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May 13, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

Roster spots

The Nats lost last night’s game 6–5 in the tenth inning. Doug Slaten, pitching his third inning of a tied game, gave up the winning hit to Brian McCann. Why was Slaten, a LOOGY who normally works an inning or less, pitching his third inning? Jim Riggleman had already used Sean Burnett (who gave up the game-tying grand slam in the eighth). Todd Coffey had thrown 25 pitches the previous night, and both Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen had worked the last two nights and Riggleman wanted them to be available for Friday’s game.

There were, however, two other pitchers in the Nats bullpen who were well rested (both had last appeared on May 8, giving them three days of rest), but whom Riggleman did not consider using—Henry Rodriguez and Brian Broderick. Riggleman hasn’t been using either of them in high—or even medium—leverage situations. (The leverage index is a measure of the importance of the situation, where higher values usually represent late innings of close game, especially with runners on base. Riggleman has never brought Rodriguez into a game with a leverage index higher than 0.62; April 9 was the last time Broderick has been brought in with a leverage index higher than 0.72.)

While a team may be able to afford one pitcher in the bullpen who’s reserved for low leverage situations, having two pitchers that the manager doesn’t trust for close games isn’t tenable. Because Rodriguez is out of options and Broderick is a Rule V draft pick, the Nationals can’t move either player off the roster without potentially losing him.

Unfortunately, the situation has been predictable since the final 25-man roster decisions were made coming out of spring training. Two decisions, in particular, didn’t make sense to me.

Broderick may have impressed in spring training, but his minor league record didn’t suggest that he was ready for the majors. The Rule V draft may seem like a bargain, but the requirement that the player spend a full year on the 25-man roster often means that it’s false economy. In Broderick’s case, it was particularly baffling because there was only room for him on the roster due to Rodriguez going on the disabled list. Broderick was able to remain when Rodriguez came off the DA because Chad Gaudin replaced him, but when both Rodriguez and Gaudin become healthy, Mike Rizzo‘s plans for Broderick remain a mystery.

The other decision that didn’t make sense was carrying Matt Stairs on the 25-man roster.  After allowing for a seven-man bullpen and a second catcher, there’s only room for four bench players. If one of them can’t field and can’t run the bases, then he’d better hit. And Stairs hasn’t been hitting. I don’t understand what Rizzo was thinking. Maybe he was hoping that Stairs would get hot and could be flipped for prospects. I suspect that the clock is already ticking and if he doesn’t start hitting soon, he’ll be released.

Rizzo has made some good moves as GM—the trade for Ramos looks brilliant and I really liked last year’s draft. But one of the most important responsibilities of a GM is to manage the25-man and 40-man rosters, and by signing marginal players who are out of options, rule V draftees, or otherwise unmovable, he’s been putting pressure on the rest of the team and, like last night, may have cost his team wins. In addition, good prospects, like Collin Balester and Cole Kimball are held back.

Roster spots are like valuable property that should not be wasted. Unfortunately, the Nationals seem to be wasting several spots, and it’s hurting the team.

Update: I notice that Ben Goessling and Adam Kilgore make some of these same points.             

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