Finnegan has established himself, but there's still room to grow

PLAYER REVIEW: KYLE FINNEGAN

Age on opening day 2023: 31

How acquired: Signed as free agent, December 2019

MLB service time: 3 years

2022 salary: $725,900

Contract status: Arbitration-eligible, free agent in 2026

2022 stats: 6-4, 3.51 ERA, 66 G, 11 SV, 66 2/3 IP, 54 H, 28 R, 26 ER, 9 HR, 22 BB, 70 SO, 0 HBP, 1.140 WHIP, 112 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, 0.6 fWAR, 0.9 bWAR

Quotable: “I feel like I did on the first day of the season. Nothing really changed, just my routine getting a little better. You’re always finding different things you need to do. I think last year was my first full-go; definitely didn’t finish as strong as I wanted to. So that’s been a point of emphasis for me this year.” – Kyle Finnegan

2022 analysis: Kyle Finnegan entered this season with a couple of objectives in mind: Cut down on his walks, stay physically strong through the finish line. Both were problem areas in 2021 when the right-hander walked 4.6 batters per nine innings and wore down while posting a 6.43 ERA in September. He made good on both fronts this year.

Initially serving as a setup man to Tanner Rainey, Finnegan endured through an erratic April and early May but then began to establish himself as the Nationals’ most effective reliever in high-leverage situations. Davey Martinez began calling upon him to face the heart of opposing lineups, no matter the inning, and he responded well more often than not.

When Rainey suffered a season-ending elbow injury, Finnegan moved into the full-time closer’s role for the second straight year. Over the final three months, he converted 10-of-12 save opportunities, producing a 2.95 ERA and 0.955 WHIP while striking out three times as many batters as he walked. And though the Nats didn’t lead enough games in September to offer up many save situations, he did finish strong, scored upon in only one of his last nine appearances, striking out 12 while walking only one.

2023 outlook: With Rainey not expected to return from Tommy John surgery until at least the All-Star break, Finnegan should enter next season as the Nationals’ designated closer. And he’ll be paid like a more established, late-inning reliever, earning about $2 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

At this point, Finnegan has established himself as a quality, late-inning reliever. The majority of his pitching stats the last two seasons are eerily identical, which both suggests he’s not in danger of falling apart but also makes you wonder how much more improvement is reasonable now.

Finnegan did cut down on his walks this season, and that helped a lot. He also saw his fastball velocity go up, from 95.6 mph to 97.0 mph. He was regularly pumping 99-100 mph in September, finding an extra gear when he needed it. And his additional usage of a splitter allowed him to remain unusually successful against left-handed hitters, who batted only .164 and slugged only .527 against him. He does need to be better against right-handed hitters, who batted .264 and slugged .768 against him. He can help his cause there by sharpening his slider, which too often hung at the belt and was a prime pitch to be belted.

If he can develop in those ways, Finnegan could further establish himself as a true big league closer. For now, it feels like he holds that role by default. But his stuff and no-fear approach to facing top hitters suggest he can take the next step. The Nationals could’ve dealt him at the trade deadline in August and elected not to. They must believe he’s a keeper.

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