Last week, the Dodgers did what everyone knew they needed to do by bringing back their all-time saves leader Kenley Jansen on a five-year, $80MM deal. That was a much needed move that had to be made to give the team a chance to achieve the same amount of success as they saw in 2016. There are still a few men that were a part of the Dodgers bullpen last year that are currently free agents. With Jansen now back in Dodger blue, only Joe Blanton, J.P. Howell, and Louis Coleman remain unsigned. Blanton and Howell both had their contracts expire, and Coleman was non-tendered just a few weeks ago.
The Dodgers bullpen has a lot of questions right now, but the answers might already be in the organization. There are many guys that are already in the organization that can be effective in the middle relief innings. So who can take the ball from the starters give the ball to Kenley Jansen in the ninth?
*WHIP (Baserunners allowed per inning)
*K/9 (Strikeouts per nine innings)
*ERA (Earned runs per nine innings)
Grant Dayton: After bursting onto the scene mid-season, Grant Dayton showed that he can be one of the most trusted guys for Roberts to turn to. Originally, nobody expected Dayton to be anything more than a replaceable bullpen guy. But in 26 1/3 innings, he posted a 2.05 ERA, with 13.3 K/9 and an unbelievable 0.759 WHIP. If he posts numbers anywhere near that level in 2017, he will surely be the eighth inning guy, giving the ball to Jansen. And as an old rookie at 29, his composure on the mound looks like that of a veteran.
Pedro Baez: Let me slow this one down for everyone. Love him or hate him, Baez was a good relief pitcher over the course of the 2016 season. He had a very nice 3.04 ERA, a WHIP at 1.00, and 10.1 K/9. This often goes unnoticed for two reasons.
1: He tends to give up a lot of home runs. 11 home runs given up by a middle reliever is a little rough.
2. This one sort of ties in with number 1 in that Baez seems to give up runs in the worst possible situations. The runs he gives up tends to be in the closest of games.
If Baez can speed up his game while managing to keep his home run total down, the Dodgers would greatly appreciate another 74 innings out of him in 2017.
Adam Liberatore: What a first half of the season Liberatore had in 2016. He was arguably the best reliever that the Dodgers had behind Kenley Jansen for quite a few months. Then his world fell apart. After a string of bad appearances, Liberatore hit the DL and stuck there for a while. Once he came back he never really found the same groove that he fell into for the first couple months of the season, succumbing to season-ending elbow surgery in October.
Let’s not take away the brilliance that was Adam Liberatore up until his injury. Just like Dayton, he was so reliable that Roberts used him in many of the toughest of situations. His season ending 3.38 ERA does not show the true value that he gave the team in 2016. If he is truly healthy at the start of the season, he and Dayton should be a lethal left-handed duo for Roberts to choose from.
Chris Hatcher: Hatcher’s time with the Los Angeles Dodgers has not been as smooth as anyone would like it to be. In 2015, he was decent. He posted a 3.69 ERA, and did not really have any glaring statistics that just screamed he was bad. But 2016 was a different story. His ERA skyrocketed to 5.59, walks went up, strikeouts went down and he also succumbed to a season-ending injury. It was a complete cluster of things you do not want to happen as a reliever.
Although Hatcher had one of the worst seasons of any Dodger in 2016, the way the management has treated him the last two years, barring a complete breakdown in spring training, it would be hard to see them leaving him off of the roster. They tendered him a contract earlier this month so obviously they have faith in him to regain his decent 2015 form.
Alex Wood: Wood had a very up and down 2016. He entered the year as a mid-rotation starter and ended it as a fringe bullpen arm on the playoff roster. Now his year was not as bad as that sounds. He struggled right off the bat while in the rotation, then he found his way for 6 starts before landing on the DL with a freak injury, missing almost four months of the season. Behind Kershaw and Maeda, he was a fantastic arm that the Dodgers began thinking they could rely on. He ended the regular season without allowing a run as a bullpen arm.
Wood looked much better as a pen arm. His velocity went up, his off speed pitches had much more movement, and even though it was a small sample size, he did not give up any runs. With a rotation full of top prospects and veterans, he looks to be the odd man out there. It might be a blessing in disguise for him if he can maintain success and health out of the bullpen.
Luis Avilan: Avilan came over to the Dodgers in a trade with the Braves back in 2015. He did not have a great debut season, posting a 5.17 ERA in his short time up with the club. That performance really hindered his major league playing time in 2016.
He did manage to log 19 2/3 innings in 2016 with the big league club and it was a much more effective stint with the team. He posted better statistics all across the board: Much lower ERA, WHIP and a better K/9. With a good spring, Avilan could break camp with the major league club, but that would give them 4 lefties if Wood indeed moved to the bullpen.
Josh Fields: Fields came over in a mid-season trade with the Astros in 2016. The trade flew under the radar and so did Fields once he came to Los Angeles. He was definitely effective with 19 1/3 innings pitched, 2.79 ERA, and over 10 K/9. He became a reliable arm that Roberts could turn to in the fifth and sixth innings during the dark stretch where none of the Dodgers starting pitchers could pitch into the sixth inning. Because he still has a track record of much worse statistics while he was an Astro, he’ll need to perform decently in spring training to earn a spot on the roster.
Ross Stripling: Stripling was somewhat of a saving grace for the Dodgers in 2016. He was called upon to start the season as the number five starter after injuries plagued the rest of the pitching staff. He pitched well enough to stay on the major league club, but he was sent to the minors and on a DL stint to preserve his arm. After coming off of Tommy John surgery, he would not have been able to handle a full year of pitching.
He really built a name for himself in 2016, both as a back end starter, and as an effective long relief option in the bullpen. His flexibility provides even more value and that could lead him to a spot on the 25-man roster come April. With decent numbers as a starter, his velocity out of the bullpen could lead to even better statistics, especially his strikeout numbers. At 6.7 K/9 as a starter, it would not be a surprise to see it jump up to 8 or 9 K/9 with a velocity increase coming out of the bullpen.
Vidal Nuño: Nuño is one of the newest Dodgers. He has been a part of the team just over a month. He was traded from the Mariners when the Dodgers sent backup catcher Carlos Ruiz to Seattle. Nuño is nothing too special. He provides good depth. He had a quality 3.53 ERA and a very low 1.7 BB/9 in 2016 as a member of the Mariners bullpen.
Josh Ravin: Ravin had a crazy year in 2016, much like the rest of the world. Before the season started, he was in a car accident that broke his non-throwing arm. Then in May, he received an 80-game suspension for the use of a performance enhancing drug. He managed to pitch 9 2/3 innings in September and only allowed one earned run. Ravin can bring the heat when he is on the mound, with an average velocity of 98 on his 4-eam. Even if he does not make the club out of spring training, I would not be surprised if he is the first one called upon after an injury.
Brock Stewart: The Dodgers 2016 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Stewart started 2016 in High-A and climbed up two minor league levels at a rapid pace to get to the big league club. He turned himself into a real prospect in 2016 and showed how just how much potential he has. While he still projects to be a starter, he could definitely still be a possibility as a long relief man if needed.
Carlos Frias: After pitching 77 innings for the team in 2015, Frias managed to only get 4 in 2016. To keep it simple, the Dodgers just gathered so many other quality arms that they just never really needed Frias even with all of the injuries. It did not help that Frias did hit the DL during the season, which only made things worse for him. The quality of those around him seems to be surpassing him on the depth chart. It would be hard to see Frias making any sort of significant impact on the team, even from the bullpen.
Ralston Cash: Cash was the Dodgers 2nd round pick in 2010. Since then, he has become a bullpen arm and grown a fantastic mustache that perfectly fits his amazing name. He made the jump from Double-A to Triple-A last year and could take a path to the majors similar to Grant Dayton as a late bloomer that found his way to the big leagues. In 69 innings between the two levels last season, he put up a 2.87 ERA and had 10.7 K/9. If 2017 could be the year Cash finally makes his way up to the major league level, and if he still has his mustache, you will not miss him.
Jacob Rhame: Rhame spent all of 2016 with the OKC Dodgers in Triple-A. He had a nice 3.29 ERA and 10 K/9. The Dodgers showed that they have faith in him to produce at the big league level because they added him to their 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. As an addition to the 40-man roster, it means that the team would not have to remove anyone to bring him up to Los Angeles. That could work in his favor if they are pressed for a reliever mid-season.
How do you think the Dodgers bullpen is looking?