Nationals Make Subtle, Meaningful Bullpen Moves

Shawn Kelley is a 31-year-old veteran righty coming off an outstanding season for the San Diego Padres – the best all-around year of his career, in fact. He brings with him some pretty appealing numbers.

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Kelley has averaged about 11 K/9 for the past three seasons. O’Day has only hit that mark once, in his career-best 2015. Kelley’s HR/9 rate is trending down – also good – and so are his walks. So there’s a host of critical peripheral areas where Kelley’s last three seasons are all pointing the right direction.

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(credit: Baseball Savant/Daren Willman)

This spray chart shows that when Kelley isn’t striking guys out, the hits he does yield are generally not traveling very far. The majority of the “spray” is scattered all over the infield or falls into the middle-depth outfield – good things for any pitcher, but an especially encouraging trend for a late-inning, leverage-situation arm.

There’s obviously considerable risk in taking a two-time Tommy John patient on a three-year, $15 million contract, but this is a potentially fantastic value for the Nats, landing a pitcher who is not quite O’Day in overall performance or in price tag. Expecting another 50-ish innings of high-strikeout, low-contact ball out of Kelley seems like a reasonable bet. His veteran presence should make for another solid, stabilizing addition in the bullpen at the least, and at best, the Nationals may have stumbled into a reliever in the middle of a mid-to-late-career renaissance.

Perez rounds out the trio of veteran pickups, and will be making his return to the Nationals organization in 2016 – he started out in the Nationals farm system and that’s where he made his conversion to relief pitcher in the first place. His story doesn’t require a massive interrogation of data:

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This is textbook lefty-one-out-guy (LOOGY) stuff. It’s pretty clear he’s situation-limited, to put it mildly. He and the promising Felipe Rivero give the Nationals two left-handed options out of the bullpen – though Sammy Solis may factor in there, too.

Had that been all of Rizzo’s action, it would’ve been enough. But Rizzo – who may not be done yet – executed a simple but promising deal at the end of the Winter Meetings, sending Yunel Escobar (coming off a career year) to Anaheim for a prospective bullpen ace-type in Gott and another lesser-impact minor leaguer. Let’s look at what the Nationals got.

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