Brandon League has gone from scapegoat of the bullpen to one of the most consistent relievers for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season.
The transformation comes on the heels of a 2013 campaign in which he started the year as the closer and finished off the playoff roster. A 5.30 ERA relegated League to mop-up duty for the Dodgers and he came into the season on the brink of losing his spot in the pen completely.
In the spring, League finished with a 12.27 ERA in just 3.2 innings of work, causing many to believe that his time with the team was up. He was even left off the travel roster to Australia in order to stay in Arizona and work on his delivery.
Well, now the right-hander is sporting a 1.59 ERA in 22.2 innings and is right behind Chris Withrow for lowest ERA of all Dodger relievers. League leads all relievers in innings pitcher as well. He has not allowed an earned run since April 16 and has slowly made his way from afterthought to late-inning man.
With expected setup man Brian Wilson struggling thus far, League’s emergence begs the question: Should Brandon League be the new setup man?
While first reactions may be no, League is beginning to brim with confidence and has experience late in games. While Wilson works on his kinks, League could step in and be the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen. There are pros and cons to using the former All-Star closer in the 8th inning.
The main pro is simply the results League has had. A 1.59 ERA and a string of scoreless appearances are hard to avoid. Sure, he has been surviving more so than dominating the opposition. League has been the subject of some good luck with runners on base, leading the relievers with double plays induced. His ground ball rates are his highest since 2006, so it could be a product of a new approach.
A main reason that many Dodger fans would be opposed to the move is simply the past. Thoughts of League emerging from the bullpen in a 3-2 game in the eighth inning is a bit nerve-racking. He’s been susceptible to hits this season and has emerged unscathed for the most past. Placing League in that spot leaves manager Don Mattingly open to criticism at the first failure, despite Wilson having failed more than a few times this season.
Of course, Withrow has pitched as well, if not better, than League and could also command the role; however, he has thrived in the middle innings for the past two seasons and League would get first shot at it.
After last season, I would never have believed I would be on League’s side for pitching later in games, but results are results and he has definitely produced.
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