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Why the Nats shouldn’t use new reliever Matt Thornton in clutch situations

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Matt Thornton, the Yankees’ primary left-handed reliever this season, was claimed off of waivers by the Washington Nationals.

The Nats get a decent lefty specialist who is limiting left-handed batters to a .556 on-base plus slugging this season while striking out 11 in 64 plate appearances while walking just two. He also has yet to yield an extra-base hit to a leftie this season. Against right-handers he is striking out 8.7 batters per nine innings and has not given up a home run on any of the 203 pitches thrown. However, he has struggled against the latter in terms of leaving runners on base.

Matt Thornton (Source: Fangraphs)

But as a specialist, he likely won’t be facing right-handed hitters too often.

Thornton’s bread and butter pitch to left-handed batters is the fastball, but he has increased the usage of his sinker, as well.

When behind in the count to left-handed batters, he will throw the sinker 62.5 percent of the time along with a slider (21.9 percent), mostly low and away, against which batters are 6 for 17 (.353 average against).

Matt Thornton_img

When ahead, he chooses the sinker almost exclusively (85.7 percent of the time) and is not afraid to throw it anywhere in the strike zone.

Matt Thornton_img (1)

That would help explain why left-handed batters are .333 against, but it luckily hasn’t been for extra bases (0.000 ISO).

Overall, The Nats get what they needed: a capable left-handed reliever who can help take the pressure off the bullpen for which they gave up zero assets in return, who is best used in low to medium leverage situations.


Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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