Going into the 2019 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers are a team rife with question marks. A good chunk of these reside in the bullpen, which was a seesaw mess last season. The first is obviously Kenley Jansen’s health and thus his ability to regain his peak form after his heart scare and two rocky World Series performances. After that is concern as to whether or not Joe Kelly can replicate his postseason heat throughout the regular season, likely as a setup man to Jansen or in a worst case scenario the replacement closer.
These concerns about closer and setup man rightly take priority, especially given Jansen’s six-out save futility in the past two World Series. Right after that, though, is a low-key but nonetheless important consideration: who will be the team’s go-to lefty-one-out-guy (LOOGY)?
In my view, the answer is Tony Cingrani. Following the 2017 season, this would be a no-brainer given his performance that year. Coming over from Cincinnati with a bloated 5.40 ERA, he amassed a 2.70 mark the rest of the season in Los Angeles. His 2018 season, however, was far less pleasant. He went 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA, with most of his season eaten up by a shoulder strain that sent him to the 60-day injured list.
The other option for the primary LOOGY is obviously Scott Alexander, who was acquired in last year’s quiet offseason to offset the loss of Tony Watson and Brandon Morrow. His renowned groundball qualities arguably make him better for a one-out situation, and he did demonstrate that as expected throughout 2018.
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One reason I personally opt for Cingrani is that I trust him more in the postseason. In the 2017 playoffs, he was nearly untouchable through all three rounds, allowing just one earned run in seven appearances and being used often as a LOOGY. Alexander, meanwhile, was less stellar in the 2018 postseason. He was left off the NLCS roster altogether, nearly coughed up game three of the World Series, and issued a seventh-inning walk that helped lead to the infamous bullpen meltdown in game four.
Another reason is that the length of Cingrani’s 2018 injury overshadowed some resounding positives. Most noteworthy is the fact that he posted a career-high strikeout-to-walk ratio. He didn’t allow an earned run in 14 of his last 16 appearances. Most memorably, he helped the combined no-hitter in Mexico before the team sank to rock bottom. Even if he doesn’t pitch at the level he did in 2017, it’s reasonable to surmise full health will yield great results in 2019.
For what it’s worth, Baseball Reference has a slightly rosier 2019 projection for Alexander than it does Cingrani. The former is slated to go 3-3 with a 3.60 ERA and 59 K’s, while the latter is pegged at 2-2, 4.17 and 43 in those categories. Granted, the projections give Alexander a sample size with 24 more innings.
Yet I still feel a healthy, lively Cingrani is the better pick. It would probably make sense to “audition” both equally to see who’s up to the task. But, especially if it’s a high-leverage postseason moment, I would opt for the former Red any day.