It is Monday, and you know what that means: GM Mondays! In this series we are going to play the role of GM and analyze players, positions, etc. We will take an in-depth look at the team and diagnose whether something is a strength or not. If it is a weak area, we will also look at possible ways to improve that part of the team. Today we are looking at the Dodgers’ starter depth.
As with the way it was with the GM Mondays on the starting pitching, the depth chart for the relievers will be somewhat lengthy. However, since there are rarely, if ever, highly rated relief pitching prospects we will not be delving into the farm system. Rather this depth chart will focus on who can, or might, contribute to the bullpen this year. All the following pitchers are on the 40 man roster.
The Depth Chart
Right-Handed Middle Relievers
Left-Handed Middle Relievers
Late-Inning/High Leverage Relievers
The Dodgers’ Long Relievers
It should be noted right away that relief pitching is highly volatile from year to year. It is also equally rare to find highly reliable relief pitchers that put up stellar numbers year after year. Essentially, there are not going to be many Kenley Jansens starring in bullpens for years on end. So when former starters like Joe Blanton and Brandon Morrow find success in one or two seasons as relievers that should be taken with a grain of salt. Though the loss of Morrow stings, as he was vital to our bullpen’s success in 2017, last season was his first healthy and successful season since 2012. So it is reasonable to think his success, though applauded, may not last – especially at the level he performed last season.
With that said, the Dodgers have plenty of long-relief options to pitch multiple innings if need be. Ross Stripling is the first one on that list. Coming up as a starter in the system, he seems to have found his niche as a multiple-inning weapon for Dave Roberts. Last season he saw his strikeout and walk rates, and WHIP all trend in the right directions. He should continue to be a solid option coming out of the bullpen. Brock Stewart didn’t see as much time as Stripling in the pen, but he could easily see just as much success there. For Stewart his value seems to be more in being starting pitching depth, but he has pitched out of the pen before, and would be most likely to fill in there if not Stripling.
The others on this list are mostly starters that could see roles there, with the exception of Tom Koehler, but are more likely to be starting pitching depth like Stewart. Since most teams do not carry more than one long-reliever, it is likely only Stripling will be on the 25 man roster for the majority of the season.
The Middle Innings
Largely unheralded, our middle relief corps last season performed rather well. They were 3rd in fWAR behind only the Indians and Yankees. The middle innings this year should be no different. Pretty much every reliever from last year returns this year, and some interesting additions could help improve the pen even more.
It all starts with right-handed steady pitchers like Pedro Baez and Josh Fields. Now, before everyone starts screaming that both these guys are useless, let us look at the facts. Something was clearly off with Baez this year. His velocity was down, and his control just wasn’t there. That said, he has always been a fairly reliable middle inning pitcher. Would I trust him in a high-leverage situation at this point? Not at all. However, he has shown that ability in the past, and now has to work to regain that trust. Josh Fields is similar, but is a bit more reliable than Baez at this point. Both should see plenty of time in the middle innings.
Then there are the interesting additions via signings and injury-returnees. Tom Koehler very clearly is a gamble by the front office to catch lightning in the bottle once again. How well he performs will determine whether he is merely a middle inning reliever capable of going multiple innings, or our set-up man and bridge to Kenley Jansen. There is also the return of Yimi Garcia. After battling injuries Garcia should be ready to return this year. It is easy to forget how effective he was in 2015, and if he can return to those levels he will be a vital part of the bullpen.
The Late Innings
At last we arrive to the late innings. There are a number of pitchers that are solid 8th inning options. Tony Cingrani was exceptional after arriving via trade, and has closer type stuff. Scott Alexander was awesome for the Royals last year and induced the most ground-balls in the Majors. From the right side there are still the options of Baez and Fields, but for reasons mentioned above, it might be better to avoid putting them there. Garcia and Koehler both could become set-up men, but that remains to be seen.
Though there are a lot of questions about who will be the 8th inning bridge, there is no question about who our closer is: Kenley Jansen. To put it in perspective, here is Jansen’s career line since becoming the closer in 2012: 2.07 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 13.7 strikeouts per 9 innings, and only 1.9 walks per 9. But 2017 saw him rise to another level: 1.32 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 14.4 K/9, and 0.9 BB/9. If you remember also Jansen struck out a record 51 batters and faced 112 before issuing his first walk of the season in late June. Needless to say, the 9th inning is in safe hands.
Our bullpen was excellent last year, and will be again this year. Even if some relievers falter, there are plenty of solid names that can replace them. Walker Buehler and Julio Urias could even see time as multi-inning weapons this season with how excellent their raw stuff is. It would also allow their innings to be managed as they transition to full-time starters. Either way, the most interesting question will be the 8th inning. As seen in 2016 with Joe Blanton and 2017 in Brandon Morrow, lightning can strike twice. Here’s to it striking a third time.
[button color=”red” size=”big” alignment=”center” rel=”follow” openin=”samewindow” url=”https://www.dodgersnation.com/dodgers-off-season-recap-bc0887/2018/02/19/”]The Dodgers’ Off Season Recap[/button]