The last week or so we've heard about how Matt Capps, Brian Bruney, and even Once-a-Week Eddie all want to be the Nationals' closer. So what do we do with this bounty of unqualified aspirants? I say, let them all close. Yes, I said it. Go for the dreaded "closer-by-committee."
Before we go on, let's be clear. None of these guys should be counted on to perform in high-leverage situations.
First, Capps, who I think many fans are wrongly thinking is a bounce-back all-star ready to happen. But there's a reason no one else wanted him to close (including the Pirates). As I mentioned before, he's been pounded by lefties, but I probably understated the case. Last year, lefties hit .342 / .373 / .641 off of him. No, that's not a typo. There have only been 118 seasons in all of MLB history in which hitters slugged .641 or better. Yeah, sample size, bad luck with BABIP, all that, but that's godawful however you slice it.
The main problem is that he's become essentially a two-pitch pitcher--four-seam fastball and a slider. He also throws a change, but it's only about five miles per hour slower than his fastball, and that's not enough to fool anyone. Sliders don't work against opposite-handed hitters, and his fastball doesn't have enough velocity or movement to overpower guys. So lefties work the count, lay off the sliders in the dirt (or hit them if they're in the zone), and wait for a belt-high fastball when Capps needs a get-me-over pitch. At his worst, think latter-day Luis Ayala.
There are also real questions about his make-up. People in Pittsburgh say he went into a year-long pout when the team didn't offer him a long-term deal last year. And throughout his career he's struggled in higher pressure situations. In mop-up situations, he's given up a .260 OBP and .380 SLG. In high-pressure situations, those numbers jump to .311 and .458. Last year, in high-leverage situations he gave up a .377 OBP and .594 SLG. Just 'cuz he's built like a linebacker doesn't mean he's "fearless."
Bottom line, if Capps is handed the ninth inning, get ready for lots of this.
Brian Bruney throws pretty hard, but his command is Cabrera-esque--he's walked 15.4% of hitters faced over his career, while Cabrera's walked "just" 12.9%. Even last year, D-Cab's worst, he walked "only" 16.3%--more than Bruney, but not much more. He'll have his moments, but overall, think Joel Hanrahan.
And Guardado's just old and tired. He hasn't averaged more than an inning per appearance since 2005, and he threw just 38.1 innings last year. That, and he can't miss bats anymore and gives up too many homers. He's kind of like a left-handed Livan Hernandez with a burned out arm.
For the Nationals, you have you have two guys in Matt Capps and Jason Bergmann who are reasonably effective against righties, and Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard who are pretty good against lefties. Bruney's also better against righties, but frankly I'd want to see him hit the strike-zone with some regularity before letting him do anything but mop up.
Especially given that the Nationals aren't going have very many late leads to protect anyway, why not plan on using all four of these guys to get through the eighth and ninth innings and play match-ups? If Werth, Ibanez, Feliz, and Ruiz are due up in the eighth, use Capps there, and let Burnett pitch to Howard and Utley in the ninth. If this is the group we bring to opening day, I certainly think that's the best bet.
I still would like to see them bring in a couple more arms, maybe bring back Joe Beimel and also add a guy like Joe Nelson or even let's say Tim Redding as a reliever. (I kind of like that idea, come to think of it.) I also think it might make sense to carry a 13th pitcher at times, taking advantage of the flexibility that Willie Harris and Eric Bruntlett provide.
Regardless, barring the emergence of Juan Jaime, Marco Estrada, and Victor Garate as the second coming of Gary Majewski, Saul Rivera, and Jon Rauch, the Nationals' bullpen will still would be among if not the worst in the National League, and Riggleman will need to think outside the box to get by.