The Dodgers bullpen has been a strength in recent years, and even with free agent losses could be a strength again thanks to a pair of new additions and a few coming back from injury.
The Dodgers have had a productive bullpen in each of the last two seasons. In 2017 their relievers ranked fourth in the majors in ERA (3.38), second in FIP (3.64) and third in strikeout rate (27.7%). The year before they ranked first in ERA (3.35), third in FIP (3.85) and fourth in strikeout rate (26.1%).
They also lost setup man Brandon Morrow and lefty specialist Tony Watson in free agency, losing two of their main five relievers used in the postseason. That duo combined for a 2.26 ERA, 68 strikeouts and 15 walks in 63⅔ innings, essentially one great full season out of the pen that needs replacing.
One thing seems clear. The Dodgers can and will rely on depth to get the job done in the bullpen. In 2017, 11 different pitchers threw 20 or more innings in relief for the team. They also had 11 such relievers in 2016, plus another pair who pitched 19⅔ and 19⅓ innings in relief.
Kenley Jansen is arguably the best closer in baseball. If you squint just a little bit, his numbers the last three seasons combined look like a prime year from a Hall of Fame former Dodger.
|Kenley Jansen (2015-17)
|Pedro Martinez (2000)
Tony Cingrani was very effective after he was acquired at the non-waiver trade deadline last year, and is out of options. Also out of options is Tom Koehler, one of two free agent acquisitions by the Dodgers this offseason. They will be in the pen.
“You look around and they didn’t go out and sign a lot of guys,” Koehler said. “They saw something in me. That’s very exciting.”
Most likely to succeed
Pedro Baez is probably a lock, but at the very least has to show some improvement after melting down in the second half of 2017. Baez over the final two months last season had a 6.52 ERA and hitters batted .272/.385/.580 against him. He was even booed at Dodger Stadium while entering a game.
“With Pedro, he would never admit it, but you have to make sure the confidence is where it needs to be,” Roberts said. “It’s about getting back to what makes him successful, getting ahead of hitters, attacking. The year with the total body of work was pretty good but the last six weeks wasn’t what we wanted.”
Scott Alexander was a trade acquisition from the Royals, and brings a ridiculous 74% ground ball rate that gives the Dodgers bullpen a different look.
“It’s the ability to put the ball on the ground, to get out righties and lefties, and to be able to go multiple innings. He’s a guy who can get high leverage and medium leverage and come in and really clean up a situation.”
Outside of acquiring Matt Kemp and re-signing Chase Utley the Dodgers’ only two moves were adding Koehler and Alexander to the bullpen.
“Any time you’re in a position with your core pretty much locked down, it allows you to be a lot more narrow and specific in what you’re targeting,” Friedman said.
Josh Fields pitched in 57 innings for the Dodgers last year and figures to be a part of the mix again. He still has an option remaining, giving the Dodgers some flexibility. The right-hander has had a weird career in that with Houston his peripherals were better than his results, with a 4.53 ERA and a 2.91 FIP. With the Dodgers it has been the opposite, with a 2.83 ERA and a 4.03 FIP. Home runs have been a major culprit, with his 10 dingers surrendered tied for tops among the team’s relievers.
Healthy & back
Yimi Garcia missed all of 2017 after Tommy John surgery but also was sidelined for most of 2016 with a biceps injury, and has pitched all of 8⅓ innings in the last two seasons.
“He attacks hitters. He had the ability to strike the breaking ball when he needed to. He had a swing and miss fastball in the strike zone and is a really good competitor. He’s put on a lot of weight since two years ago,” Roberts said. “To get him back he’s got that little glow in his eye and feeling a part of things. He’s right there in the mix.”
Adam Liberatore was limited to just four appearances and 3⅓ innings, sidelined twice with a neck strain and missed the final four months with a left elbow strain. He ran out of time left in the season in September and his attempted comeback was shut down when he wasn’t quite back to where he needed to be.
“It was disappointing, mentally. It’s tough to get sent home, but I was still working through some things,” Liberatore said. “The term they like to use is kicking the door down.
“I was able to go through a full, normal offseason where I got to get some good throwing in. The year before I was coming off of an elbow cleanup at the end of the season and I just tried to get ready for spring training but obviously I wasn’t.”
Both are healthy now, and certainly candidates to contribute in 2018.
Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart and Wilmer Font are on the 40-man and will be stretched out as starting pitchers in camp in case they are needed, but all three could also earn a spot in the bullpen if needed.
Edward Paredes had surprising success last year with 11 strikeouts and no walks in his 10 appearances. The 31-year-old is on the 40-man which gives him a chance, and he has an option remaining which gives the Dodgers flexibility.
Dylan Baker is another intriguing pitcher on the 40-man and with an option remaining, but will have to show he is healthy after just 91 combined innings — including the Arizona Fall League — in the last four years.
Yaisel Sierra has shown promise in relief, but calling him up means adding him to the 40-man and having his $5 million average annual value (specifically the pro-rated share of $5 million depending on how much time remains in the season) count against the competitive balance tax, making him a long shot perhaps until later in the season.
Asked to name potential sleepers in camp, Roberts did mention C.C. Lee as “interesting,” and the 31-year-old right-hander did have a 32.3% strikeout rate in Triple-A in 2017. Outside of Sierra and Lee, it’s hard to find a standout among the non-roster pitchers in camp, though it seems like every year somewhat makes an impact out of that group.
The bottom line is that the 2018 Dodgers bullpen will probably look a lot like the 2017 Dodgers bullpen, even with the losses of Morrow and Watson.