A wave of anxiety has swept over Dodgers fans recently, and for good reason. The batting lineup has underachieved all season, Clayton Kershaw is on the DL for just the second time in his career, and Joc Pederson has also been sidelined with a sprained right AC joint.
With the barrage of turmoil hitting this team, you’d expect them to be lagging far behind in the NL West, yet they sit only 5 games back of the San Francisco Giants. How have they been so successful this season despite their lagging hitting? Spectacular pitching has kept the Dodgers afloat in the playoff hunt. As a team, the Dodgers rank 4th in the league in ERA, 2nd in batting average against, 4th in OBP against, 2nd in SLG against, 2nd in OPS against, and 1st in WHIP.
The Kershaw injury is going to test both their depth and resolve, but there’s reason to be optimistic about their ability to make the playoffs in this competitive National League.
The Dodgers’ bullpen has been outstanding this season. Kenley Jansen, Joe Blanton, Pedro Baez, Louis Coleman, Adam Liberatore, Chris Hatcher, and J.P. Howell make up the core of a bullpen that has proven to be one of the elite squads in the league. The Dodgers’ bullpen ranks 2nd in ERA, 1st in BA Against, 1st in OBP against, 1st in SLG against, 1st in OPS against, and 1st in WHIP. This group holds leads late in a game, and that is such an important characteristic in predicting long term success heading into the playoffs.
I wanted to measure the past success of teams with elite bullpens and how strong of an indicator it was for a playoff berth. Different statistics will illustrate a bullpen’s effectiveness in slightly different regards, and I wanted to focus on ERA, BA Against, OBP Against, SLG Against, OPS Against, and WHIP. Going back to 2012, I looked at each of the teams that ranked in the top 5 in each of those categories for bullpen performance. The results were fascinating. I had to limit it to 2012 because that was the year of the expanded wild card playoff format, and the results would get skewed if different playoff formats were included in the data.
This gave me 20 teams to look at in each statistic. I would have liked to look at more, but it’s sufficient to point out trends in teams that make the playoffs in this relatively new format of 3 division winners and 2 wildcard teams.
Here is what I found:
- Of the 20 teams that ranked in the top 5 in bullpen ERA during the regular season, 60% ended up making the playoffs.
- Of the 20 teams that ranked in the top 5 in bullpen BA Against during the regular season, 70% ended up making the playoffs.
- Of the 20 teams that ranked in the top 5 in bullpen OBP Against during the regular season, 75% ended up making the playoffs.
- Of the 20 teams that ranked in the top 5 in bullpen SLG Against during the regular season, 60% ended up making the playoffs.
- Of the 20 teams that ranked in the top 5 in bullpen OPS Against during the regular season, 70% ended up making the playoffs.
- Of the 20 teams that ranked in the top 5 in bullpen WHIP during the regular season, 75% ended up making the playoffs.
This bodes extremely well for the Dodgers to make the playoffs, as they rank at least in the top 2 in each of these categories. If the season ended today, the Dodgers would be the top wild card seed. Recent history has demonstrated the importance of a great bullpen to team success, and if the Dodgers can continue their impressive bullpen performance, the numbers indicate that they will most likely be playing October baseball.
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