For 115 days, it has been the daily ‘Who’s the closer’ commentary in Washington, D.C. once it became official on December 5th of 2016 that the Washington Nationals would need to name a new closer as their most recent closer, Mark Melancon, had signed a free agent deal with another team. Today it became official that Blake Treinen would be the new Nationals closer. We wrote this piece on December 20th why Blake Treinen made the most sense to us then, and this new article carries over many of those thoughts including commentary on closers of the past. This will also be the subject for our next Podcast.
The off-season was a rollercoaster in a search for the closer. When Melancon signed elsewhere, Mike Rizzo then set his sights on signing free agent Kenley Jansen, but that did not work out despite the fact that Jansen’s agent at the Wasserman Media Agency confirmed the Nationals made the largest bid for Jansen which was rumored to be $85 million. News broke in mid-December that Jansen had agreed to a $80 million deal to stay with the Dodgers.
The Nationals kept shaking the tree in the trade market and through free agency to acquire a new closer, and nothing much was happening. When a trade could not be finalized for David Robertson, it became clear that Dusty Baker‘s closer would be promoted as an internal candidate from a pool of Blake Treinen, Koda Glover, and Shawn Kelley.
When Mark Melancon was acquired near the trade deadline in July of 2016, 9th inning saves were mostly drama-free for the Washington Nationals. For the first time ever, the Nationals went through a post-season series without a 9th inning blown save with Melancon. It seemed the Nationals were always in search of a closer since Chad Cordero “The Chief” developed arm issues back in 2008. It had been a turnstile of candidates until 2010 when Drew Storen was promoted to the closer spot, but in the National League Division Series deciding game 5, Drew Storen blew a save that ended in a loss against the Cardinals in 2012, leaving the Nationals pained by a loss that had repercussions as Mike Rizzo signed Rafael Soriano, a Boras client, to the richest annual closer deal ever at the time after the 2012 season. Storen moved back to the set-up role, but then got a late-2014 promotion back to the closer role and in game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants, Storen entered the game with 2 outs and a 1-0 lead and a runner on 1st base. Storen blew the save quickly and it was déjà vu all over again. The closer position never seemed right again until Melancon was acquired in July of last year. It was almost four years ending with the release of Jonathan Papelbon after Melancon was acquired.
Mike Rizzo actually used his 10th overall pick in the 1st round of the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft to select Storen from Stanford. Some critics were harsh on Rizzo when he used the #10 overall pick to take a college closer. Most college closers are chosen in the late first round through the latter rounds. In contrast, Koda Glover was a college closer, and he was picked in the 8th round of the 2015 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Koda Glover, the rookie, was an intriguing, possibility to be the Opening Day closer. Glover is coming off a hip injury and has appeared to be the closer of the future since he showed off his electric fastball during his debut on July 20th of this year. Shawn Kelley had a few issues during the past season pitching in back-to-back appearances (ERA 3.14 with 0 days of rest vs. 0.54 with 1 day of rest) which almost seemed to point to Blake Treinen as our pick if you decided to look in that direction but nothing ever is that easy.
Many media members were thinking Koda Glover was going to be Baker’s pick and at a time it seemed like FanRagSports writer Jon Heyman had some ‘inside’ information as he was pointing to Glover as the guy. Kelley is a high K pitcher, but has two ulnar collateral ligament TJ surgeries on his resumé, and it might not be wise to push his limits required as a closer and that seems to assent with what we had heard from a source within the Nationals.
Treinen’s four-seam fastball resulted in a .177 BA, the sinker in a .298 BA, the change-up in a .333 BA, and the slider in a .125 BA in 2016. The slider also had a swing & miss percentage of 22.15% each time it was thrown and was Treinen’s most effective pitch in 2016. The issue with Treinen is that the sinker was put in play and resulted in hits almost 3 out of 10 times. Groundballs can find holes and by the law of averages follows a typical BABIP pattern.
The Treinen results were good and if you remove his unfortunate meltdown on August 24th where he gave up five runs, his results were excellent. He was at a 1.87 ERA prior to that game.
Treinen appeared in 73 games this past season and was a workhorse. He made 13 appearances where he pitched more than one inning. On June 7th, Treinen pitched 3 innings and threw 66 pitches, and we still wonder why he was asked to do that.
Mike Maddux and Dusty Baker have work ahead of them in preparation and work sequences for their relief pitchers. Could analytics help Blake Treinen where he relies more on his slider and less on his sinker to be less pitch to contact and is the slider more effective as the batter ‘sees’ fastball?
“Most of the great closers I know are a little on the crazy side, or at least they’re different,” Baker said. “I played with some good ones, and they’re all different, because to try to get the last three outs of a team is very difficult.”
Treinen has the stuff to be a closer, and he had 61 appearances of no-run baseball in 2016. Now it is finally Treinen’s job, and what he must do to be successful in the job is make 9th innings drama free.