roles then had been initially planned for. Brad Lidge initially spent some time in big game situations to shut down the opposing team. In the first game of the season, Lidge was given the ball to close out the Cubs. Lidge made it interesting, but ultimately got the job done. Lidge scuffled in 2012 and was ultimately released from the organization after a difficult series against the New York Yankees in Washington D.C. Henry Rodriquez spent some time in the closer's role, picking up 9 saves. Rodriquez began to struggle, though and became surprisingly hittable. Rodriguez would go on to blow 3 saves, the notable ones being a blown save in Los Angeles that lead to a sweep at the hands of the Dodgers and a walk off Grand Slam by Joey Votto in Cincinnati. Tyler Clippard came on to take over the closer's role after Rodriguez had stumbled and Lidge was not an option. Clippard's 2012 season was something of a career year, picking up 32 saves in 37 opportunities. Clippard was also the most frequently used pitcher in the Nationals bullpen, going into 74 games in 72.2 innings pitched and worked a 3.72 ERA and 3.31 FIP.
If there was one thing that the Nationals proved in 2012, it was that they had a great farm system and significant organizational depth. With all the talent on the team, very little time was spent figuring out who would be the go to closer when Storen was injured. After Lidge was released, Ryan Perry was optioned, and Rodriguez was injured, the Nationals was able to bring up guys like Michael Gonzalez and Christian Garcia. Zach Duke was later a September callup, but the Nationals never seemed to have any issues with the bullpen. Ryan Mattheus had another solid year in which he had few bad outtings and seemed to come through when it mattered most, most notably when he was able to dial up 3 outs on 2 pitches in St. Louis during the National League Division Series. It is also worth noting that 3 pitchers in the Nationals bullpen started games in 2012. Ross Detwiler had a stint in the bullpen after Chien-Ming Wang came back from the disabled list and Tom Gorzelanny started a game after the Nationals clinched the division. Perhaps the most notable of these mentions is when Ross Detwiler was able to draw a walk to keep an extra inning game alive and make it possible for Bryce Harper to pick up his first walk of hit against the New York Mets. Chien-Ming Wang was not fun to watch, as a starter or a reliever and that is all I will say about that. It was nice to see all these pitchers contribute in the ways they did and that one or two may have been previously unknown before making their appearances in the big leagues.
Statistically, the Nationals bullpen was solid in just about every aspect. As a team, the bullpen was 26-19 with a 3.23 ERA in 515.1 innings pitched. Nationals relievers struck out 470 batters throughout the year, and allowed walks to 196 of them. Nationals relievers also stranded 77.1% of runners on base, had an 8.21 K/9, and a 2.40 K/BB ratio. The Nationals bullpen was 7th in ERA in the Major Leagues, but 3rd in the National League behind only the Reds and the Braves. The numbers speak for themselves, when talking about the 2012 Nationals bullpen, and it is plain to see they are quite good.
I would have to give the Nationals bullpen an A- overall. When Brad Lidge had issues getting guys out, Henry Rodriguez had somewhat of a stumble, and Chien-Ming Wang was in the bullpen are the only times the bullpen had any real problems. When those issues were resolved and guys were able to figure out their roles, the bullpen excelled. A reliable year from some other regulars, such as Sean Burnett and Tom Gorzelanny, made it possible for the Nationals to have the best record in baseball and a truly memorable year in 2012.