I recently exchanged a Q&A with Nationals blogger Will Yoder, who writes for TheNatsBlog.com. A big thanks to him for answering these questions.
Q: I was looking over your bullpen stats and they're pretty darn good. With quite a few of your relievers still being young, have the Nats finally figured out their bullpen problems?
A: Yes and no. While the Nats have had a strong bullpen this year, led by Matt Capps, Drew Storen, Sean Burnett, and Tyler Clippard, there has been inconsistencies throughout the year. Clippard at times has been absolutely lights out, like in April when he posted three wins, 23 strikeouts and a 0.50 ERA in 18 innings pitched. But there have also been times, like July where he has been awful, with an 8.71 ERA in 10.1 innings pitched. Storen and Burnett both appear to be staples in the penn going into the future, however there is relative uncertainty about whether or not Capps will be here in 2011. He is up for arbitration, and will likely receive a big raise. The club may look to move forward with Storen as their close of the future.
Q: Stephen Strasburg: Less than you expected? More than you expected? About the same? How come?
A: Stephen Strasburg is more than I expected. As I rode on he metro to his first game, I talked with my buddy about our predictions for how it would finish. I said six innings pitched, five strikeouts, three earned (a pretty solid debut for a rookie), he thought I was being over optimistic. Of course, Strasburg went out and struck out 14 in seven innings while allowing only four hits and walking none.
Strasburg has been dominant in his starts this season. His stuff reminds me of a young Pedro Martinez, but with a little more umph. Right now he is doing a great job of forcing hitters to make mistakes. He is trying to pitch longer into games so he isn't gunning for the strikeout as much as a good at bat where the hitter makes contact off balance. But at 12.42 K/9, he's still racking up the strikeouts at an All-Star pace. If this is just the beginning, this kid could go down as one of the 20 best of all time.
Q: If you were the GM, would you trade Capps, Willingham or Dunn at the deadline for prospects? Or do you hold on to them? Why?
A: If I were Mike Rizzo I would trade Matt Capps assuming I could get a fair return. They took a gamble on him, giving him a one year contract after a season where he had posted a 5.80 ERA with career high walk numbers. It was an investment, they paid $ 3.5 million in hopes that he would return as one of the top closers in the league. Which he has. Going into the pennant race, how many teams wouldn't want a pitcher like that in their bullpen? With 24 saves and a 2.86 ERA, he is a hot commodity. The Nats already have their closer of the future, so why not cash in on their investment and move forward in 2011?
As for Dunn and Willingham, it gets a bit more tricky. Yes, they both have a large amount of value too, however with Strasburg emerging as well as Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, the Nationals have to look at when they are going to compete. If it is going to be in 2011, then I think the club should do the best they can to hold on to these two players. If it's going to be later, it may not be worth it as these two are in their early 30's and will likely be on the decline.
A: Being a rookie shortstop is a lot like being a rookie quarterback in the NFL. It's an extremely difficult position with a lot of responsibilities...and so far...Desmond has looked quite simply like a rookie. His defense at times has been great, but he has also posted an unacceptable amount of errors. His bat has been awesome at times too, especially against the Braves, but he is also batting .266 with a good amount of strikeouts. The club and the fan base are being patient with him though because we really think he can be an above average shortstop at the major league level.
Q: What would be considered a good final two months for the Nats?
A: A good final two months for the Nationals wouldn't be about a win and loss record, but about setting up 2011 for success. Ross Detwiler, Jordan Zimmermann, Jason Marquis, and Chien-Ming Wang have for all intensive purposes, missed just about the entire season. If all four of those starters can return to the mound in these final two months, that will be a success for this ball club. If Ian Desmond puts it all together and has a high caliber final two months, that will be a success for this ball club. And if the front office can ink both Adam Dunn and Bryce Harper...that will certainly be a success for this ball club.