The concept of the shutdown 7th, 8th, and 9th inning relievers isn’t a new concept. The 2014 Kansas Royals stealth bullpen (Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland) was built out of necessity because their starting rotation couldn’t go deep into games, and ownership was not going to pay the tens of millions for elite starting pitching. Combining a great back of a bullpen with great starting pitching is the ultimate goal. In 1990, “The Nasty Boys” were made up of the trio of Norm Charlton, Rob Dibble and Randy Myers who were an intimidating force that won a World Series for Lou Pinella that year.
Twenty years later, the Braves rolled out their version of “The Nasty Boys” and tweaked it the following year with Craig Kimbrel taking Billy Wagner’s spot for a trio of O’Flaherty, Venters, and Kimbrel in 2011 and you knew that if the Braves had a lead after the 6th inning, the game was over. That trio combined for 51 saves in 2011.
Now the Nationals have created their own three-headed bullpen monster aka “The Firm” of Kintzler, Madson and Doolittle. Two of the three partners were part of a fledgling Oakland A’s team which allowed Mike Rizzo to acquire two relievers at once when he snatched up Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle on July 16th more than 2 weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline was to end. By making a preemptive strike, Rizzo struck before other GMs were ready to move. Then Rizzo yearned for a third reliever and found the price was too high for Brad Hand, Zack Britton, and Raisel Iglesias and locked up a deal minutes before the non-waiver trade deadline expired at 4:00 pm on July 31st and struck gold again for All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler.
While the competition was more fixated on Hand and Britton, general manager Mike Rizzo swooped in and got the soon-to-be free agent Kintzler for only international bonus slot money and left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Watson who was ranked #14 in the Nats’ system.
With these three newly acquired relievers at the back-end of the Nationals’ bullpen, it would allow manager Dusty Baker the ability to slot his other bullpen arms into less demanding roles. The Nationals this season have had 8 relievers record saves and 3 of those 8 relievers are Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley and Enny Romero who are all currently on the DL. The Nationals opening day closer, Blake Treinen, was traded to the A’s which has really changed the complexion of what this bullpen now looks like.
Role management is a key. Putting players in their best situations to succeed for the team has always been a key.
“The Firm” has turned 4 tie games into wins, and they have a 100% save percentage. Their combined WHIP is .913 and their strikeout rate is slightly over 1 per inning.
“A bullpens’ success is contagious,” Sean Doolittle said to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. “That momentum builds as you all count down the outs. You can smell the win. Sometimes when one person comes to a new team, there are these expectation. It takes a little bit of the pressure off. We can carry those expectations together.”
The ERA is probably skewed some on Doolittle as he was brought into a game with a 6 run lead on July 26th and you might remember he gave up 3 runs. Doolittle also had that first save when he gave up a run when he said his nerves kind of got in the way, and he still converted the save.
Having three-heads is better than one. The weight of carrying the bullpen won’t fall just on one reliever. Right now Doolittle appears to be the presumptive closer though which seems fine the Brandon Kintzler who was named an All-Star this season as the Minnesota Twins closer.
“It starts with an anchor at the back, then everything falls in place after that,” said Ryan Madson said to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. “As a bullpen, you start a wave and you ride it as far as you can. When it crashes, you catch the next wave. I think we’ve started a nice big wave here. It helped that it wasn’t just me or any one of us.”
“The more guys, the better,” Madson said. “A common theme in good bullpens is that you take care of your own gardens. Don’t worry about [what] the manager, the defense or the hitters [do]. That’s not our lane. Just keep our garden nice and tight — no weeds.”
Madson last night hit 100 mph on the radar gun which was rounded up from the real speed of 99.7 mph and once again shocked Madson who now has more velo than ever, and he credits his EVO UltraFit training he has been doing in the off-season with Frank “Jay” Schroeder back in Arizona.
Each of these relievers were left for dead at one point or another in their baseball careers which makes them survivors and determined. Kintzler had to work his way back from independent league baseball where he also had to work in ticket sales. Madson and Doolittle worked their ways back from arm injuries. Kintzler’s career earnings is within a few baseball dollars of what Shawn Kelley will earn this year.
The road to success sometimes takes a path that has roadblocks and obstacles, and Ryan Madson can tell you that it is all worth it when you can hoist the trophy.