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August 1, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Rizzo's Relief

by Aaron Gleeman and Greg Goldstein



IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Acquired LHP Tyler Watson and international signing bonus slot money from Washington Nationals in exchange for RHP Brandon Kintzler. [7/31]

Watson is an intriguing Low-A pitching prospect because he's a lefty with a typical starter’s frame. At 20 years old, Watson has had his moments this season with an impressive 98/24 K/BB ratio in 93 innings, but has been inconsistent as well, pitching to a 4.35 ERA in 17 starts. I’ve gotten a look at him twice and he didn’t really flash as much I expected, having been removed early from both starts.

The former 34th-round pick sits 88-90 mph with and lacks much movement. His changeup and curveball are advanced for his age, but I don’t see either offering getting to above-average at maturity. With the lack of pure stuff, Watson needs to command the zone and throw strikes in order to be effective. However, there’s a hitch in his delivery and he uses some effort, playing into his inability to hit his spots consistently.

Still, Watson is young and should gain a few more ticks on his heater as he grows into his 6-foot-5 frame. He also flashes strike-throwing ability to give him a chance to be an innings eater when he reaches the major leagues. His lack of an out-pitch and command questions makes him more likely to shift to the pen, though, as a swingman/middle-relief type. His youth and projectable frame gives the Twins reason to believe, but the ceiling isn’t so high. —Greg Goldstein

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
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Acquired RHP Brandon Kintzler from Minnesota Twins in exchange for LHP Tyler Watson and international signing bonus slot money. [7/31]

In the span of 18 months Kintzler went from non-roster invite on a minor-league contract who didn't crack the Opening Day roster to All-Star closer, turning things around in Minnesota after injuries derailed what was a solid stretch in Milwaukee from 2010-2015. He was a helluva find for the Twins' old regime, saving 45 games with a 2.98 ERA while keeping an otherwise awful bullpen from imploding, but with free agency around the corner the new regime smartly decided that cashing Kintzler in for a mid-level prospect and some international prospect spending room beat letting him walk for nothing in two months (or signing the 32-year-old to an extension).

Kintzler is far from a prototypical late-inning reliever, let alone a closer, because he doesn't miss bats. Since the beginning of last season 29 pitchers have recorded at least 25 saves. Not only does Kintzer have that group's lowest strikeout rate at 15.3 percent, 10 of the 29 closers have at least doubled his strikeout rate and one, Craig Kimbrel, nearly tripled it. If you want high-90s fastballs and strikeouts in bunches, he's not your guy. And yet not only did Kintzler convert 87 percent of his save chances with the Twins—for some context, Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Joe Nathan are each at 89 percent for their careers—his overall ERA as a major leaguer now stands at 3.24 in 281 innings.

Kintzler succeeds by pounding the lower half of the strike zone with a low-90s sinker, producing the seventh-best walk rate (4.7 percent) and 13th-best ground-ball rate (58.4 percent) among all relievers with at least 75 innings since last season. Among the aforementioned group of 29 closers, only Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, and Roberto Osuna issued fewer walks and only Zach Britton, Sam Dyson, and Jeurys Familia induced more grounders. Because he relies so much on the infield behind him to make plays, Kintzler can stumble into some messy outings, especially when his command is off, but he can also wriggle out of jams with double plays. He's about as good as a reliever can be without missing any bats, which is both a compliment and a reason why he's probably better suited for the seventh inning than the ninth inning.

He joins left-hander Sean Doolittle and right-hander Ryan Madson as the Nationals' new late-inning trio, built from scratch via midseason trades. There's the potential for manager Dusty Baker to do some interesting mixing and matching given the different skill sets and across-the-board experience in both closer and setup roles. However, my guess is that he'll settle on a designated closer and Kintzler might get first crack at the job thanks largely to his 28 saves and All-Star status this season. Whatever the case, in the span of three weeks Washington's bullpen has gone from one of the most glaring weaknesses among likely playoff teams to a potential strength, and adding Kintzler to the mix was a no-brainer given the modest price tag. —Aaron Gleeman

Aaron Gleeman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Aaron's other articles. You can contact Aaron by clicking here

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