When it comes to relievers, Brandon Kintzler isn’t a sexy name.
He’s no Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller, both of whom changed teams right before last year’s trade deadline and in doing so, caused seemingly seismic shifts in the baseball landscape. He’s not Zach Britton, who in 2016 authored arguably the greatest relief season ever and was reportedly there for the taking this year.
What the former Minnesota Twins‘ closer is, though, is a strike-thrower who keeps the ball on the ground and knows how to finish games. Those are highly-transferable skills that should result in him becoming the Washington Nationals new closer, which in turn increases the team’s chances of doing something they’ve never done before: Win a playoff series.
The truth is, there were no high-sizzle bullpen arms out there this year. Not like last season. Sure, Britton is a brand name, but after spending two months on the disabled list earlier this season, there’s an air of buyer-beware surrounding him. And even if there wasn’t that air, there’s no chance in hell that Britton ever would’ve been dealt to a Washington club that’s pretty much oil to Baltimore’s water. And so it is that it was Kintzler who landed in the District.
Listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds, his vitals suggest he’s more likely to blow over than blow hitters away. And his numbers back that up. This season, Kintzler’s averaging 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings, the lowest rate of any MLB hurler with a save and the fourth-lowest rate among all American League relievers. In other words, there’s not much about him that says closer — except for the fact he has 28 saves.
We can talk all day about how the save statistic has become devalued in today’s game (and deservedly so), but every playoff team needs a guy at the back end, and experience is experience. And Kintzler has it. He doesn’t have years and years of it, but with 45 saves over the last two seasons, he’s got enough of it that he’ll probably be Dusty Baker’s first choice to close out games going forward. And make no mistake, Dusty wants A GUY.
Besides those 45 saves, Kintzler also has excellent control (19 walks in 100 innings over the last two years) and a knack for the keeping the ball out of the air. Thanks to a sinker that he throws almost three-quarters of the time, he boasts a 54 percent ground ball rate that ranked among the top 15 in the AL. He’s also stingy with the longball (3 HR in 45 IP), a trait that Baker is likely drooling over given the problems his pen has had with getting taken deep this year (3.8 percent HR rate, highest in the National League). Add it all up, and the 2017 All-Star has the tools to take over in the ninth, where Doolittle — who was serving in setup duty in Oakland — has been good but not great since coming to D.C.
Bottom line is even though Kintzler might not be a needle-mover when it comes to name equity, he’s solid enough to capably fill the ninth inning void that’s been festering ever since Opening Day in the District. That should allow Doolittle to go back to setup duty along with Ryan Madson, which in turn makes the Nationals bullpen better than it was yesterday, and way better than it was before the All-Star break.
Whether it’s enough to get Washington over the hump and into the NLCS (and beyond) remains to be seen.