Spring Training Preview, Part II: Relief Pitchers

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by Kyle Mann

Over each of the next few weeks, we’ll break down the entire Nationals roster as the team prepares to take the field in Viera, Fla., to get to work on defending their NL East Division title. Continuing this week with relief pitchers, we’ll take a look at the stockpile of talent acquired and developed by President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Mike Rizzo, 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams and their respective staffs.

We already reviewed the catchers, so now let’s delve into some of the arms they’ll spend their time catching: the relievers.

*Note, 2014 totals reflect only Major League stats.

Miami Marlins v Washington NationalsDREW STOREN

2014 Season Totals: 2-1, 11 saves, 1.12 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 7.35 K/9, 1.76 BB/9, 0.9 fWAR in 56.1 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-3, 33 saves, 3.37 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 7.89 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 65.0 IP

Since being drafted No. 10 overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, right-hander Drew Storen has been a steady contributor in the Nationals bullpen. After the toughest year of his young career in 2013, Storen came back with a vengeance last season, posting an N.L best 1.12 ERA (min. 50 innings pitched). Coming off such a strong year, Storen is being counted on to build off his great 2014 campaign and lock down the ninth inning for the defending NL East Champions.

MATT THORNTON

2014 Season Totals: 1-3, 0 saves, 1.75 ERA, 2.66 FIP, 7.00 K/9, 2.00 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR in 36.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-2, 2 saves, 2.96 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 8.33 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 0.5 fWAR in 55.0 IP

An 11-year veteran, Matt Thornton was acquired by the Nationals from the Yankees last August to provide a veteran left-handed presence in the bullpen. Thornton responded with 18 scoreless appearances for the Nationals while also stranding 100 percent of inherited baserunners. Signed through 2015, Thornton is projected to continue his success in the back-end of the Nationals bullpen in 2015, which will likely include a significant late-inning load again this season.

CRAIG STAMMEN

2014 Season Totals: 4-5, 0 saves, 3.84 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 6.94 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR in 72.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-3, 3 saves, 3.46 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 7.53 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 65.0 IP

Craig Stammen has proven to be Mr. Everything for the Nationals since making his Major League debut in 2009. A starting pitcher in 2009 and 2010, Stammen has since established himself as a solid, versatile reliever for the Nationals the last four seasons, posting an ERA under 4.00 each year. While Stammen’s ERA rose from 2.76 in 2013 to 3.83 last season, his FIP and underlying peripherals indicate his performance was much closer to his outstanding 2013 than his ERA showed. With a career best 4:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season, thr right-hander should be in line for another solid season in 2015, no matter which role he occupies in the Nationals’ bullpen.

Atlanta Braves v Washington NationalsAARON BARRETT

2014 Season Totals: 3-0, 0 saves, 2.66 ERA, 2.59 FIP, 10.84 K/9, 4.43 BB/9, 0.6 fWAR in 40.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 2-2, 1 save, 3.21 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 9.20 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 0.3 fWAR in 45.0 IP

Whether you count securing the win in his Major League debut on Opening Day, or taking down the Rockies Brandon Barnes in a July 23rd anthem stand-off among the highlights, there’s no doubt that Aaron Barrett proved himself as a bullpen force during his rookie season. Finishing the year with an outstanding 2.66 ERA and extremely impressive 10.84 K/9 mark, Barrett provided plenty of reasons for Nationals fans to be excited about his second MLB season. Barrett has the ability to pitch in a right-handed set-up role for the Nationals in 2015, and if he can improve upon last season’s 4.43 BB/9, it seems the sky is the limit for him.

JERRY BLEVINS

2014 Season Totals: 2-3, 0 saves, 4.87 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 10.36 K/9, 3.61 BB/9, 0.7 fWAR in 57.1 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-2, 1 save, 3.11 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR in 55.0 IP

A teammate of Stammen’s at the University of Dayton, Jerry Blevins joined Stammen as a key bullpen contributor during his first season in the Nation’s Capital. The left-hander’s 4.87 ERA from last season may be a bit misleading, but if you dig a bit deeper you’ll see that he had an outstanding 10.36 K/9 and 2.77 FIP, plus some impressive performances out of the bullpen during the postseason. Blevins’ strong peripheral stats lead to a rosy 2015 projection for the international traveler where he should combine with Thornton to provide solid left-handed contributions in the Nationals’ bullpen.

XAVIER CEDENO

2014 Season Totals: 0-0, 0 saves, 3.86 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 6.43 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 7.0 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 3-2, 1 save, 3.11 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 9.03 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR in 55.0 IP

While Cedeno has only pitched 13 innings for the Nationals since being acquired from the Houston Astros early in the 2013 season, he has performed well at the Major League and Triple-A levels during his time in the Nationals organization. In 74 appearances for Triple-A Syracuse, Cedeno has a 1.84 ERA with 102 strikeouts in only 73.2 innings. As a left-hander with great numbers in the Minor Leagues and several solid stints with the big league club, Cedeno is a great option as a third lefty out of the ‘pen for the Nationals in 2015.

ERIK DAVIS

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 0 saves, 3.52 ERA, 3.60 FIP, 7.87 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, 0.0 fWAR in 15.0 IP

Davis, a college teammate of Drew Storen’s at Stanford University, underwent Tommy John surgery last season and is due back during 2015. Davis impressed during a call-up in 2013 with 12 strikeouts in 8.2 innings pitched for the Nationals. With a 3.10 ERA in Triple-A Syracuse in 2013, Davis could be another option for the Nationals bullpen as soon as he returns to full health.

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis CardinalsERIC FORNATARO

2014 Season Totals: 0-0, 0 saves, 4.66 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 4.66 K/9, 3.13 BB/0, 0.0 fWAR in 9.2 IP
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 0 saves, 4.44 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 5.70 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, -0.2 fWAR in 20.0 IP

Acquired from the Cardinals this offseason, Fornataro is known for premium velocity and posted a 2.57 ERA for Triple-A Memphis last season. Fornataro had a 4.66 ERA in eight MLB appearances with the Cardinals last season and the 27-year-old provides solid right-handed depth for the Nationals bullpen. 

MATT GRACE

2014 Season Totals: N/A
2015 Steamer Proj.: 1-1, 0 saves, 4.24 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 5.86 K/9, 3.16 BB/9, -0.2 fWAR in 25.0 IP

Grace, a 2010 selection in the First-Year Player Draft out of UCLA, has excelled in the minors since a move to the bullpen. After posting a 1.17 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season, the 6-foot-4 left-hander was selected to attend the Arizona Fall League, regarded as a finishing school for Major League prospects. Grace posted a 3.18 ERA in the hitter-friendly league, showing that he is ready should the Nationals call on him to provide left-handed depth in their bullpen in 2015.

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