As the postseason started for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the memories hit. Just last year, I was in the stands at game five of the NLDS. Zack Greinke was on the mound, and the Dodgers were expected to advance to the NLCS. But the Mets scratched together three runs in six innings and Mets’ Manager Terry Collins brought in Jeurys Familia for a six out save. My heart was crushed.
In last year’s NLDS, the Mets beat both Kershaw and Greinke to eliminate the Dodgers and advance to the NLCS. In previous years, the team has been over reliant on Kershaw, who, let’s face it: struggles in the playoffs.
Fast forward to this year. Kershaw is his normal playoff self, laboring through five innings. In previous years, the Dodgers’ weak bullpen would have let their slender 4-3 lead collapse. But in perhaps the most brilliant strategic move by Andrew Friedman and the Dodger front office, they built up a bullpen. And for cheap. Joe Blanton came into the game in the sixth inning, and Kenley Jansen came in to slam the door with one out in the eighth.
The fact of the matter is that starting pitching is overrated. It is a topic of discussion that has been circulating amongst baseball nerds for the past decade. However, the practice of relying upon the bullpen is only just being realized. It is statistically proven that hitters hit pitchers better, the more times they face them in a game. Naturally, this makes strong bullpens a key to winning more baseball games.
In terms of dollars and cents, investing in a bullpen is so much more economical than investing in quality starting pitching, it is almost a no brainer. Consider what the highest paid starter makes against the highest paid reliever. Aroldis Chapman made $11.3 million this season versus Clayton Kershaw who made $34 million. Let me put things into better perspective for you. At $15 million, Brett Anderson made more than the highest paid reliever in baseball.
At the end of the day, paying a premium for a starting pitcher is equal to playing slots at a casino or lighting money on fire. Don’t expect the Dodgers to re-sign Clayton Kershaw when the time comes. If the Dodgers are to win another world championship in our lifetime, it will primarily be because of the bullpen.