As we transition into offseason mode here, we’re reviewing each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Brandon Kintzler, who excelled in a setup role after his July 31 acquisition from the Twins.
PLAYER REVIEW: BRANDON KINTZLER
Age on opening day 2018: 33
How acquired: Traded from Twins for Tyler Watson and international bonus slot money, July 2017
MLB service time: 6 years, 3 days
2017 salary: $2.925 million
Contract status: Free agent in 2018
2017 stats: 4-3, 3.03 ERA, 72 G, 29 SV, 71 1/3 IP, 66 H, 25 R, 24 ER, 5 HR, 16 BB, 39 SO, 3 HBP, 1.150 WHIP, 0.9 WAR
Quotable: “I learned when I was younger, LaTroy Hawkins told me that we’re closers of our own inning. So I always try to take that approach, no matter what inning I’m pitching in. Ninth inning, you just happen to have nobody behind me, and the adrenaline is really high. But as long as I treat it like the game’s tight and we’ve got a lead or whatever, should be fine.” - Kintzler
2017 analysis: The Nationals shored up the back end of their bullpen with their mid-July trade for both Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, but they weren’t done. Two weeks later, with only minutes to spare before the July 31 trade deadline, they acquired Kintzler from the Twins, adding an All-Star closer to their reconfigured relief corps.
Despite his experience pitching the ninth inning in Minnesota, though, the Nationals intended all along for Kintzler to pitch in a setup role, believing his pitch-to-contact approach and ability to induce ground balls made him a better fit earlier in games. He wound up settling into the seventh-inning job and thrived there.
Kintzler’s 3.46 ERA during his two months with the Nats was a bit skewed. He was scored upon in only five of his 27 appearances, and four of the 10 runs he allowed all came in his final appearance (a ninth-inning blown save against the Pirates).
2018 outlook: While Doolittle and Madson were acquired not only for this season but beyond, the Nationals picked up Kintzler knowing he was a short-term rental. After bouncing around and finally developing as a late bloomer, the 33-year-old is finally a tenured free agent for the first time in his career.
The Nats would love to bring Kintzler back and ensure their three-headed “Law Firm” bullpen corps returns for 2018. But for that to happen, the right-hander will need to accept a non-closing role, something other clubs may be willing to offer this winter. The Nationals might need to pay closer money for a setup man.
Whether Kintzler can continue pitching this well is a different question. Most dominant relievers these days are power pitchers who made opposing batters swing and miss. Kintzler is a rare exception; his 4.92 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate was the second-lowest among all major league relievers with at least 50 appearances this year.
Relying on weak contact can be a dangerous proposition in today’s game. The Nationals have to decide whether they’re willing to take that chance with Kintzler next season and beyond.