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Dodgers: The Never-Ending Bullpen Nightmare

The Dodgers are an amazing ball club, but are missing an entire facet of the game on their current roster.

The Andrew Friedman era has been characterized by deep playoff runs, but an overall failure to get the job done. Los Angeles has not seen their Boys in Blue win a World Series title since 1988. Since that year, the Dodgers have won their division ten times, but the ring remains elusive.

Four Division Series losses, four Championship Series losses, and two World Series losses, all bringing their own version of hurt to fans and the city of Los Angeles. There is one common denominator to it all — the bullpen.

The “Successes”

The Dodgers have had recent success, if you consider six consecutive divisional wins to be success. It isn’t. In a city that has boasted some of the best sports franchises, most notably the Lakers who have won six titles since the Dodgers have won their last, the Dodgers are an utter disappointment. This problem is one that has a simple fix, frankly. The bullpen.

Dodgers

The Dodgers have some guys who can flat-out play. Cody Bellinger is the early favorite for Most Valuable Player. Corey Seager and Joc Pederson both have some real talent. Alex Verdugo has quickly became a fan favorite and is a star in the making. Justin Turner is still getting it done at age 34. On the other side of the ball, they have budding ace Walker Buehler, one of the best pitchers the game has ever seen in Clayton Kershaw, and current ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu.

All of these players’ accomplishments have gone by the wayside. The Dodgers are now characterized by their failure to play well when it matters most, because let’s face it — nobody cares about your regular season record. They only care who hoists the trophy and celebrates with a parade through the streets of their town. Most of the team’s October failures can be directly attributed to a lack of a shutdown bullpen.

In It to Win It?

If you are 30 years old or younger, you have never seen the Dodgers win a World Series and there is something wrong with that.

The Dodgers organization has consistently put a great team on the field for quite a few years running. The offense is there, the starting pitching is there, but it is as if one portion — one that has heightened significance in today’s era of baseball — is completely neglected.

Dodgers

The Dodgers are notorious for their bargain bin hunting under Andrew Friedman, searching through an island of misfit toys hoping one can be made new again. The strategy does not work. It has proven ineffective and it is about time that the front office realizes it.

It comes to a point where you have to question whether or not this current regime of the Andrew Friedman brain trust is the one that leads the Los Angeles Dodgers to victory to end their drought. Under his direction, the organization has had peak functionality but the decision-making regarding the bullpen has been pedestrian at best.

Bargain Bin Bullpen

The Dodgers do not spend money on bullpen help, they search through the bargain bin. They do not utilize prospect capital to get shutdown relievers, they search through the bargain bin. Enough is enough.

The club decided to allocate a decent amount of funding to sign Joe Kelly, who holds a 8.83 ERA this season.

Kelly did not appear to be a bad signing coming into the year and the verdict is still out in all honesty, but the prospects of Kelly turning it completely around do not look pretty. At least for this season. Approximately $8 million down the drain. Negative production. Joe Kelly’s career ERA is 4.01, so why did we sign him when we could have paid just a few more million for a long-time established guy like David Robertson or Adam Ottavino? Andrew Miller or Zack Britton? Craig Kimbrel? It has come to the point where it is comical. As Albert Einstein once said:

Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

True insanity indeed. The concept of bargain bin hunting does not work and it has been proven. Just check Andrew Friedman’s track record with the Tampa Bay Rays. Sure, he was forced into a situation with limited funding, but the bullpen was not his strong suit there either. Although the Rays lost the World Series in 2008 to a far superior Philadelphia Phillies roster, the bullpen aided in their defeat.

The Dodgers traded for John Axford and Ryan Madson instead of Ryan Pressly or Brad Hand. They went through an entire offseason of one of the best relief pitching classes ever and decided that Joe Kelly was their guy. The guy they wanted to pay up on. It is truly uncanny.

Yimi Garcia is still on the roster because he is out of option years, but JT Chargois is pitching lights out down in Oklahoma City. Joe Kelly is struggling. Caleb Ferguson is not who the Dodgers hoped he would be this season. Dylan Floro is getting overworked and is slowly tiring. These are all by-products of the missing ‘bridge to Kenley Jansen’ that fans have alluded to over the years.

The only reliever in the Friedman era who can genuinely claim to be the bridge for any period of time is Brandon Morrow and that was for three-quarters of 2017. Even he burned out in the World Series because of ineffective bullpen management by Dave Roberts, which we have become accustomed to in October.

Friedman puts a makeshift bullpen (lemons) together and asks Dave Roberts to win a World Series (make orange juice). An obvious losing equation.

The problem has no doubt carried into 2019. If the Dodgers front office fully expects to be World Series favorites come October, they are fooling themselves. An entire element of baseball is missing from this Dodgers roster. They have one of the best offenses this season to add to a fantastic defense and starting pitching corps. Their bullpen is their kryptonite. They have a 4.76 bullpen ERA this year, good for the 8th-worst in Major League Baseball. The seven teams behind them have a combined winning percentage of .387.

If the Dodgers claim to be amongst the class of the MLB, they are wrong. When an entire facet of the game is missing, you are no better than your weakest link. This was proven true in 2017 against the Astros and once again in 2018 against the Red Sox.

It doesn’t matter how good the offense is. It especially does not matter how good the starting pitching is when great starts are erased by terrible bullpen performances.

It is an utter disgrace that requires a solution and the solution is not difficult to find. Allocate more attention to the bullpen. It is really that simple.

When we discuss the best three teams in baseball, it is often the Yankees, Dodgers, and Astros who are mentioned. The difference between the Dodgers and the other two teams is significant due to the fact that the guys those teams run out in the sixth inning would arguably be the best pitchers out of the Dodgers ‘pen. The gap is wider than you think and the gap might not close in time for playoffs.

The Yankees have Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Holder, Dellin Betances, and Adam Ottavino. The Astros have Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon, and Chris Devenski. The Dodgers have…wait for it…Kenley Jansen, Joe Kelly, and Dylan Floro who are supposed to pitch high-leverage innings. If the Dodgers had any one of those Astros or Yankees relievers, it negates all of Yimi Garcia’s innings. The opportunity cost. Addition by subtraction.

You want Ross Stripling coming in to face Aaron Judge or Mookie Betts or George Springer come playoff time? Yeah, neither do I.

Looking Forward

The trade deadline will most likely come and pass without any real move. Craig Kimbrel probably will not be a Dodger.

The Dodgers will pull some guy you have not heard out of the trash bin from some non-contender and hope it sticks. If that happens, the Dodgers will not win the World Series, even if they do get there.

It hurts to say it, but it is true. The Dodgers’ World Series drought has gone on long enough and the key to ending it is shoring up the bullpen. The true contention window for us may be closing within the next few years as stars age. Let us just hope and pray that Andrew Friedman and Co. come to the same realization before it is too late.

Written by Daniel Preciado

My name is Daniel Preciado and I am 18 years old. I am a sophomore Sport Analytics major and Cognitive Science and Economics dual minor at Syracuse University. When I am not in New York, I live in Whittier, California --- not too far from Chavez Ravine. I am pretty old-school for being an analytics guy and I will always embrace debate. Also, Chase Utley did absolutely nothing wrong.

47 Comments

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  1. I would love to hear Friedman’s response to this article. Since he seems to be a brilliant guy I’m sure he has thought thru this and has a rationale and a defense. I have heard him say thst the bullpen is sleays the hardest part to fix but since other teams figure it out it sounds like a copout.

  2. “The Dodgers do not spend money on bullpen help, they search through the bargain bin. They do not utilize prospect capital to get shutdown relievers, they search through the bargain bin. Enough is enough.

    The club decided to allocate a decent amount of funding to sign Joe Kelly, who holds a 8.83 ERA this season.”

    These two statements cannot be true at the same time. Joe Kelly was coming off a superb year and is a prime example of the team spending money on bullpen help. It doesn’t change that he’s been inexplicably terrible, though.

  3. It is a hopeless and frustrating sensation when the Dodgers get to the late innings tied or leading by a run. Add to this the the obstinacy of Doc using the same unreliable relievers at high pressure situation. We hope the front office realizes the urgency of amending this awful bullpen by looking for some REAL help elsewhere or signing Kimbrel . It is sad to see a great Dodgers team being wasted years after years by the lack of paying attention to the weakest link to this team : the bullpen.

  4. Friedman has failed the fans and the entire dodger fan base by his penny pinching ways ehen it comes to getting quality help for the bullpen.the dodgers are the richest team in baseball so why is friedman so damn cheap and worried about the damn salary cap.Maybe he gets a big bonus for staying under the cap while still making the playoffs.THe man is over_rated ad a leader.Very sad we lost our gm to the giants,he was s real baseball guy.Without a couple good releivers out dodgers may not even get out off the playoffs.If we tank. Again this year friedman has to go ,he fans we need to speak up.The owners of the team showed they dont gove a shit about the fans by making that money grabbing deal with spectrum,shutting out yhe majority of dodger fans from being able to watch their team on other cable channels.Selfish money hungary people who are really raking on the money but from what i see by the guy they hired to run the team,could really go e a shit about a world series win.Thank you. A fsn since 1959

  5. Joe Kelly is sporting a -0.9 WAR after only a third of the season. A pitcher with a negative WAR would be a great guy for getting water to other players, or picking up the bats after batting practice. Kelly needs some time in AAA to think about what he is doing and figure it out.

  6. I agree the need another top notch reliever. I can’t believe there is no one in the farm system who could maybe fill the void. If there isn’t someone in the main office is not doing their job. One of their scouts should be able to find someone. What are they doing besides eating dogs and drinking beer at the games. This needs to be done as the team is getting older.

  7. Friedman’s response is through his actions. Going back to Tampa Bay he has never put together an effective bullpen. He just doesn’t think doing so is worth spending the resources. Meanwhile we say that’s okay because the Dodgers are “ successful” because they make the playoffs and make money every year. I love that an 18-year-old is pointing out the the Emperor has no clothes! Rock on, Daniel!!

      • Daniel, I hope ya read my post above because as I said you are 1,000% right on the money, and if Dodgers fail to get a ring this season and it’s the BP as the culprit along with Doc’s mismanagement of it , they should both be locked up in a padded cell after this year!!!!!

  8. Where the hell is Julio Urias ??? He’s the best pitcher in the bullpen, and yet Roberts has only used him once since he returned to the team ! He pitched 2 innings, gave up one hit, NO walks, no runs. In his last 7 appearances has only given up 2 runs… He should be coming out of the pen every other day ! C’mon Roberts, you dork !

  9. Well in whole I agree with your premise(s) in terms of the urgency to fix our obviously poor bullpen. If the world series started tomorrow we’ll once again be the lamb led to the slaughter 2018 redux.

    I though am not as down on Friedman and FO as you at this point, I see a trend to hang on to our homegrown talent, Belli and now Smith for example, which is imo the way to sustain a winning franchise. Where I lose faith is the Dodgers unwillingness to go out and spend decent money on an ace for the BP.

    In regards to last nights loss, I know Roberts is going for matchups lefties on righties and such but would the outcome have been any worse leaving Garcia in? Perhaps he gets out of the jam? Once Alexander gave up the grand slam and the writing was on the wall I get inserting Kelly, Roberts and Honeycutt are trying to get him in game time to work out his clearly poor control.

    Lastly, our hitting was dreadful except Bellinger of course. Turner 0 for 5, Hernandez 0 for 3, Pederson 0 for 2 (he looked horrible in his at bats) Muncy 0 for 2, Seager 1 for 4 you get the idea. Though Will Smith went 2 for 4 which was a bright spot. Just saying to win the Championship all cyclinders need to be firing so it’s not just the bullpen. Let’s hope the boys in blue peak in September. My .02.

    Hugh

  10. too bad you can’t trade management……another show of “brilliant decisions” by the manager to give away this game……line-up that sucks and relief that is not used efficiently……must be pulling names out of a jar for the line-up

  11. As great as the offense and Rotation are this team is destined for an early exit because of the bullpen. There will be lots of tight games like last night that will be lost because they are incapable of keeping a game tied or holding a small lead, they lose every time. It’s fine in the season when you know most nights the offense will explode and provide a nice cushion but it won’t work out enough to win 11 in October. It’s rare that you can get an offense and rotation to be so elite simultaneously something special is going on here too bad the neglected bullpen is going to ruin it all. What a waste, it’s always something with this team, they figure other parts out but leave something else weak

  12. This is a little off the subject but whatever happened to the prototypical leadoff hitter……..switch hitter, sprays the ball around, can drag a bunt. Basically do anything to get on base and create a distraction for the hitter. Has baseball become so enamored with the home run that they have forgotten this concept? Joe Kelly on the mound or Kiki Hernandez in the leadoff spot……..pick your poison.

  13. Great essay, Daniel.
    Somehow it should get to Freidman’s desk because, to paraphrase your bottom line analysis, all of the Dodgers’ players great achievements over the past six years to make the playoffs, with a chance to win a championship, have been wasted.

    • Absolutely, Jim. So many players of the upper-tier have had their efforts simply go by the wayside. Nothing to show for it.

  14. This was a great article.I was literally smh when I heard we signed Kelly.There will be no figuring it out for him.Honestly,Id just release him.Its a train wreck when he comes out.An incredible bunch of BP guys and we signed him.This is the worst pen by far since we got on this run.Bottom line is I don’t care what u got If u ain’t gotta great pen you’re not winning shit.I don’t understand why Urias isn’t the set up guy….baffling.Even if he does get into that role they still need at LEAST 2 damn good guys in that pen.Houston was better than Bos and it’s no coinicidence that’s the closest we came cos we had Watson and Morrow.Floro doesn’t hv the stuff to be in the back but is a good reliever.Suddenly that Fields move is looking worse by the second.Something needs to be done waaaaay before the deadline…but it won’t.

  15. What can I say that has not already been said? I find it very frustrating to awaken in the morning, rand run and check the Dodger score, only to find out who the guilty culprit was in the BP. A new zero ( not hero) every day. Is it not time to spend the money and obtain a decent relief pitcher? Kimbrel. This is silly. Our BP has cost us more games than our SP. We are wasting efforts put forth by Belles, Big Red, AV, Mad Max and others. This is most frustrating. I hope someone in the FO tells AF that his non-spending in the BP is truly Bull. Go Blue!!!!

  16. Not a terrible article, but a bit shortsighted. We lost World Series last year because Boston was flat out dominating. 2017, we lost not cause of bullpen (in fact with Maeda, Morrow, and Jansen dealing we were killing it). We lost 2017 because the managers, the hitters, the starters and the bullpen all choked. Not sure what Friedman could have done to give us a better shot at WS (before anyone even starts, nobody wanted Verlander over darvish, NOBODY. Friedman did his job). 2017 hurt the most because that should have been ours.
    That being said, this year Friedman has really botched our BP construction. He banks on moving starters to BP in playoffs, which worked in 2017, but not in 2018. Maybe this year? Who knows. Hopefully we can trade for a hot hand at deadline, and look to bring up the young guns (May for example). Whatever our BP looks like now, it will look vastly different come the fall. Fingers crossed we make the right moves this year.

    • I agree with you…..Darvish absolutely choked in ’17.

      What’s funny and somewhat ironic regarding your Boston domination comment is the Dodgers grabbed one of those dominant pieces and the guy looks like a clown out there.

      • The entire team choked in ’17 WS lol. Kersh couldn’t hold 2 leads, Jansen gave up HR to a no-name, Turner hit .200ish, Bellinger hit .100ish.

        Boston last year was just on a tear from start to finish last year. Kelly might be dominant in October again, who knows, it is a bit of a crapshoot. He was pretty horrendous most of last regular season also (not this bad though).

  17. Urias is not being used so he will be fresh in September/October. Kimbrel is not getting signed, because the Dodgers need to remain under the salary cap. All the relievers are capable of better performance. When they don’t perform as well as they should, we all complain about the manager and owner not making the right decisions. Yet, every one of them can produce as well as anyone they get to replace them.

  18. Bullpen pitchers are the most inconsistent bunch so I have no problem with the dodgers strategy as playoff bullpens and regular season bullpens are quite different.

    You will notice that most long term deals don’t pan out for teams regarding relief pitchers, it’s pretty much ride the hot hand. Cingrani, Watson Madsen. (expect the world series). We’re all effective over the last couple seasons.

    The real problem is teams want top prospects like bellinger seager verdugo over the years and Dodgers won’t part with them (smartly so)

    The real issue is Kershaw pitching like crap in the playoffs and jansen blowing saves. Kershaw blew two 4 run leads in game five against the Astros. The bullpen has pitched good enough to win.

    Despite not winning it all the dodgers have built a sustainable winner. Playoffs can be a lot of luck.

  19. Albert Einstein never said that, I absolutely lost interest in your article when I read that. Please do research and don’t assume memes are facts, thank you

  20. Latos, Madson and Koeler When you pick up guys like this, there are issues in your purchasing skills.

  21. And the next piece in this newsletter is that Cingrani is being re-evaluated and may have some additional arm issues.

    Last night’s game was a head-scratcher. Or maybe exactly what ti expect fro Roberts. As someone said earlier, maybe Yimi can work out of it. But noooooooooooo. Roberts is so tied to righty-righty and lefty-lefty, he simply burns up the bullpen. Why no Julio last night? And beyond the misuse of a bad BP, Roberts put the team is a position that if, and it’s a big if, Martin had gotten hurt, they had no catcher since he already burned Kike, the 3rd catcher because, well he needed to be pinch hit for. So who would catch and what pitcher would be called on to play a position. Sure all of this didn’t happen, but it could have.

  22. Great article Daniel! I grew up in Whittier going to several Dodger games all the way back to Koufax out dueling Whitey Ford in the “1963” 4 game sweep of the Yankees. Many great Dodger Teams followed that.The O’Malley Family were great owners Dave Roberts relies too much on analytics instead of some common sense. Alston and Lasorda used their gut instincts to make a lot of great decisions. I think that current management is smart but not very wise.

      • I don’t know, hear a thought, why not let the starters go at least 7 instead of YANKING them out early. Well you say he’s saving them, he does the same thing in October! Talk about insanity!

  23. I understand that if the D’s signs Kimbrel before 2 June, they will cost them two players for compensation. If signed after 2 June, no penalties. Any truth to this?

  24. And on top of that, we have a manager that refuses to let the starters go past 6 innings i.e.Rich Hill (two World Series games and every game since). And you cannot say he’s saving his starters because he does the same thing in October. Talk bout insanity! If I hear announcers say how great of a job Robert’s does I’m going to lose it!

  25. Solving the Dodgers bullpen woes……why don’t they try this?……….but it is going to be at a significant monetary cost, but less than someone like Kimbrell……….look around the MLB landscape, pick teams who are not in contention this season (there are a ton of them)……..then start making offers for their BEST pitcher……..not their best reliever……..their BEST pitcher, preferably get someone’s front line STARTER……..make one of these teams an offer they can’t refuse, give them some of our young MILB talent…….then put that guy we acquire in OUR bullpen. Along with Jansen, Urias, Biaz and Floro, you can redefine the roles, try it for a while , then see who that leaves standing and who has to go. If that new acquisition pitches so well he fits better in the rotation, you can even move one of our starters to the bullpen.

  26. If the Dodgers claim to be amongst the class of the MLB, they are wrong. When an entire facet of the game is missing, you are no better than your weakest link. This was proven true in 2017 against the Astros and once again in 2018 against the Red Sox.

    It doesn’t matter how good the offense is. It especially does not matter how good the starting pitching is when great starts are erased by terrible bullpen performances.
    I could have copied this entire page but in any event,EVERYTHING, I MEAN EVERYTHING that Daniel wrote on this page is absolutely 1,000% true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”
    This practice of Freidman and Roberts was one reason why Dodgers lost back to back WS and a reason why Dodgers will be home in October perhaps missing the PS altogether if this BP is not upgraded…pathetic is an understatement. Along with a failed offense during most parts of these past 2 WS it certainly was also a result of the pitching staff allowing 23 HR’s in the 12 games combined in these 2 WS.

  28. Great article and spot on….brutally honest, but spot on. I love my Dodgers….however, the bull pen is frustrating at best and horrible at its worst. When our offense is not “on point” and accumulating significant runs to provide a cushion for the latter innings, its a wrap. Although Baez has recently been a welcome surprise, I cringe EVERY TIME our starter leaves the game. Where is the “lights out” ending to a game? Well, its usually not there, but don’t worry. We will get to post season because I believe that everything else about the Dodgers is that good. But this is about whether or not we can successfully get THROUGH the post season and have that “elusive” World Series ring to show for it? Until bull pen changes are made or current bull pen figures it out, I don’t know but I will remain a “believer.” GO BLUE!

  29. Whoever is in charged of this article,please pass all the comments along to the front office of the Dodgers and Andrew Friedman. There are a lot of frustrated fans concerned with the present bullpen of the Dodgers. With the present BP roster,we’ll be lucky to make it out of the National League playoffs and have NO chance against the Yankees or Astros.Mr. F.,you have the money,the player assets to trade,you draw 3.8 million people with a huge TV contract. Don’t let another opportunity to win a World Series pass you by . Go all in. Make it Happen! Trophies for regular season mean nothing . It’s like giving a trophy to a kid for participating and not winning anything..

  30. Your only 18 and you think “the Dodgers are an utter disappointment.” Division titles and W.S. appearances still means winning a whole lot of exciting games and sell outs. So if your going to write a story about what didn’t go right and the obvious of what we need than your article is an utter disappointment and nothing news breaking. Those involved who got us there worked hard so never take that away from them. Together we were all disappointed by the outcome but proud of the effort. I’m utterly proud of my best team in baseball Dodgers and with the waiver trade coming up I’ll be utterly satisfied that everything possible will be done to strengthen the bullpen. Articles about our team weakness have already been written. Find something fresh. Damn teenagers.

  31. Count up the blown saves and lost leads by the bullpen tell me again this is not a severe weakness …

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