There are few things more frustrating than that watching a starting pitcher leave a game with a lead or even tied up only to watch the game implode at the hands of the bullpen. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, it has been common place this year.
As of this writing, the Dodgers are positioned at the top of the National League West Division by a comfortable 8 games. Furthermore, they have the NL’s best overall record in the at 37-19. Unfortunately, this outstanding record could be up to 10 games better.
Imagine this Dodgers team with an actually big league bullpen? Yikes. They better active at the trade deadline. This is a World Series caliber team with a bullpen you can trust. #dodgers
— Tommy (@Irieska) May 29, 2019
Bullpen by the Numbers
So far this season the Dodgers have lost 10 games in relief. This includes 8 blown saves out 25 opportunities. The Dodgers’ 4.66 relief ERA ranks 11th out of 15 in the NL. Additionally, Dodgers’ relievers have allowed 32 of 81 inherited runners to score. That’s nearly 40% and ranks them 14th in the NL. For a team with aspirations of a 3rd consecutive trip to the Fall Classic this is unacceptable. It’s actually surprising they have performed this well, but make no mistake, if allowed to continue, the consequences will catch up.
Dodgers bullpen MLB ranks:
1.26 WHIP – 9th
65% strand rate – 29th ?
4.34 FIP – 15th
0.9 WAR – 15th
— Kershizer (@Kershizer77) May 29, 2019
Baseball is a game of momentum. A leadoff hit can trigger a rally, early runs can lead to a strong start, and an outstanding defensive play can carry over and spark the offense. Conversely, consistently blowing hard earned leads or giving up insurmountable runs can have a reverse-momentum effect. It can demoralize and stifle the offense.
No batter will say it, but it’s frustrating to gain a lead, only to watch it squandered regularly. No starter will say it, but to go 6+ innings giving up less than 3 runs, only to see that the bullpen can’t get through 1 without giving up multiple, is enraging. The psychological ramifications don’t just end there on the team struggling.
Opponents are scouting the Dodgers and focusing on the weak elements on the team. They know the Dodgers’ bullpen is weak and/or struggling and when there’s blood in the water, the sharks will come for you. Instead of opponents feeling completely beaten down by the Dodger’s torrid offense, they still have confidence. They know they can still come back. It used to be when “California Love” played at Dodger Stadium, you could sense the game was over.
That feeling doesn’t exist these days. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Once you see Dave Roberts patting his starter on the back in the dugout, the butterflies start up.
The Dodgers are a 1/3 of the way through the season and their Achilles heel is a bullpen that can’t seem to hold lead or strand runners in crucial situations. While the reverse-momentum consequences of the bullpen issue haven’t begun yet, as clearly displayed in last night’s walk-off victory, it’s only a matter of time. If the Dodgers are to make it to the World Series again, and certainly if they hope to win it, they need to prioritize improving this bullpen, now.