Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker is known for being old-fashioned. He’s known for being straightforward, for being by-the-book. Sometimes too much so, to the detriment of his teams and players. One thing he is not known for is surprises. But he went ahead and surprised the fantasy baseball world on Thursday morning by announcing that Blake Treinen would be his team’s closer to begin the 2017 baseball season.
Throughout the offseason, Shawn Kelley was expected to serve as the Nationals closer this year. He ended last year in the role, and did well enough. Overall for 2016, Kelley posted a 2.64 ERA backed up by a 2.97 FIP. He struck out 12.41 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.71 in that span. He ended up saving seven games and adding 13 holds. He had all the makings of a second-tier closer, with the Nationals closer job seemingly his to keep.
Then spring training happened. Kelley was mostly seen throwing on the side or in minor league games, while rookie Koda Glover spent his time closing out the major-league side of Grapefruit League games. Glover was a rookie, and a rookie closer would go against more or less everything Dusty Baker believes in, but the signs were all there: Glover had “closer stuff,” he was closing the games that were slightly less meaningless than the games Kelley was closing. It looked like Glover would be the closer, and many fantasy drafters took the chance and added him in the late rounds. Glover struggled at the big-league level last season, posting a rough 5.03 ERA in 19.2 innings. It was a small sample size, though, and his minor-league numbers, combined with his Grapefruit League performance, showed that he had the right “stuff” to close games at the highest level. So the closer competition seemed to be down to Kelley and Glover.
Shawn Kelley vs. Koda Glover. For the Nationals closer role. So who won?
Dusty Baker surprised us.
Treinen has been excellent this spring, and his numbers last year were decent, but they don’t inspire tons of confidence like Kelley’s do. Treinen pitched 67 innings and posted a 2.28 ERA. He struck out 8.46 per nine innings but walked 4.16 in that same span. The ERA is nice. The strikeout rate is okay, but somewhat low for a closer. The walk rate is the sticking point, though: more than four walks per every nine innings pitched, when asked to pitch at the most critical moments of a game? That could be an issue.
Still, Treinen deserves a chance to close, and he’ll get it this season. He won’t have a particularly long leash, as Kelley and Glover will both be champing at the bit to move into the ninth inning. For now, both will serve as setup men, building a bridge from the earlier innings to the new Nationals closer: Blake Treinen.