Oh, how we become infatuated with young players at the first sign of success. But can you blame us with Brock Stewart? To this point, he’s given up exactly five baserunners across 11 innings of scoreless relief. It’s a little bit reminiscent of 2015 when Yimi Garcia made the team out of Spring Training, and got off to a flying start. People even manufactured a potential closer controversy, as Kenley Jansen had started the season on the disabled list. Alas, the league eventually figured out that Garcia had very little to pair with his great two-seamer in terms of breaking stuff, and started to hit him a little bit. So that narrative was put to bed pretty quickly. Then last year his arm fell off, and well, there you go.
With Jansen in the midst of another incredible season, nothing short of catastrophic injury would supplant him from the closer role, and not even the most idiotic of bloggers (and there’s some bona fide idiots out there) has had the gall to posit that Stewart should be anywhere near that kind of discussion. That said, there is SOMETHING worth pointing out about what Stewart’s continued success would mean.
In spite of some glittering statistics that have the Dodger bullpen ranked as or among the best in baseball in most categories, there’s a nagging issue that’s making fans who pay close attention shift a little uncomfortably in their chairs when it’s brought up. The team could use some right-handed relief help. Again, Jansen has been otherworldly. Additionally, primary setup righty Pedro Baez has been superb, though his peripherals indicate a regression to something more along the lines of his career norms is looming. That’s about where the quality right-handed relief ends. Ross Stripling has had moments, but consistency eludes him. Chris Hatcher is his customary dumpster fire. And most alarmingly, Sergio Romo, who is essentially a righty specialist, can’t stop giving up bombs to righties. In summary, there IS a need.
If (and yes, it’s an if) Stewart is able to maintain anything close to his current level of dominance (obligatory small sample size caveat), the need is filled. But that’s not all. The need will be filled internally without having to ship a wealth of prospect capital to another team. And yes, these days, good relievers cost a fortune to trade for. Look at what the Indians gave up for Andrew Miller. Look at what the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman. Look at what Mark Melancon cost the Nationals last year. If you think potentially available right-handed relief studs like Brad Brach, Pat Neshek, Melancon (if the Giants decided on a rebuild), Cam Bedrosian and others won’t come with similar price tags, you haven’t been paying attention to baseball’s cost trends.
So if the thought of Alex Verdugo, Yadier Alvarez, or any of the other sought-after prospects in the Dodger organization plying their trade for another team makes you ill, join me in hoping that Stewart continues his early success.
This, of course, begs the question, will he? The answer is, I don’t freaking know. Ask a scout. However, anecdotally, I can tell you that based on my observations his 95 mile-per-hour tailing four-seam fastball that he throws 60% of the time (Brooks) has been nearly impossible to hit. I don’t know if this has to do with a usage reduction of his slider, coupled with a corresponding usage increase of his change up (also Brooks), creating a more profound velocity gap. I don’t know if the fact that his fastball isn’t really like anyone else’s on the team in terms of behavior, making it difficult to scout and prepare for, has anything to do with it. I can only tell you that opposing hitters do not look like they are having any fun at all against him.
Does the thought of Verdugo patrolling the outfield and possibly contending for a batting title in Dodger blue sometime around 2019 make you smile? If it happens, you might very well have Brock Stewart to thank for it. And I’ll be there to say I told you so. Either that, or I’ll cancel my Twitter account @thestainsports.