Dodgers: The State of the Bullpen Heading Into May

As the season rolls into May the Dodgers bullpen is rounding into form. There are still some issues and room for improvement but the personnel are in place. Since Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill has returned to the rotation the bullpen has a look of completeness. Adding Julio Urías and Ross Stripling a decent bullpen has become stronger.

This article will break down the bullpen as it stands heading into the month of May. We’ll look at each role, and the pitchers that fulfill those roles.

The Closer

Kenley Jansen: Just like Clayton Kershaw, there is a drop in velocity from 2017 until now. His cutter averaged 93.2 MPH in 2017 and it is down to 91.6 MPH to begin the 2019 season according to Baseball Savant. Sometimes we still see some extra velocity so there still might be something left for Kenley to tap into. Despite some home runs he’s given up he has been solid. I expect continued improvement as Kenley continues to adjust to his weight loss (25 pounds) and his slight loss in velocity.

High Leverage

Pedro Baez: Last year at this time Pedro Baez was universally the least favorite Dodger. His failures were amplified by some high visibility. At some point, he turned the corner in 2018. He still has his moments of failure but his amazing effort against the Pirates on April 27 may have changed the tide for the fans. He entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs. The Pirates proceeded to pop out twice and strike out and no runs crossed the plate.

What seems to be the difference is the development of his changeup. Last year he threw the fastball, sinker, slider and change up with the percentages of 39.2, 23.6, 22.3 and 14.9. This year the percentages are 43.9, 2.6, 14.5 and 38.7. That is a jump of almost 24 percentage points for the changeup.

The Ground Ball Machines

Scott Alexander: Alexander’s role is to come in and get ground balls. This year he’s about 5 percentage worse than he was last year in ground ball rate a spike up of 4 MPH in exit velocity. Since he came to the Dodgers it seems it takes Alexander a few pitches to get the feel for his sinker, whether walking the first batter or giving up hard contact. He’s been the same way almost his whole time with the Dodgers and I don’t expect it to change. I would not bring him in with more than one runner on base to deal with his slow starts.

Dylan Floro: Floro hasn’t given up a run yet in 2019 and seems to be someone that the Dodgers should have more trust in. For some reason, his ground ball rate is down by 12 percentage points but his pop up rate is up by almost 10 percentage points. The statistic that does concern me is he’s only struck out 9 in 13.1 innings but the trend is better. As the Dodgers are very good at hiding injuries we really don’t know how bad Floro is hurt.

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Low Leverage

Yimi Garcia: I thought Garcia was going to be gone once everyone was back into their regular spots in the rotation and bullpen. He gave up earned runs in 6 of his first 8 outings of the season. Since then, in his next 7 appearances he hasn’t given up any runs. In those 8 innings he’s walked only 1 and given up no hits. It looks like he has earned an extended chance.

Joe Kelly: The Dodgers, for once, splurged in free agency for a relief pitcher when they gave Kelly a 3 year/$25M contract. He’s proceeded to pitch pretty poorly and is pitching in less and less high leverage situations. The good news is that he is historically streaky and I’d expect him to rebound soon. What will be key is for Dave Roberts to figure out when he’s good and when he’s not. If he starts an outing bad then Doc needs to get him out quick.

Long Men

Ross Stripling: Fresh out the rotation, I expect to see an uptick in Stripling’s fastball velocity. According to Fangraphs his fastball has been between 92 and 94 MPH since he came up to the Dodgers. It started to drop a little in June of 2018 when he was a starter (91-93) then went back up when he went back to the bullpen. As a starter in 2019 he’s been at 89-91 so I’m hopeful he can gain 2-3 MPH extra in the bullpen. I expect him to be a nice upgrade to the bullpen, despite his initial outing against the Giants.

Julio Urías: The addition of Urías to the bullpen to help limit his innings is the biggest boost. He has amazing stuff and the right personality to be a huge part of the bullpen. One underrated part of his game is being able to hold runners on base better than most of the pitching staff. To be honest, it would not surprise me to see him closing some games by the end of the year. He could be the missing piece in high leverage situations.

The Injured Ones

Tony Cingrani: There is finally some good news about the status of Tony Cingrani as he’s ready for a rehabilitation assignment. He was good for the Dodgers in the latter part of 2017 and into 2018. Then he hurt his shoulder and – save for 2 late-September appearances in 2018 — he hasn’t been back since. If he can come back and get back to his previous form, he will be a nice addition.

Caleb Ferguson: Ferguson got off to a mediocre start as his ground ball % is only 29.7 and he’s struggled a bit with his command. He’s also been throwing 85% fastballs and 13.5% curveballs. In 2018 he threw 71.4% fastballs and 24.8% so there is drastic change in his pitch selection.

Some time on the Injured List for an oblique “injury” might give him time to figure things out. Ferguson was a key addition to the bullpen in 2018 and he is needed in 2019.

Waiting in AAA

The Dodgers have a variety of options in AAA with various levels of experience. I think the two best options for relief are Josh Sborz and Dennis Santana. However, Santana has been working as a starter so Sborz would be my first pick. Jaime Schultz did some good work this year and JT Chargois is also a candidate.

Final Thoughts

Like any bullpen, there will be some bumps in the road but there are some good pieces. If Uriás stays in the bullpen and starts working the late innings, then it could become very good. Of course, any upgrade would be welcome as any group of eight pitchers can always improve. This year they need to do better at the trade deadline than John Axford and Ryan Madson.

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  1. Floro has been very good as you mentioned and I am a big Yimi Garcia fan. Urias is the X Factor in this as he has amazing talent and variety of pitches. I would like to see Sborz up as he is a perfect guy to come in and bridge to Jansen also if he can keep control Allie has amazing potential.

    I do like Santana. I am not sure what they plan for him. He has the pitch variety to start but he would appear to be blocked with guys like Urias, Stripling, Ferguson, Gonsolin and May all vying for a shot at the Rotation.

  2. First off….loved last night’s game. Thank you Dodgers for shutting down the Giants. It was absolutely wonderful not being subjected to that incessant, delusional, Giants’ fans, “Beat LA” chant. As for our bull pen…..
    I feel more comfortable with Urias in the bull pen. As with most things, there continues to be overall room for improvement, specifically in high leverage situations. That’s why I must give (yet another) shout out to Baez for his recent performances against Pirates….inherited bases loaded/no outs and the Pirates did not score….wow!!! Still, I will continue to put most of my confidence in our Dodgers’ ability to show up offensively. Moreover, it looks as if we were able to handle left-handed pitching pretty well, too.

    • Barbara McP, what irks me since I live in Elk Grove, CA(suburb of Sacramento, home of the Giants AAA team – technically West Sacramento, CA) is that 2010, 2012, 2014 World Series Champions that Giants fans will take to the bank and unless the Dodgers win another WS(yes I am old enough to remember 1988 – 20yrs.old), giants fans will say Dodgers couldn’t seal the deal. Yes, losing the last two World Series hurts. especially the 2017 WS against the Astros!

  3. An excellent win last evening!!! The BP is improving, but I think the key will be Kershaw’s rehabilitation along with that of Rich Hill. If we can have our starters go deep into the game, our BP will be less taxed, and thus more rested. That is a winning combination. Signing Kimbrel would still be a good thing, but Baez, Floro, and Yimi might be able to get us to the finish line virtually unscathed!!!! Go Blue!!!