Ranking Impact of New Nats
Biggest impact: Sean Doolittle
The power-lefty may not have been formally named the Nationals’ new closer by Dusty Baker but he is certainly being used like one. In six appearances since being acquired from Oakland the 30 year-old has saved four games in four chances and he’s recorded the final out in every game he’s appeared in. If he is used as the closer throughout the post season he will have a lot to say about how far Washington advances.
Also, with Doolittle serving as the team’s late-inning lefty, he’ll be used in critical match-ups against premium left-handed opposing bats in the playoffs. If Anthony Rizzo is batting in a big spot for the Cubs or Corey Seager is at the dish for the Dodgers, Doolittle could be the first guy summoned. He’s got a chance to become a lights out closer and solve a dilemma. If he can he’ll become one of the team’s most vital October players.
Runner up: Ryan Madson
Madson has been dominant in his first five games with the Nationals. He’s issued just three hits and four base runners while striking out seven, routinely sitting at 97 miles per hour while getting swings-and-misses with a lethal breaking ball. Now 36 and three years removed from missing three full seasons, Madson is defying the odds by hurling better stuff than he did in the prime of his career.
Dusty Baker could ask Madson to close in a ninth inning where the opponent sends three right-handers to the plate but it is more likely that Madson pitches in a set-up role. The owner of two World Series rings, he is sporting a 9.3 K/9 rate while only walking 1.4 every nine innings this season. Don’t be surprised if Madson serves as Washington’s most reliable reliever during the stretch run, but his lower-leverage usage than Doolite lands him in the second spot on this list.
Bronze medal: Howie Kendrick
The perfect bench-bat and extra-piece, Kendrick has tallied 103 career playoff at-bats. The versatile defender can play left field adequately and second base at a slightly below average level as well. Assuming Jayson Werth returns from injury to re-establish himself as a viable option in left field, Kendrick will very likely become Baker’s first option as a pinch hitter against lefties.
Kendrick is the consummate pro offensively, a .290 career hitter, who gets on base consistently. Currently hitting over .340 and carrying an impressive .397 on-base, the 12th-year veteran is a nice fit in the two-spot in the batting order. He could aso lengthen the lineup being giving you a quality at-bat and seeing pitches at the bottom of the order as well. Bringing the former Dodger over without having to give up a top prospect was a no-brainer for Mike Rizzo.
Also helpful: Brandon Kintzler
Kintzler spent the majority of the season closing games in Minnesota, posting 28 saves in 32 tries while maintaining a 1.15 WHIP en-route to an All-Star Game nod. But he doesn’t miss many bats and he won’t strike anybody out. Instead, Kintzler relies on a 93 MPH sinker to get weak contact. He’s fanned just 5.4 per nine innings this season while getting 53.9% of batters to ground out (his lowest ground ball rate since 2012). Those peripherals don’t scream “closer” to me.
I think Baker will use him in the role Blake Treinen, now in Oakland, occupied in 2016. He’ll be called upon to get ground balls and to induce double plays, something he has done effectively while stranding 78.3% of runners this season. I can see him majoring in the seventh inning and minoring in eight and ninth inning match-ups, coming in to get a right-hander after Enny Romero or Sammy Solis is used to take on a lefty. (Notable: Kintzler actually has reverse splits this season. Lefties are hitting .197 off him while righty-sticks are batting .286).