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The Dodger Pen Is Mightier Than You May Think

Kevin Baxter of the LA Times really drew my ire with his article about Friday's game.  It begins thusly:

There are less than seven shopping days until baseball's trade deadline. And if you're wondering what's on the Dodgers' shopping list, Friday's 6-3 loss to the Florida Marlins provided a not-so-subtle hint.

Think pitching. Specifically in the bullpen, where a mostly young group of Dodger relievers are beginning to show their age.

Yes, the bullpen had a bad night Friday against the Marlins.  It happens, even to the best of teams.  The Dodgers, in fact, have been the best of teams, almost all season, and currently have the very best record in baseball at 61-35.  But even the best team can improve.  However, the bullpen, which is "beginning to show their age," according to Baxter, has performed thusly:

April 3.55 1.211 .228/.304/.381
May 4.03 1.521 .257/.354/.376
June 2.31 1.018 .196/.268/.311
July 3.06 1.144 .208/.302/.292
Total 3.25 1.233 .224/.309/.343

That doesn't look to me like a bullpen that is imploding.  In fact that looks like one of the best bullpens in the league.  Baxter goes on:

So while the Dodgers entered the weekend with a bullpen ERA of 3.19, the best in baseball, those arms haven't always provided relief. Troncoso has given up more hits than innings pitched in July. Leach has an 8.10 ERA in nine appearances this month and McDonald has given up five runs in seven innings.

This really bugs me.  His sentence should have ended with the fact that the Dodgers have the best bullpen ERA in baseball.  They "haven't always provided relief?"  Who does?  If they did, maybe their ERA would be 0.00!  Relievers pitch so few innings, any short period of time can provide big fluctuations and misleading numbers.  Looking at the three examples Baxter used:

  • Yes, Troncoso has given up 12 hits in 10 innings in July.  Dump him!  He's unreliable!  Troncoso had also given up no earned runs in 17 innings before tonight.
  • Yes, Leach's July ERA is high.  It is actually 7.36 after his one out Friday night -- hey, since you updated Troncoso's stats with tonight's game, its only fair to do so here -- but more importantly, that is over all of 3.2 innings.  Are we really concerned with 3.2 innings?
  • McDonald has in fact given up 5 runs in 7 innings, but as a reliever on the season his ERA is 2.50.

Here is a look at the seven active pitchers currently residing in the Dodger bullpen, with their numbers in relief:

Pitcher IP ERA FIP*
Broxton 44.2 2.82 1.53
Troncoso 60.0 1.95 3.45
McDonald 18.0 2.50 3.62
Mota 46.0 3.13 3.73
Leach 20.1 3.98 3.71
Weaver 25.0 3.60 4.04
Vargas 7.0 1.29 4.26

*FIP is short for Fielding Independent Pitching, an attempt to measure a pitcher's effectiveness based things he has control of:  homers, walks, and strikeouts.

That is a damn good bullpen.  I challenge you to find another bullpen with as many quality arms.  This list doesn't even include Ronald Belisario (2.42 ERA, 3.00 FIP), scheduled to come back in a few weeks or so, nor does it include last year's Setup Man of the Year, Hong-Chih Kuo, who should be activated any day now.  Nor does it include elite arms Scott Elbert or Josh Lindblom, who are plying their trade in Albuquerque, along with 38-year old Hyang-Nam Choi and his amazing 12.32 strikeouts per nine innings. 

The Dodger bullpen has indeed pitched a lot of innings this season, but for most of the year the club has carried 12 and sometimes 13 pitchers.  The work has been spread out more than most teams.  The Dodger bullpen has a lot more depth than anyone is willing to admit.

Look, I'm not against improving the team, even by bringing in a reliever.  But, relievers by nature are volatile; they fluctuate from year to year.  The very good ones, of which there are few, are coveted, and thus come with a high cost.  It is unreasonable to want to give up any type of prospects to bring in a reliever, especially since the Dodger bullpen is already so good.

I just wish everybody realized that.