Nats Receive Bullpen HelpPosted on August 05, 2014 by Ben Bruno
Earlier today Nats' GM Mike Rizzo made a post-trade deadline move in order to help fill a void. He claimed lefty reliever Matt Thornton off of waivers, after he was placed on them by the New York Yankees. It was a straight salary dump move by the Yankees and will save them roughly $4 million as Thornton is pitching in his first season of a two year deal worth $7 million that he signed in the off-season. Jerry Blevins has not been the pitcher the Nats brought him in for and has struggled all season. Ross Detwiler lost out on a spot in the starting rotation and has yet to have his role on this team defined for him, even though he has improved after a very shaky start to the season. With both lefty relievers struggling, this created a void in the Nats' bullpen, one that Rizzo now hopes can be filled by Thornton. As always, any statistics I reference are via FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.
Thornton has only pitched 24.2 innings this season, as the Yankees used him mainly as a specialist, but he has posted good numbers. His earned run average (ERA) is 2.55 and his fielder independent pitching (FIP) is 2.73. He's struck out 20 batters to just six walks, and has yet to allow a home run this year. Looking at a larger sample size, Thornton's career ERA is 3.49 and his career FIP is 3.38, with 602 strikeouts to 232 walks in 593 career innings pitched. Solid numbers. More importantly, while Thornton has shown the ability - both this season and for his career - to get lefties out, he's also able to shutdown righties.
Again, it's a small sample size, but this season Thornton has limited lefties to hitting just .237/.306/.250 against him, while righties aren't faring much better, batting .237/.326/.378. Looking at his career numbers, they again look better when facing lefties than they do against righties, but righties haven't found much success against him either (.229/.297/.344 versus lefties, .239/.325/.362 versus righties). Both Blevins and Detwiler have good numbers against lefties, but have been getting hit hard by righties this season. Blevins has dominated lefties, allowing a line of .132/.190/.205, but is getting killed by righties: .317/.400/.449. Detwiler isn't getting hit as hard as Blevins is against righties, but is still faring much worse against them compared to lefties (.224/.271/.250 versus lefties, .287/.379/.452 versus righties). Thornton's ability to get both lefties and righties out, allows Manager Matt Williams to slide Blevins into a lefty specialist role only and not have to worry about "wasting" him after he faces just a batter or two.
The bullpen for the Nats has been a strong point all season. They have the 6th best bullpen ERA in baseball at 2.92 and their collective FIP of 2.98 is best in baseball. However, both of their lefty relievers have struggled this season and have not been capable of getting righties out. Although the Yankees used Thornton in a "specialist" role, I'm guessing Williams will allow him to face righties as well, given that he's shown he can be effective against them, unlike Blevins or Detwiler. The hole the Rizzo addressed was not a glaring one, but an important one nonetheless. He improved what is already a strong point on his roster and while it wasn't a splashy move, it was a beneficial one. Similar to the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, Rizzo made a small upgrade that could prove to pay off later in the season. Having flexibility in the bullpen is never a bad thing and having another lefty will allow Williams to pull Blevins out of the game without worrying about not having another southpaw available. This acquisition will likely be quickly forgotten, but don't be surprised to see Thornton in high leverage situations before you know it.
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