Re-Ranking Every Washington Nationals Reliever
The Washington Nationals have one of the best bullpens in baseball.
They have a bullpen ERA of 3.11, third in the National League and eighth overall. The Nats' relievers have only surrendered 0.74 home runs per nine innings and left opposing runners on base 77.6 percent of the time. Both of those numbers rank in the top third of the entire league.
But the roster of this bullpen has changed dramatically, both from the start of spring training and from Opening Day. Starting closer Drew Storen has yet to play a regular-season game. Henry Rodriguez is also on the disabled list. And newcomer Brad Lidge was just sent down to the minor leagues, after a rough return from injury.
So who is currently pitching out of the bullpen for the Washington Nationals? And who is the best among them? Let's take a look at the Nationals' relievers currently on the active roster and rank them on their performance through Sunday's game, placing an emphasis on number of appearances.
7. Mike Gonzalez
This journeyman left-hander was recently picked up by the Nationals when Henry Rodriguez went to the disabled list, and he has been a pleasant surprise.
The former closer for both the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Atlanta Braves struggled when he filled the same job for the Baltimore Orioles from 2010-11, but he's back in form with the Nats, although not as the closer.
In only five innings pitched so far in a total of seven appearances, Mike Gonzalez has yet to surrender a run. He's given up only four hits while facing 19 batters. Gonzalez throws 7.20 strikeouts per nine innings and has walked only one batter.
And he does this while keeping the other team off-balance. Mike Gonzalez works fast and retires opposing hitters even faster.
6. Ross Detwiler
Ross Detwiler was demoted from the Washington Nationals' starting rotation on May 26th, making way for Chien-Ming Wang.
But Detwiler took the demotion in stride and has further proved his value to this team.
In five relief appearances, Ross Detwiler has an ERA of 1.86 in 9.2 innings pitched. He has struck out 6.52 per nine innings, but has walked 5.59 per nine and surrendered 1.86 home runs per nine. Detwiler has, however, stranded 100 percent of the runners he inherited.
Pretty impressive for a starting pitcher.
5. Tom Gorzelanny
Tom Gorzelanny is another converted starter, and he has become the long man for the Washington Nationals.
In 20 appearances, Gorzelanny has pitched a total of 33 innings and compiled a 2-1 record. Per nine innings, he strikes out 7.64 batters, walks 3.00 and gives up 1.08 home runs. He has stranded 76.9 percent of inherited runners and has a 3.55 ERA.
Tom Gorzelanny has even pitched well enough to earn himself appearances in the later innings.
4. Ryan Mattheus
This hard-throwing right-hander has been another pleasant surprise, and he has added to the strength and depth of the Washington Nationals bullpen.
In 20.1 innings over 20 appearances, Ryan Mattheus has a 2.21 ERA with 5.75 strikeouts per nine innings. He has surrendered less than one hit per inning and only given up one home run all season. He does, however, have 3.75 walks per nine innings.
The 29-year-old was called up from Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday after a brief rehab assignment, and he took the place of veteran Brad Lidge in the bullpen. Mattheus pitched briefly in Sunday's game and will be a welcome addition to the bullpen.
3. Craig Stammen
Craig Stammen has finally found a home with the Washington Nationals. The converted starter is now dominating the National League as a middle reliever for the Nats.
Stammen has a 3-0 record in 26 games, totaling 35.1 innings. He strikes out an impressive 9.68 batters per nine innings, while only surrendering 0.51 home runs per nine. The 28-year-old walks 3.06 per nine innings, but has stranded 88.4 percent of inherited runners and has a microscopic 1.53 ERA. That's the second-best ERA in the bullpen, with a minimum of 10 appearances.
Craig Stammen throws hard, and his slider is devastating. He has become the secret weapon of this bullpen.
2. Sean Burnett
This southpaw reliever is currently pitching the best baseball of his career for the Washington Nationals.
Sean Burnett has been lights-out for Davey Johnson and Steve McCatty. He has pitched mostly in the seventh and eighth innings, starring in the setup role. Burnett has used his side-arm delivery to compile a 1.17 ERA, best in the bullpen, while pitching 23.0 innings over 28 games.
Burnett has given up only 15 hits and one home run, and he has a 0.91 WHIP. He has struck out 24 while walking only six batters.
Burnett even stepped in as the closer for a short time. He handled that pressure with aplomb, converting both of his save opportunities.
Sean Burnett would be the closer in almost any other bullpen in the major leagues. But this is not just any other bullpen.
1. Tyler Clippard
It doesn't really matter what role Tyler Clippard plays in the Nationals bullpen. He's going to be one of the best relievers in the major leagues.
Last year, he was voted to the NL All-Star team as an eighth-inning setup man. This year, he began the season with the same role and resumed his dominance. Clippard has 35 strikeouts and 14 walks over 29.1 innings, while giving up only 15 hits and no home runs. He has a 2.15 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP.
But as the Nationals continued to search for a reliable replacement for closer Drew Storen as he continued to sit with an injury, Clippard asked to be the man.
And he has been. Clippard has converted nine of 10 save opportunities, including saving each game of a three-game set at Fenway Park from June 8-10.
So now, the question is not whether Tyler Clippard will make the All-Star team this year. The question is whether he'll he make the team as a setup man or as a closer.
The National League manager could always have Tyler Clippard play the setup role for himself.