Flashback to 2010. The Nationals bullpen corps, lead by Clippard, Storen, and Burnett, was one of the best in baseball. Their peripheral stats placed them well ahead of the starters in terms of overall value. And going into 2011, many expected that the Nationals bullpen would remain in top form, though after 20 games the bullpen hasn't been able to replicate its .235 BABIP, 3.35 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP. What seems to be the problem?
First, let's see how the bullpen stats are faring compared to last year.
ERA - 3.35 in 2010 - 3.45 in 2011
WHIP - 1.28 in 2010 - 1.34 in 2011
BABIP - .235 in 2010 - .298 in 2011
K/9 - 8.5 in 2010 - 7.5 in 2011
Shutdowns - 130 in 2010 - 15 in 2011 (121 pace)
Meltdowns - 74 in 2010 - 9 in 2011 (73 pace)
ERA and WHIP are pretty close to last years numbers and strikeout rates are down, but there are serious issues when you look at the BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play). The rate last year was extraordinarily low, and there was little way that they would be able to continue the pace this year - especially with such a huge roster turnover. Which leads me to my next issue. Enormous roster turnover.
Last year the Nats had 16 players suit up in their bullpen (including names like Scott Olsen, Joe Bisenius, and Brian Bruney). This year there has only been 8 (SMALL SAMPLE SIZE). But of those 8 players that have pitched out of the Nats bullpen this year, 5 are returners (including Balester). Yes, Clippard, Storen, and Burnett have been just as good, if not better, than last year - but they are not at all the issue. The issue lies in the quality of the supporting cast.
2010 Mainstays (aside from Clip, Burn, Storen) -
Matt Capps - 2.74 ERA - 1.30 WHIP - .313 BABIP - 20/7 SD/MD
Doug Slaten - 3.10 ERA - 1.30 WHIP - .283 BABIP - 10/2 SD/MD
Collin Balester - 2.57 ERA - 1.24 WHIP - .283 BABIP - 0/1 SD/MD
Joel Peralta - 2.02 ERA - 0.80 WHIP - .200 BABIP - 13/4 SD/MD
Miguel Batista - 3.94 ERA - 1.36 WHIP - .257 BABIP - 7/6 SD/MD
Now, let's fast forward to 2011 and see how the bullpen is doing with a few new parts.
Doug Slaten - 0.00 ERA - 1.71 WHIP - .429 BABIP - 0/3 SD/MD
Collin Balester (3 games) - 8.10 ERA - 1.80 WHIP - .200 BABIP - 0/0 SD/MD
Todd Coffey - 6.23 ERA - 1.38 WHIP - .214 BABIP - 1/0 SD/MD
Chad Gaudin - 7.04 ERA - 2.61 WHIP - .458 BABIP - 1/3 SD/MD
Brian Broderick - 7.36 ERA - 1.23 WHIP - .250 BABIP - 0/0 SD/MD
Once again, for good measure - SMALL SAMPLE SIZE.
That being said Coffey, Gaudin, and Broderick have not even come remotely close to competence. And the only reason that Slaten's ERA is at 0.00 is because of his LOOGY status, any base-runner allowed is left for others to mop up - in 3 of his 11 appearances he has failed to record an out. The Pen - minus the Big 3 - has combined for 2 Shutdowns and 7 Meltdowns. That, frankly, isn't going to cut it at all.
Look for some moves changing the look of the Nats bullpen. Limiting Riggleman to just 3 or 4 legit options out of a 7 man pen is going to have serious repercussions in the long run. Its time for a change.