Is this the worst Nationals bullpen in organization history?
A simple question with a simple answer: yes.
But, how bad? Why? What was the process to get here?
First, this season’s ugliness. The Nationals come to a rest Monday in a rare off-day with a 6.34 bullpen ERA. That total has a choke hold on last place in Major League Baseball, positioning Washington almost half a run behind 29th-place and not trying Baltimore. Minnesota resides in the middle of the pack, yet is more than two runs ahead of the Nationals.
How much is this year an organizational outlier? Here’s the rundown of bullpen ERA since team became annually competitive:
2019: 30th overall, 6.34 ERA
2018: 15th, 4.05
2017: 23rd, 4.41
2016: 2nd, 3.37
2015: 10th, 3.46
2014: 4th, 3.00
2013: 17th, 3.56
2012: 7th, 3.23
The Nationals have attempted to cure their past bullpen problems in a variety of ways. They tried to pay closers Mark Melancon and Kenley Jansen hefty sums, but were turned down. They used a homegrown closer, Blake Treinen, but that didn’t work (and Treinen has been one of the league’s best closers since being traded to Oakland in 2017). They made a trade -- Treinen, Jesus Luzardo and Sheldon Neuse -- for Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler. The immediate returns were beneficial. The long-term assessment of that trade will rest with Luzardo, who MLB Pipeline labels the top left-handed pitching prospect in the minor leagues. Luzardo roared through spring training this year before a left shoulder strain stalled him in March. Doolittle and Treinen have been a wash this season.