Although the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen has been inconsistent at times this season, J.P. Howell has been among the go-to relievers in key situations and late innings.
While Howell has been effective, manager Don Mattingly has avoided overusing the left-hander, which was an issue in seasons prior. In the first half of the 2014 season, Howell threw 34 innings, perhaps contributing to his ineffectiveness in September when opponents on-base percentage jumped to .304.
In the first half of this season, Howell threw 25.2 innings, giving up just one earned run. While his role continues to vary, it’s something he enjoys, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times:
Every year’s different for me, that’s the cool thing,” Howell said. “I’ve had times when it’s been different roles. This is a fun one because I’ve pitched in every single way possible, and I’ve really enjoyed that.”
Although Howell has settled in this season, he struggled early and said it was simply a matter of working through those rough patches:
I just kept grinding,” he said. “It was kind of early, and that’s how it happens. It’s hit or miss, and you adjust from there. It’s nice when it’s ‘hit’ early, but sometimes it’s not.”
Of the various innings Howell has been used, 14 of his 37 appearances have come in the eighth. However, statistics suggest his most effective innings are the eighth and ninth. In 17 combined scoreless innings over 24 appearances in the eighth and ninth, Howell is holding opponents to a slash of .229/.299/.248.
Additionally, Howell has essentially been equally effective against right-handed and left-handed hitters. This season he’s faced three more righties than lefties (60 plate appearances to 57 plate appearances) and has nearly identical splits — .236/.300/.273 (right-handed batters) and .220/.298/.220 (left-handed batters).
Howell currently owns a 2.74 FIP, which improves on last season’s 3.30 average and would be a new career low — besting the 2.89 FIP he posted in 2013, his first season with the Dodgers.