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Roster review: Matt Thornton

Nov 24, 2015, 6:00 AM EST

Photo by USA Today

Age on Opening Day 2016: 39

How acquired: Selected off waivers Aug. of 2014

MLB service time: 11 years, 129 days

2015 salary+bonuses: $3.5 million

Contract status: Free agent

2015 stats: 60 G, 41.1 IP, 33 H, 12 R, 10 ER, 2 HR, 11 BB, 23 K, 1.265 WHIP, 2-1, 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.2 WAR

Quotable: “You kind of try to pick up things and see what’s made them successful. It is a difficult thing, especially to have that longevity. I try to be as close to Thornton as possible and at least just hear what he’s trying to say,” rookie Matt Grace.

2015 analysis: The Nationals bullpen was an issue for much of the 2015 season as they struggled to overcome the loss of Tyler Clippard in an offseason trade and a season-ending injury for Craig Stammen. Those two had formed the backbone of the Nats’ relief corps for years and removing them produced an obvious domino effect.

Through the Nats’ bullpen’s struggles with inexperience and unreliability in late innings, veteran Matt Thornton provided Matt Williams a relatively reliable option. There were points in the 2015 season where he was not used much – he only pitched six times in July – but Thornton produced strong numbers highlighted by his 2.18 ERA in 60 appearances.

Thornton was particularly good down the stretch with 19 consecutive scoreless outings to close the year. He did not allow a run after Aug. 14., an impressive streak despite the team’s slide during that part of the season.

2016 outlook: Thornton does not have a contract for 2016, but does plan to pitch. Given his numbers this past season, he should have no problem finding a one or two-year deal from somebody, whether that’s in Washington or elsewhere. The Atlanta Braves, for one, have already expressed interest in signing him.

It is unclear if the Nationals are interested in retaining Thornton, as right now they have bigger fish to fry in their bullpen. They have to make decisions on Jonathan Pabelbon and Drew Storen. If they jettison one or both of them, then they will need to find late-inning relievers, which will not be easy.

Thornton could still provide value to the Nationals if they brought him back as a lefty option for the sixth and seventh innings. We’ll see if he fits into what could be a top-to-bottom rebuild of their bullpen.

  1. jfmii - Nov 24, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    Why doesn’t Mr. Thornton get more love?

    • Doc - Nov 24, 2015 at 8:38 AM

      Because he’s a loogy.

      But yeah, Thornton deserves more love. I’m sure some team will give him some money to go along with the love. Not sure why the Yankees jettisoned him in ’14, but he was a great pickup for the Nats.

  2. adcwonk - Nov 24, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    How does a guy have such a high WHIP and such a low ERA at the same time? (That’s a genuine question) Does it point to the inadequacies of ERA as a measurement for relief pitchers? Something else?

    • jeffreycbullock - Nov 24, 2015 at 9:46 AM

      Probably pitching lucky – if it happens again, chances are his ERA will balloon.

    • DaveB - Nov 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM

      First, Baseball Ref shows his WHIP as 1.065, so it might be a typo. Also, it seems that I remember that Thornton would fairly often be brought in to innings that were mostly lefties, but that he would have to “pitch around” (often giving up a hit or walk) a righty or two to get to a lefty that he felt more comfortable getting out.

      • Eugene in Oregon - Nov 24, 2015 at 10:42 AM

        Exactly. And yes, his WHIP was 1.06 (per FanGraphs).

      • Doc - Nov 24, 2015 at 10:57 AM

        Chase should hire a copy editor!

        Mark tweets that Bob Sendley is back at 3B for the Nats. Good deal, I’m feeling runnerish already in late November.

    • trfwans - Nov 24, 2015 at 11:40 AM

      Because when he comes in with men on base and gives up a hit that scores a run, the hit is charged to his WHIP but the run is scored to the previous pitcher’s ERA. If he or a later pitcher then retires the side without the guy who got the hit scoring, then his ERA actually goes down.

      All of those stats like ERA and WHIP aren’t very good at evaluating pitchers who pitch less than an inning at a time. Metrics like BAA and inherited runners scored are better.

  3. #4 - Nov 24, 2015 at 10:54 AM

    The most overrated concern about the 2016 Nats is their bullpen. I am much more concerned about, in order of priority, 1) their defense, particularly at SS and C, 2) their lack of execution defensively – cut-offs, bunt defenses, PFP, etc., 3) their lack of contact hitting, 4) their need for more LH thump in the line-up.

    • infideljack - Nov 24, 2015 at 1:02 PM

      +1, DE should be the SS, if that happens, no worries on defence at SS. Healthy Rendon and RZim at corners and no worries there defensively. 2nd base is a ? with the rookie Turner starting there or even Yunel.

    • chaz11963 - Nov 24, 2015 at 2:49 PM

      Concerned about defense at C??? Ramos was a very good defensively, almost won a GG.

    • therealjohnc - Nov 24, 2015 at 2:53 PM

      Ramos was an excellent defensive catcher. There’s a reason he was a gold glove finalist. Fans get mesmerized by the relay throws and miss the day in, day out, pitch-by-pitch contributions that Ramos makes defensively.

      That said, overall Nats defense was a big problem. With Desmond’s early season struggles, Escobar at 3b, and several other poor defenders (Werth; Robinson; Moore; Uggla) on the team. One of the main reasons that Gio struggled last year was that his GB% was a career high. That’s normally a good thing (grounders can’t be HRs), but with the infield that the Nats were trotting out last year it hurt him.

      The infield does profile much better next year, especially if Espinosa is the starting SS.

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