How improved bullpen could make up for loss of Rendon

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - So much mental energy has been spent this winter trying to figure out how the Nationals are going to account for the loss of Anthony Rendon's production. Here's one potential way they could do it: by having a better bullpen.

It may not seem one has anything to do with the other at first glance, but the Nats actually do view this as a realistic way to make up for the loss of Rendon without adding another big bat to their lineup.

The idea is simple: If you can't score as many runs this season as you did last season, try to give up fewer runs.

Rizzo-Martinez-NLCS-sidebar.jpg"I think we're going to have to do it a little differently, because you've got Anthony's statistics to make up," general manager Mike Rizzo said. "But I think we see a path and avenue of how to score enough runs and prevent enough runs to play meaningful games in October. That's our goal."

Here's one rudimentary way to look at it ...

Rendon produced 133 Weighted Runs Created in 2019, a stat designed to measure a player's total offensive value in terms of runs he created all by himself. Rendon had a huge season in this regard, with the fifth-highest wRC in the majors, behind only Alex Bregman (146), Cody Bellinger (137), Mike Trout (136) and Christian Yelich (134).

We don't know how the Nationals' replacement third basemen will perform this season, but for the sake of this exercise let's assume they have league-average production. That would work out to roughly 65 wRC.

So that's 68 runs the Nationals have to account for in some fashion. They could try to score 68 more runs to make up the difference, or they could try to give up 68 fewer runs and achieve the same goal. And their best hope of making that happen is via an improved bullpen.

The 2019 Nats bullpen, as you're painfully aware, was not good. It allowed 333 total runs in 500 2/3 innings, an average of 0.67 per inning pitched. That's awful, and much worse than previous versions of this club's bullpen.

In 2018, Nationals relievers gave up 247 runs in 528 2/3 innings (0.47 per inning). In 2017, they gave up 244 runs in 473 2/3 innings (0.52). And in 2016, they gave up 202 runs in 499 2/3 innings (0.40).

The 2020 Nats bullpen doesn't even need to be that good to accomplish this particular goal. If their relievers give up 68 fewer runs this season, they'll allow 265 in 500 innings, an average of 0.53 per inning.

It's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but you get the rough idea. A merely average bullpen could be enough to make up for the loss of Rendon.

Put another way, the Nationals need to start winning some games 3-2 instead of 6-5.

They believe they can do that because of their still-dominant rotation and a bullpen that now features at least three reliable late-inning arms (Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson, Will Harris) plus several potentially improved arms (Tanner Rainey, Wander Suero, Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elías).

"You just rattle off seven or eight guys that can help us," Rizzo said. "All we expect them to do is perform like the back of their baseball card. And if they do that, I think we'll have a solid bullpen that (manager Davey Martinez) can rely on. And obviously with that comes run prevention."

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