WASHINGTON — As the first week of June comes to a close, the Washington Nationals continue to hold down the top spot in the National League East, leading the New York Mets by two games. Some of the reasons why — Stephen Strasburg’s dominance, Daniel Murphy’s career year, Joe Ross’s breakout — are obvious. But the Nats’ revamped bullpen has quietly been excellent.
Generally, bullpens are only noticed when they fail, and the relief corps was shaky this past weekend, losing a game late Saturday and hanging on by the narrowest of margins to eek out a win Sunday.
But Washington’s bullpen leads the National League in ERA (2.97), has walked the fewest batters in the league (49) and has allowed the fewest runs (52) of any team in baseball. Nats relievers have only four blown saves as a unit, converting 80 percent of their chances, tied for third-best in MLB. Their collective WHIP (1.09) and K/BB rate (3.43) are both third-best in the game.
Every pitcher except Felipe Rivero owns an ERA at least 33 percent better than league average. Five of the eight are averaging better than a strikeout per inning, and that group doesn’t even include Jonathan Papelbon.
That’s a major step forward from a group that ranked 10th in ERA and was just 23rd in save percentage, at 64 percent. Yusmeiro Petit, Sammy Solis and Blake Treinen have all outpitched their FIP by more than a full point, but the highest leverage guys have actually pitched better than their numbers reflect. Papelbon’s FIP (3.04) is slightly lower than his ERA (3.18), while Rivero’s (3.28) has been markedly better than his ERA (5.19).
Bullpen help is often the easiest to find as teams approach the trade deadline, but it’s not clear, at the moment, that Washington needs to make any major improvements.
Veteran Matt Belisle is due off the disabled list soon, and at this point there isn’t an obvious guy to replace on the roster. That’s a problem any team would like to have, and while it may not preclude the team from looking for more back-end depth in July, the ‘pen’s continued success will go a long way toward keeping the Nats in prime playoff position.