The outbreak of COVID-19 has been in the headlines for some time now, including in the sports world. Nevertheless, the baseball world goes on, as the Nationals on Saturday released RHP Hunter Strickland. Should we be surprised by the move? Let’s take a look.
Hunter Strickland’s 2019
Strickland spent all of his MLB career prior to 2019 with the Giants, but the 31-year old started last season with the Mariners. That stint was very short, though, as Strickland only pitched in four games with the Mariners (three of which came in March). Most of his time with the Mariners was spent on the IL, thanks to a right lat strain that kept him out until July. But shortly after returning to the M’s in July, Seattle shipped Strickland along with LHP Roenis Elias to the Nationals at the Trade Deadline.
Over 24 outings with the Nationals, Strickland’s numbers were pedestrian at best. The right-hander recorded a 5.14 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP while striking out 15 batters and walking eight over 21 innings. Strickland was also rarely used in the MLB Postseason, as the righty only pitched in two games during the playoffs (18.00 ERA, 4 ER, 3 HR, in 2 G (2 IP)), and was hardly effective.
Strickland was a valuable reliever as a Giant, thanks to his ability to generate weak contact. However, Strickland just hasn’t been the same reliever since 2016, as the strikeout and GB% rates have gone down since then, while the walk and FB% rates have gone up. And Strickland’s command has been problematic as well since then.
Just take a look at Strickland’s four-seam fastball for example. Back in 2016, Strickland’s Whiff% rate on his four-seam was 23.9%, while batters hit just .183 off the pitch Last season, Strickland’s four-seamer had a Whiff% rate of 19.7%, while batters hit .276 off the pitch (via Baseball Savant). And with regards to his command, it was all over the map. Just look at these charts on Strickland’s fastball from last season:
Strickland’s struggles last season were one thing, but that’s not the only reason why the Nats cut ties with the 31-year old reliever.
Nationals Relievers Heading Into 2020
Given the situation with the Nationals bullpen heading into 2020, it shouldn’t be too surprising the Nats released Strickland. For one, the Nats’ bullpen isn’t as much of a weakness as it was in the past. Washington loaded up with help on the back end at the Deadline, and while Strickland was one of those additions, the Nats also acquired Daniel Hudson, who stayed in Washington for 2020. Hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Tanner Rainey proved to be a valuable weapon out of the Nats’ pen last season, as did Wander Suero once June came. The Nationals also added Will Harris in the offseason, and Washington also has several other young pitchers (Austin Voth, James Bourque, Austen Williams) who can step into the Nationals’ bullpen if needed.
With the depth the Nats have in their bullpen, it just didn’t make much sense for Washington to hold onto a reliever who wasn’t the most trustworthy last season, and one who was sparingly used once October came. And that became abundantly clear in Spring Training. Strickland had an ERA of 10.80 in Spring Training while yielding three home runs and twelve in 6.2 innings.
Despite his struggles with the Nationals, the 31-year old will certainly get another chance in the Majors. Given his past success, along with the fact that it’s almost a given that one team will need a reliever at some point in 2020, Strickland will latch onto another team. But as to when that will happen, that will depend on when baseball returns.
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