The recent evolution of baseball has ushered in a greater reliance on bullpens than in previous eras. Luckily, the Los Angeles Dodgers have adapted well enough to that current trend. The Dodgers bullpen led big league bullpens in ERA in 2016 and ranked 4th in that same category in 2017.
The unit comprises of some new faces for 2018, but many familiar pieces are back to anchor a group that has been such a strength for the Dodgers these last couple seasons. They’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of depth heading into this season.
He’s arguably the best closer in baseball, and one of his hallmarks has been his consistency throughout his career. He’s never had an ERA above 2.85, a WHIP above 1.13, or less than 13 strikeouts per nine innings. Jansen had 41 saves last season while blowing just 1 save for a save percentage of 97.6%.
That led the league among pitchers with at least 4 saves. Dating back to 2013, Jansen hasn’t had a save percentage lower than 87%. He’s earned back-to-back All-Star nods, and does not have fewer than 36 saves in any of his previous four seasons. If the Dodgers enter the 9th with a lead, it’s as close to a guaranteed win as any other pitcher.
The Dodgers have leaned heavily on Baez the last couple seasons. He led the team in games pitched last season, and ranked second in that category in 2016. He had 23 Holds last season, which led the Dodgers and ranked tied for 14th in Major League Baseball. Only 10% of baserunners he inherited scored, which was the third-lowest total among relievers who inherited at least 20 baserunners.
Although he had a lower ERA last season compared to 2016, there were some causes for concern in some of Baez’s statistics. His WHIP increased by about 0.33, and his strikeouts per nine innings decreased by 1.1 compared to his 2016 totals. Before entering last season, he had never had a year where he issued more than 2.7 walks per nine innings. In 2017, that stat ballooned to 4.1 walks per nine innings. If those control issues can be fixed, Baez can be even more reliable as a lockdown option.
After being acquired by the Dodgers from their future World Series adversary Houston Astros in August 2016, Fields has had his best performances. Entering the 2018 season, Fields has pitched in 79 games for the Dodgers and compiled a 2.79 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Comparatively, he had a 4.55 ERA and 1.26 WHIP as a reliever for the Astros. The Dodgers rely on Fields more than any other reliever to clean up messes. Fields inherited 23 baserunners for the Dodgers last season, which led the team.
However, among Dodgers relievers with at least 40 appearances, his 43.5% of inherited runners scored also led the team. He was much more proficient at this task in 2016. He stranded 14 out of the 17 runners he inherited for a 17.6% inherited runners scored while pitching for the Dodgers. His role is to get out of tough innings relatively unscathed, and it will be interesting to see if he’s able to lower that inherited baserunners scored percentage in 2018.
The Dodgers acquired Alexander from the Kansas City Royals in the three-team trade that sent Luis Avilan to the Chicago White Sox. Alexander is poised to become the Dodgers most reliable lefty option out of the bullpen this season. His skillset does not limit him to purely a “lefty-on-lefty” role, as he actually has a lower career opponents batting average against right-handed batters compared to against left-handed batters.
He’s also capable of extended relief work. He threw 69 innings in 58 appearances last season for the Royals, which was an innings per appearance total higher than any Dodgers reliever who appeared in at least 50 games last season. Alexander inherited 54 baserunners in his 58 appearances last season for the Royals, and only 12 of them scored. That 22.2% inherited runners scored total was tied for the third lowest amongst the 11 relievers who inherited at least 49 baserunners last season. The Dodgers will likely lean on both Fields and Alexander as two options who can mitigate the damage of a potentially messy inning.
After beginning his career as a starter for the Cincinnati Reds, Cingrani transitioned into a bullpen role with that club. He was traded to the Dodgers in July 2017 and pitched as well as he had ever pitched out of the bullpen. In 22 games for the Dodgers in 2017, he pitched 19.1 innings and posted a 2.19 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP while striking out 13 hitters per nine innings. He had the exact same opponent batting average splits against righties and lefties last season, but his paltry career BAA of .215 against lefties makes him appealing as a situational option out of the bullpen.
However, his usage habits last season indicate some trepidation in putting him in pressure situations. In 47 games for the Dodgers, he inherited just seven baserunners. Perhaps this next season the Dodgers will view him as the lefty reliever who can be inserted to get lefties out, as only he and Alexander are left-handed options and he’s much more effective against lefties than Alexander.
During his time with the Dodgers, Stripling has carved out a nice niche for himself as an effective long relief option out of the bullpen. If there is ever a game where the starting pitcher simply isn’t effective, Stripling can be utilized to eat some innings and be that bridge between the other relief options. He can also serve adequately as a guy who can come in and pitch in either mop-up situations or maintain a sizable lead. He finished 15 games last season, but registered only four holds.
Stripling built on a solid rookie season to have an even better 2017. He lowered his ERA by 0.21, lowered his WHIP by about 0.08, and increased his strikeouts per nine innings by 2.3 whiffs. Stripling serves an important role in the bullpen, and can be counted on for some spot starts if a rotation guy falls victim to an injury.
The Dodgers claimed Chargois off waivers from the Minnesota Twins back in February, and he made the Opening Day Roster due to some bullpen injuries. Chargois can be a reliable option out of the bullpen if he pitches well enough at the beginning to the season to earn a prolonged role. Chargois did not appear in the majors last season, but pitched in 25 games for the Twins back in 2016. He walked 12 batters in 23 innings, which contributed to a hefty 1.61 WHIP. He’ll need to get those control issues under control.
Chargois was had an interesting baseball journey. He was selected in the second round of the 2012 draft by the Twins, but missed all of 2013 and 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The hard-throwing righty has a valuable opportunity to establish a role for himself within the organization, or at the very least provide bullpen depth going forward.
The righty had a few cups of coffee with the Texas Rangers from 2012-2013 and returned to the big leagues with the Dodgers last season after a four-year absence. Due to the small sample size, it’s unclear what Font can bring to the club. He only has 8 career appearances in the majors, and over his seven innings pitched, he has a 11.57 ERA and a 2.57 WHIP. Font was called up by the Dodgers last September after a successful season with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017.
He started 25 games for them and would ultimately win the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Award. This is the same award that pitchers like Felix Hernandez and R.A. Dickey have won in the past, which is surely a cause for optimism regarding Font’s potential to contribute.
Due to a shoulder injury, Koehler will begin the season on the 10-day Disabled List for the Dodgers. Koehler was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent back in December for one-year and $2 million. Koehler spent 2017 with both the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. The Marlins traded him to the Blue Jays in August 2017.
He had been a starter for his entire career before the Blue Jays opted to turn him into a reliever, and he responded with a lower ERA, a lower WHIP, and a higher strikeout per nine innings total than he’d ever registered during a season as a starter. Those improvements offer an encouraging sign that Koehler can build on that progress as a piece within the Dodgers bullpen.
Tommy John surgery forced Garcia to miss the entire 2017 season, but had been plagued by injuries even before that. He pitched in only nine games in 2016 before being shut down with a right bicep injury. He then experienced a setback during his rehab assignment, and underwent surgery on his left knee in September 2016. It’s unclear if Garcia will be able to return to the promise he showed during the 2015 season. Garcia registered a 3.34 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2015.
That season, only Avilan allowed a lower percentage of inherited runners to score than Garcia at 22.7%. He’ll be one of the most intriguing relievers to pay attention to this season. Before his injuries, he looked like he was about to establish himself as a weapon going forward.
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