Last year, the Dodgers had arguably one of their greatest seasons in franchise history. They won over 100 games, and came up just one game short of winning the World Series. A huge part of that run was due to the bullpen. Oh how quickly things can change in a season.
This season, the team is off to a horrendous start. Aside from last night’s game. The reason? Well, there are a few to say the least. But the biggest issue for the Dodgers through the month of April, has been the bullpen.
Before we dig deep into the problems this season, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember the good times we experienced last year. The bullpen held an ERA of 3.38 last season, which led the national league. They led the national league in strikeouts per nine innings, with 10.24, as well as walks per nine innings with 2.94. To simply put it, that bullpen was lights out.
The Dodgers bullpen owns a 4.77 ERA, which is in the bottom half in the league. Their walks per nine innings are at 4.0, which put them in the bottom half as well. Lastly, their six losses put them near the bottom as well. A year after having one of the best bullpens in baseball, LA finds themselves with one of the worst bullpens in baseball.
#Dodgers bullpen has been charged with 26 runs in 27 IP over past 9 games. Only once in that time did the bullpen not give up a run (2 IP in SF Sunday). LA is 2-7 in that time.
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) May 2, 2018
A lot of people took the dominance of the bullpen for granted, and it appeared the front office did as well. Though the Dodgers only lost two key relievers from last season’s team, it appears as if they were the two most valuable.
Let’s start with Brandon Morrow.
The Dodgers were able to snag him from Toronto and sign him to a minor league deal. He came up early in the season, and was flat out dominant. He finished the season 6-0, with a 2.06 ERA. On top of that, his WHIP was 0.916, and he struck out 50 batters in 43.2 innings. A lot of Dodgers fans will remember him for his collapse in the World Series, where he allowed five runs in five innings pitched. After what most consider the best year of his career, he was set to hit the free agent market. The Dodgers didn’t want to offer him a hefty contract, especially considering he wouldn’t be their closer. Morrow took his talents to Chicago to join the Cubs and become their closer, signing a one-year contract worth $9 million. How did that deal work out?
It’s only a month into the season, but it appears that he is having an even better season than last year. Through 11 games, his ERA still sits at zero. He has seven saves, and nine strikeouts in 10 innings. His WHIP also sits right at 0.90, the best of his career.
The Dodgers also lost Tony Watson, whom they acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates last year at the trade deadline. In his time in LA, Watson was 2-1, with a 2.70 ERA. He showed the flashes of potential Pittsburgh saw in him years prior, and was one of the key pieces in the back of that pen. Even more importantly, he was lights out during the postseason. He made five appearances in the World Series, allowing only two hits. He held a WHIP of 0.818, and won two games.
This season? He owns a 0.66 ERA through 13 games. His WHIP sits at under one, and his strikeout per nine innings is 10. To add salt to the wound, he’s looked pretty darn good against the Dodgers this season already.
Alright. Now that we’ve gone over what the Dodgers have been missing out on, let’s dive into the players they do have.
The Dodgers lost two arms in the pen, which meant they had to find two arms to add. Those guys? Tom Koehler and Scott Alexander. It is still early, and a lot can change. But as of now, those two appear to be one serious downgrade. Koehler injured his shoulder in the spring, and hasn’t pitched an inning yet this season. Alexander is in the minors, and his time in the big leagues wasn’t too memorable. In 11 games, Alexander held an ERA of 6.35. He allowed more runs (8) than he had strikeouts (7). To make matters worse, he had nine walks. I’m not saying those two guys are the reason for the horrendous start to the season, but when you’re comparing them to the two guys they lost, it doesn’t help the cause.
Okay, now let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Who’s to blame?
First and foremost, let me start by saying, it is NOT all Pedro Baez’ fault. Most Dodgers fans like to point fingers and shift the blame towards Baez, but he does not deserve all the blame. I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but Baez hasn’t been as bad as many people think. Fans immediately point to his 4.50 ERA, which is understandable. But the reason it is so high is due to his last outing in San Francisco, where he allowed three runs in 0.1 innings pitched. Coming into the game, his ERA sat at 2.31, a number most fans and coaches would accept.
However, Baez is just one of those players that doesn’t seem to get a pass. His great outings for easily forgettable. He’s had four outings where he’s gotten multiple strikeouts, and five where he hasn’t allowed a hit. Just a few weeks ago, fans were suggesting he replaces Kenley Jansen. How soon we forget.
What’s wrong with Kenley?
Speaking of Kenley Jansen, this has been a horrific start to the season for him. He only had three saves in the month of April, and his ERA sits above five. He quickly went from one of the more dominant closers in baseball, to a player potentially fighting to keep his role. The first thing that catches the eyes of fans is the velocity of his pitches. They’re down from last year, and he hasn’t really been able to get it back. More concerning, are his walks allowed. Remember last year when he set the record for most strikeouts before issuing a walk to start the season? Last season you would be shocked when Jansen would issue a free pass. In 68 innings, he only allowed seven to reach base on balls. This year? He’s already allowed five in 10 innings.
If the Dodgers have any hopes of turning things around in the bullpen, it’s going to need to start with Kenley.
It Only Gets Worse
After hearing about those two guys, you are probably choosing between who to shift more of the blame towards. But before you do that, let’s go over some of the other pieces.
We all remember Wilmer Font. Before being dealt by the Dodgers, he allowed 13 (!!) runs in only 10 innings. He’s not even on the team anymore, and still has more losses then half of the current pitchers on the ball club. The Dodgers replaced Font with Daniel Hudson, who hasn’t really done much better. In just 3.2 innings, he has allowed seven runs. Pitching in only four games, he’s already established himself as an unreliable arm coming out of the bullpen.
Tony Cingrani was another piece the Dodgers picked up at the deadline last year. Like Watson, he shined in his time here. This year, has been an entirely different narrative. His ERA sits at 6.30, and he had already blown two saves, which have both come in the last couple weeks.
The best arm out of the pen this year has been JT Chargois. In 13 games, the right-hander has an ERA of 1.59, the best in the bullpen. He’s allowed only two runs, and has 16 strikeouts through 11 innings. Josh Fields has been a reliable guy to go to as well, but he’s allowed home runs in back-t0-back starts.
Taking a look back at the numbers, it still is shocking to see truly how bad the Dodgers’ bullpen has been this year. As I mentioned earlier in the article, they are not entirely to blame for the early season struggles. However, they need to figure something out, and fast. Over the years, teams with good bullpens have thrived during the regular season, and been keys to making deep postseason pushes. The season is still young, and there are many more games to be played. Adversity isn’t something new for the Dodgers. For now, we can only take things one game at a time, and hope that we will see drastic improvements. Overall, this is a very talented bullpen, something that is easily forgotten. We have a great front office, and an even better manager. Let’s hope they can figure things out, and help turn this season around!
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