Even as the Dodgers won their seventh consecutive National League West division title with relative ease, the bullpen continues to be an area of concern heading into the final few weeks of the season.
Before the season, left-hander Caleb Ferguson was expected to be a key member of the Dodgers’ bullpen. He had a strong debut season in 2018 where he posted a 3.49 ERA with a 10.84 K/9 and 2.20 BB/9 in 49 innings. The hope was that he would improve, but he struggled early and found himself back in Triple-A.
However, Ferguson has stepped up since being promoted on August 6 and could end up being one of the go-to relievers come October.
Caleb Ferguson Finally Getting In The Groove. Now That's What I Like To See. pic.twitter.com/JcDkNaFrvs
— Jacob Caldera (@caldera_jacob) September 5, 2019
Dating back to his promotion, he has prevented runs from scoring in 11 of 14 appearances. His worst outing coming the day after clinching the division, so you can put a little less stock in that one.
He has been one of the better relievers in the Dodgers’ bullpen since early August and there is reason to believe it’s legit.
The biggest turnaround for him has been the quality of contact he’s allowing. Take a look at his expected weighted on-base average by month.
The chart highlights a complete turnaround for him. In the first half of the season, batters were slashing .287/.393/.511 with a .379 wOBA against him. During the second half of the season, he has held batters to a .169/.306/.305 line with a .270 wOBA.
Ferguson made a change that could support this production. At the start of the season, he was using his curveball for about 16% of his pitches. In August, he started using it around 33% of the time, which is a major change for a pitcher with only two pitches.
As you can see in the xwOBA chart above, the curveball usage increase has a strong correlation with the decrease in his xwOBA and improvement in his production. In August, he held batters to a .148/.273/.222 line with a .232 wOBA. So far in September, batters are hitting .143/.217/.333 off him with a .235 wOBA.
The Dodgers are going to need players to step up in their bullpen come October and he could be one of those guys. Manager Dave Roberts already showed trust in him when he turned to Ferguson to get the final outs in the Dodgers’ clinching game against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday.
Ferguson could be even more valuable if fellow left-hander Julio Urias is needed in a starting role. The plan was to make Rich Hill the fourth starter but he left Thursday’s game with an injury. Having Ferguson and Adam Kolarek as the two southpaws in the bullpen would give the Dodgers two solid options to get lefties out. It would be even better if Urias does stay in the bullpen but they have options now.
Either way, Ferguson has put his struggles behind him and is making a strong push to be named on the playoff roster.