Mike MacDougal has held onto the closer's role for the Nationals longer than just about anyone this season, and at first glance, he seems adequate.
MacDougal has five saves and hasn't blown one yet. His ERA is 2.65. What's not to like?
The fact of the matter is that MacDougal is performing a lot more like the guy who was released by the White Sox with an ERA over 12 than what you'd think based on that quick glance at the bottom line outcomes to date.
The key measurables that are within a pitcher's control are strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate. Pitchers who do well in those three categories can be expected to enjoy sustained success over time. You don't have to excel in all three, but your Ks and BBs can't be awful, and you can only get away with a low groundball rate if your strikeout rate is exceptionally high.
These rates are controllable and usually consistent enough that even with a small sample size, you can get a pretty good idea of a pitcher's true performance level.
In 17 innings for Washington, MacDougal has posted an 8.9% strikeout rate. Usually you look for at least 25% for a closer (the best closers push 40%), and even among starting pitchers anything below 11-12% is problematic.
Even more concerning is that MacDougal's walk rate is a Blassian 17.7%. An average walk rate is usually around 8%, and even for pitchers with high K-rates, anything in double-digits is a red flag. MacDougal's walk rate is unsustainable for a mop-up man. Forget about closing.
MacDougal's always had sky-high groundball rates, a product of the heavy sinking action on his fastball. This year is no different. He's getting nearly twice as many groundballs as flyballs, and that means he's just very rarely going to give up a homer. Even if you're putting a lot of guys on base, if you never give up a gopherball, your ERA will be ok.
But MacDougal isn't just putting a lot of guys on base. He's walking the park. His WHIP is over 1.7 since joining the Scats, and that's despite a BABIP allowed of just .273. While groundball pitchers rarely give up homers, they tend to allow more hits on balls in play. An average BABIP is usually around .310, so for a pitcher with a groundball rate around 60% to have a BABIP of .273 is just plain luck. Really, really, really good luck.
So if I was Rizzo, I'd be looking to ease MacDougal out of the closer role as soon as possible, despite the 5 for 5 save rate. There isn't a Jonathan Broxton available to put in the closer role (obviously). Sean Burnett is probably he next guy who would get a shot.
But regardless, based on the controllables, Mike MacDougal is probably the worst pitcher in the Nationals bullpen right now. He's a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and needs to be moved out of the closer's role before he starts costing the team games.