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Bruney to the Nats

When a team loses 103 ball games, suffice it to say that club’s plans went up in flames that would make the Hindenburg pale in comparison.

In 2009, the Washington Nationals had a middle-of-the-pack offense (7th in the NL in wOBA) dragged down by wretched starting pitching (14th in FIP) and bullpen work (dead last in FIP).

When Washington led a game in the late innings, the ‘pen often made Jim Riggleman squirm. The Nats reliever with the highest Leverage Index (a measure of the importance of a pitcher’s appearance, based on the inning, score and base-out state) was Mike MacDougal.

In a fine example of why the save just doesn’t do a good job of measuring reliever performance, Mac was 20 for 21 in save ops during a season in which he walked more batters than he struck out (5.63 K/9, 6.29 BB/9). Somewhere, Mike Williams is smiling.

Today, the Nationals picked up RHP Brian Bruney from the Yankees for a PTBNL. For most teams, Bruney would try to settle into a mop-up role. But given the destitute state of Washington’s bullpen, Bruney could work his way into the later innings.

Injuries have taken a serious bite out of the former Diamondback and Yankee’s career. Bruney missed considerable time in 2008 with a Lis Franc sprain in his right foot, and his 2009 season was shortened by elbow problems.

Bruney misses bats (8.86 K/9 career), but his lack of control would make Daniel Cabrera blush. The 6-3 righty has issued 6.22 walks per nine innings in the big leagues.

28 in February, Bruney slings mid-90’s heat (94.6 MPH in 2009) while mixing in an upper-80’s slider. As you might expect from that gargantuan walk rate, he struggles to get ahead of hitters. Bruney’s career first-pitch strike percentage is 55.5%, well below the 58-59% MLB average. Batters have responded to the wildness by keeping the bat on the shoulder: opponents have chased Bruney’s stuff out of the strike zone just 20.2% of the time (25% MLB average).

The Washington Post quoted Riggleman as saying, “it’s undetermined who would be our closer.” The best reliever in Washington’s ‘pen is likely Tyler Clippard (9.99 K/9 in 2009), but the Nationals like to use the former starter in a multi-inning role.

Until Drew Storen ascends to the majors, MacDougal and Bruney could battle it out to see who can throw fewer pitches into the press box. Bruney certainly isn’t any fantasy owner’s ideal option, but he could pick up some saves in 2010.