Death To Lefties

Shortly after trading young first baseman Paul Konerko for closer Jeff Shaw in 1998, interim general manager Tommy Lasorda famously stated "bullpens win championships."  Lasorda obviously overstated his case; after all, there are a lot of factors that go into winning a championship besides the bullpen.  But, if Lasorda's axiom proves true, the Dodgers just might be hoisting a trophy come November.

The Dodgers lead the major leagues with a 3.33 bullpen ERA.  Just today, four Dodger relievers shutout the Rockies over the final four innings at Coors Field to preserve a 3-2 Dodger win.  ESPN's Buster Olney had this flippant response in his chat when asked about the Dodgers on Monday:

I think the Dodgers are underperforming, for sure, but they've also seen their bullpen erode and their starting pitching (which was thin to begin with) fray.

The funny part about this quote is that at the time Olney made the statement, the Dodger relievers were working on a run of 18 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.  Also, here is the performance of the Dodger bullpen, by month:

Month IP ERA FIP
April 76.0 3.55 3.99
May 96.0 4.03 3.71
June 93.1 2.31 3.55
July 91.2 3.44 3.86
August 83.1 3.35 3.95
Totals 440.1 3.33 3.80

That doesn't seem like much erosion to me.  In fact, the bullpen has been fortified over the last month, with the addition of two lefthanders:  Hong-Chih Kuo and George Sherrill.

Kuo, activated from the disabled list on July 27 after three months away, has been back to the stellar form that earned him the MLB Setup Man of the Year Award in 2008.  Since his activation, Kuo has a 2.19 ERA and 2.10 FIP in 12.1 innings, while striking out 19 batters.  Kuo has struck out 12 of the 21 lefthanded batters he has faced, but much like last year Kuo can also get righthanders out, too:

Kuo Since His Return
Batters PA BB K BA/OBP/SLG
LHB 21 4 12 .118/.286/.294
RHB 27 2 7 .200/.259/.360
Totals 48 6 19 .167/.271/.333

Since the beginning of 2008, Kuo has struck out 57 of the 128 lefties he has faced, an astonishing 44.5% of hitters. He is a favorite of his teammates and the training staff, and as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com profiled a few weeks ago, Kuo is appreciative:

Kuo said he appreciates his teammates' support, as well as the tireless work of trainers in Los Angeles and Arizona who got him back on the mound.

"Without them," Kuo said, "I can't even do anything."

The feeling is mutual.

Three days after Kuo returned to the Dodgers, the Dodgers acquired fellow lefty George Sherrill from the Orioles.  All the former closer has done is put up zeroes.  He has appeared in 13 straight games without allowing a run, two shy of Dave Stewart's Los Angeles Dodger record, and Sherrill has a 2.84 FIP to go along with his spotless ERA.  We knew Sherrill was great against lefthanded batters before he got here, but since donning Dodger blue, Sherrill has been lights out:

Sherrill Against LHB as a Dodger
Batters PA BB K BA/OBP/SLG
LHB 20 0 6 .105/.105/.158

Aside from Brad Hawpe's single today, the only lefty to reach base against Sherrill was Ryan Church of the Braves, who hit a pop fly double at Dodger Stadium on August 7.  Over his career, lefties are hitting an amazing .164/.225/.265 off Sherrill.

The bullpen already has the shutdown arms of Jonathan Broxton, Ronald Belisario, and Ramon Troncoso in the back end of the bullpen.  But since Kuo and Sherrill have come aboard, the bullpen has been fortified into a potent weapon, one that the Dodgers will ride into October.

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