The Los Angeles Dodgers understood coming into the 2015 season that changes needed to be made to their bullpen. Big name players who weren’t producing were let go and the effective relievers were being overused. At the start of this season, manager Don Mattingly had a different approach to make sure relievers like J.P. Howell received a different distribution of appearances.
In the 2013 and 2014 season, the southpaw pitcher appeared in 67 and 68 games respectively, leaving a sense of fatigue that resulted in less than ideal production during their postseason run. However, a key difference was that in 2014, he appeared in 13 less innings than he did the previous year, clearly producing a foundation of a plan to keep him fresh.
The fault with that plan turned out to be that Howell was not ready for the precautionary break. Howell, who received a nine-day gap between appearances in the midst of September, stated that the brief break turned into more of a mental checkout that he was not prepared to deal with.
The 2015 campaign turned out to be a different notion, as the beginning of Spring Training and the season was more about adjustments. According to Mattingly, once Howell found his groove, it was more about being prepared. “He was the only lefty for much of last year. I don’t know if he got worn down, or it seemed like the momentum broke somewhere. I think just the usage, you never know why,” Mattingly said. “But then this year he was rough in Spring Training and a little rough early, but then he worked his way through it and got rolling again. His usage doesn’t seem to be near the same as last year.”
Through 34 innings pitched this season, the 32-year-old is producing fantastic numbers. In 46 games played, he has a 1.59 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 233 ERA+, and 1.41 WHIP. One key area of improvement compared to last season is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2014, Howell allowed a ratio of 1.92, but this season, Howell raised that number all the way to 2.82. Although the pitcher does have an unorthodox delivery to the plate, if he keeps his control under check then his arsenal becomes that much harder to see coming.
Through the first half of the season, the California native threw 25.2 innings where he only allowed one earned run against him, an incredible feat. What is also remarkable is the fact that Mattingly hasn’t put him in a particular role. This season, Howell’s lack of a specific role has put him into different scenarios and exposed him to all different types situations to pitch out of.
The reliever has remained primarily more effective against left-handed hitters this season, posting a slash line of .227/.311/.231. Comparatively, his line against right-handed hitters is .301/.346/.425, suggesting that some work does need to be done towards the end of the regular season.