Last season the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen dealt with bouts of inconsistency, poor pitching and untimely fatigue. While they managed to finish strong in some key statistical categories, they struggled in others.
As the Dodgers struggled out of the gate to a sub. 500 record, the closer position became a hot issue. Entering the first season of a newly signed three-year, $22.5 million contract, Brandon League was tapped as the man responsible for shutting the door on Dodger opponents, but was widely inconsistent.
Kenley Jansen took over as closer by mid-June and was never unseated. The catcher turned closer wound up with 28 saves, a 1.88 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.
Along with Jansen’s emergence was the significant productivity from rookie relievers Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow. The left-handed Rodriguez surfaced as a reliable lefty-on-lefty matchup, so much so it became a detriment. As the regular season came to a close and the playoffs began, Rodriguez became ineffective and was left off the National League Championship Series roster.
The late-season acquisition of former San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson was arguably one of the GM Ned Colletti’s most successful moves. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, Wilson signed with the Dodgers for one-year worth $1 million. It was a perfect low-risk, high-reward scenario, given Wilson’s postseason success.
J.P. Howell, who appeared in 67 games and had a 2.03 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, was another dependable arm out of the bullpen for Mattingly.
Looking to add depth to the bullpen, the Dodgers signed Chris Perez, who had 25 saves for the Cleveland Indians last season but also posted career-highs in ERA (4.33) and WHIP (1.43), with a WAR of -0.3. Despite Perez’s struggles last season, he joins a bullpen that has largely been kept intact and one that should be able to build on 2013.
Heading into 2014, Jansen figures to retain his closer role, with Wilson serving as the primary setup man. This is where the Perez signing may come into play as the primary seventh inning guy. When Jansen is unavailable, “The Beard” will get first crack at the ninth inning spot with Perez possibly supporting him in the eight inning.
Howell, Rodriguez and Withrow figure to hold much of the same roles moving forward, with one change perhaps being Mattingly’s overreliance on the trio. Aside from spot duty, the odd-man out appears to be League, who may eventually become a prime candidate to be traded.
With that in mind, the Dodgers aren’t the only team who boasts a strong bullpen. Familiar foes from last season, Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals also stand to feel confident in their respective relievers and closers.
The Braves own one of the game’s best closers in Craig Kimbrel, who significantly improved in 2013 and figures to do the same in 2014. Setup man David Carpenter is also back for the Braves and he’ll be coming off a season where he posted career-bests in WAR (2.0), WHIP (0.99) and ERA (1.78). Lefty Jonny Venters, who’s coming off his second Tommy John surgery could add a much-needed left arm to the Braves’ bullpen once he’s healthy.