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Building A Postseason Worthy Bullpen for the LA Dodgers

They failed in 2018 to build a strong bullpen.

Dodgers
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Julio Urias #7 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Last season I wrote about how to build a playoff bullpen. I believe the front office absolutely failed in that mission in 2018. Ryan Madson and John Axford did not overwhelm any of us when they were acquired. Madson did well at the end of September and was good in both the NLDS and the NLCS but he was awful and not used correctly in the World Series. Axford had some decent moments before taking a line drive off the leg that fractured the end of his fibula. He was done for the season in late August. Heading towards the 2019 postseason there are some good bullpen pieces but it is not strong in spots one to eight.

Some History

I’ve rehashed some of the bullpen failures in both 2017 and 2018 which includes the failures of how management handled the bullpen.

The 2018 Playoff Bullpen

Better Than Expected

  • Pedro Baez – in general he was the best bullpen piece of the 2018 postseason.
  • Julio Urías – he was a surprise addition to the NLCS roster as he threw only four innings during the regular season with the Dodgers. He was pretty good in the postseason.
LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 31: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Mixed Bag

  • Caleb Ferguson – he was pretty good in the first two rounds of the playoffs but was left off of the World Series roster.
  • Dylan Floro – he was good except he blew up in game 4 of the World Series.
  • Kenley Jansen – he was actually decent in most of the postseason but gave up two game tying home runs in the World Series. Both happened in so-called 6 inning save opportunities. He was put into bad situations and produced as expected.
  • Ryan Madson – he was very good against the Braves and Brewers but he was awful against the Red Sox. He was not able to get loose in Boston yet Doc went to him in both games there. Then in game 4 he gave up the big three-run home run that let the Red Sox back in the game.

Disappointments

  • Alex Wood – I was expecting a boost in velocity and a killer instinct. Instead, we got the same velocity he had as a starter and he just seemed to be disappointed by being put into the bullpen. I really thought he would be an important part of the bullpen and he was bad.
  • Kenta Maeda – he wasn’t near as good in 2018 as he was in 2017. It seemed he was disappointed to be in the bullpen (remember he was put there in mid-August when Jansen had his heart issue) and just wasn’t the same.
  • Scott Alexander – he was pretty mediocre in the World Series and seemed overwhelmed. He was usually brought in as a ground ball specialist but had problems with his control.

2019 Post-Season Bullpen Candidates

Sure Things

  • Kenley Jansen – the “closer” (they need to adjust the role a bit) and a sure thing for the bullpen. The Dodgers need to stay away from multi-inning save opportunities for him. It was a failure so many times in the 2017 and 2018 post-season.
  • Pedro Baez – he’s had many streaks of being real good and is strong against left-handed batters. He’s a key piece to the bullpen.
  • Julio Urías – I hope the Dodgers do not try and make him a starter. Instead they need to work him towards being able to work back-to-back games. If he is a starter or can only pitch every 3-4 days then the bullpen is significantly weaker without him.
  • Joe Kelly – let’s just hope we get October 2018 Kelly and not the first two months of 2019 Kelly. He has a history of inconsistency. If he looks good in late September, he’ll be on the postseason roster.
  • Kenta Maeda – he could be a very key part in the bullpen if he’s the 2017 version. It is well known that he wants to be a starter but he will only be good for 4-5 innings in that role. He’s far more valuable to the team as a reliever in the postseason.
  • Ross Stripling – he could be the fourth starter if Rich Hill is not healthy. In an ideal scenario (Hill is healthy) Stripling becomes the long man in the bullpen and takes over if a starter has to get pulled early. He should have been used in game 3 of the 2017 World Series when Darvish got lit. Instead they had Maeda use 42 pitches to help ruin the bullpen for the 5th game.

On The Bubble

  • Casey Sadler – he’s making a case for himself to be in the postseason bullpen. We are still in Small-Sample-Size territory but he is looking good so far. My concern is that he doesn’t have a ton of success at the Major League level until this season.
  • Dylan Floro – he started out the season in top form and sometimes his pitches look like they are controlled by a video game controller. The movement on his two-seam fastball is amazing. However, he has been inconsistent and it seems the pitch with amazing movement is also tough for him to control at times. When he can command his pitches he is a good ground ball pitcher.

  • Caleb Ferguson – he’s throwing his fastball almost 90% of the time and gives up a lot of fly balls. In the juiced ball era, a fly ball pitcher who throws mostly fastballs is a recipe for trouble. The key to his success is to harness his curve ball. If that happens then he could become a key piece in the bullpen again.
  • JT Chargois – I like him against right-handed batters. He’s stuck out 22 batters in 15 innings but has given up 3 home runs.
  • Scott Alexander – he’s injured right now but his 2019 season has not been impressive. He’s supposed to be a ground ball pitcher but he’s struggled to keep the ball down. When he enters a game he seems to struggle to get a feel for his pitches and will sometimes walk the first batter he faces.
  • Yimi Garcia – the Dodgers have been using him in some high leverage situations recently with mixed results. In 39.2 innings he’s given up only 23 hits but 10 of them are home runs. Another fly ball pitcher is not what is needed in the postseason bullpen.

What Would The Bullpen Look Like With Current Personnel

  • Jansen
  • Baez
  • Urías
  • Kelly
  • Maeda
  • Stripling
  • Alexander or Ferguson
  • Chargois or Floro or Garcia or Sadler

Final Analysis

I like the top 5-6 of the current personnel that would probably be part of the postseason bullpen. The health of Rich Hill is key. However, they need to get two more to make this a bullpen that can even absorb some bad management decisions. They can’t have guys that Doc doesn’t trust of he’ll burn out the guys he trusts – see the last 2 World Series as proof (especially 2017 game 3).

My wish list of characteristics I’d like in the two spots available:

  • Another flame thrower – velocity plays up in the post-season.
  • Ground ball machine – no more fly ball pitchers where the ball is juiced and too many parks are home run havens.
  • Another pitcher who can get left-handed batters out.

Give me two pitchers that have one or more of the above characteristics who also seems unflappable and this would be a great bullpen. The market for relievers is very tough this year but I feel that the Dodgers are willing to pay the price this season to help get closer to that elusive World Series win.

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

9 Comments

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  1. Nice article and great breakdown. Totally agree with what they need. It’s really hard to figure just what you have with this pen. Baez is inconsistent and Yimi seems to never have 2 games in a row where he doesn’t flame out. Maybe there are guys in the farm that should be given a chance. Maybe Dustin May.

  2. I still wonder why they didnt aggressively bid on Kimbrel who would not have cost them any prospects. I suppose it might have been a conflict with Jansen but with his reduced velocity every single close situation is worrisome.

    • We’ve needed (and still need)” lights out” reliever(s) and so it seems Kimbrel is just that. But alas our opportunity has passed to acquire him. I sincerely hope that we have our eyes set on solid relief pitcher (s), specifically to handle close games. Although I like what I see from Urias and Baez (overall), our bull pen continues to be the Dodgers’ Achilles heel. We need additional relief, so lets get this done Dodgers!!!!

    • Is it just me or do the Dodgers seem to worry too much about hurting Jansen’s feelings. He has already stated that “he is the closer”. Well, not if someone is better than you at closing games, especially in the WS (if we get there again). They should have got Kimbrel just like they should have taken Chapman and Verlander instead of Poo Darvish. Dodgers would have been 2017 WS Champs with Verlander. In other words, improve the f’ing team when you have an opportunity especially when you don’t have to give up our elite youngsters to do it.

    • Bill, I concur. Like many of us, I just finished watching the game tonight. And there is no way what I witnessed is going to be acceptable during the post season (especially against tougher teams.) It was a struggle and that is not exaggerating. Despite a 3 run lead going into the 9th, we came close to losing against the Nationals tonight. Now I love all of our Dodgers, including Kenley, but (sadly) reality is that we need a “lights out” pitcher to close out the 9th inning. We were really fortunate tonight.

  3. Great breakdown. A lefty “miss bats” Reliever would be a great addition. In a small sample size, I have been very impressed with Sadler. He has good velocity, control, and an out pitch.
    Baez has been very good as has Jansen most of the year. Maeda I think will help also
    his slider can be devastating.
    The new earlier date and the number of teams that feel they are still in the hunt for a Wild Card and do not want to anger their fans or their players creates a shrinking market. Who would have thought the Giants would be in the hunt for a WC?
    I think we will get a solid reliever but not trade a top 10 Blue Chip player. And I am OK with that. The Dodger team continues to get younger and is one of the elite in the NL and MLB with a top 5 Farm Club the future is very bright. The starting line up next year will have very young players like Bellinger, Verdugo, Seager, Smith, and Lux. Muncy and Hernandez are still not in their prime years. Urias and Buehler will be key pitchers and May is coming up fast along with Grey, White and others.

  4. An excellent, well-written article on our BP, pros and cons. At present, it all rides on how our BP does over the next few weeks, in relation to who we acquire in the next few days – if anyone. Like most of my fellow posters, I would be surprised if the Blue lands a top flight relief pitcher. Frankly, I would not be surprised if the Dodgers went after Thor, the Mets pitcher. With Hill down, Maeda showing no stamina, this move looks good to me. From there on in, its a crap shoot. Go Blue!!!

  5. I totally concur on this point made here:
    “The health of Rich Hill is key. However, they need to get two more to make this a bullpen that can even absorb some bad management decisions. They can’t have guys that Doc doesn’t trust of he’ll burn out the guys he trusts – see the last 2 World Series as proof (especially 2017 game 3)” It goes without saying that Dodgers must not expect Jansen to to attempt a multi inning (6 out) save situation. We can only hope that Roberts has learned from the BP failures of 2017 and 2018 WS. And I certainly agree that we DO NOT need a fly ball pitcher like Yimi Garcia at all during that time. Recall if you will what the realbig problem was for the BP…allowing a bunch of HR’s that made staying in the game impossible.

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