PHOENIX — The curse of spring training battles for playing time has us thinking of the opening day roster as some sort of final goal, when in reality it is just the start of a very fluid process that lasts for over 26 weeks.
The active roster is more of a living organism, capable of change, and the roster at the end of the season will look far different than the one at the beginning. Franklin Gutierrez and Scott Van Slyke were on the Dodgers opening day roster in 2017 for instance, as were Chris Hatcher and Sergio Romo.
|2B||Odor (L)||2B||Utley (L)|
|LF||Robinson (L)||CF||Pederson (L)|
Sure the opening day roster has more importance for some than others. Trayce Thompson and Wilmer Font are out of options so if they can’t crack the 25 some decisions will need to be made. But for the most part this is a pretty flexible roster in many cases, with several players who are battling for spots also having minor league options.
Things can change in a heartbeat. Joc Pederson was on the opening day roster last year, then got demoted to Triple-A in August. He clawed his way back to relevance by the postseason and ended up hitting three home runs and a pair of doubles in the World Series.
When you’re getting down to choices for a roster move there is often a choice between carrying another arm or another bench bat. Dave Roberts was asked last week about the size of his bullpen.
“With how we manage our roster, with respect to off days the eight-man pen is the baseline for us,” Roberts said.
On its surface an eight-man bullpen seems gross, though I’m sure part of it is my growing sense of old man-hood. I grew up with the 1988 Dodgers, who for the most part carried 10 pitchers most of the season. An eight-man bullpen usually means a 13-man pitching staff (sometimes with off days and the club’s liberal use of the 10-day DL there might only be four starters active), which is hard to stomach.
I only just recently came to accept a 12-man pitching staff, and I fear change.
But this is just how the game is now, and it seems to be working for the Dodgers.
Most relief appearances 2016-17
|Team||Relief games||Pen ERA|
|Team||Relief games||Pen ERA|
Their bullpen has been used often in the last two years, Their 1,143 relief appearances lead all of baseball, and that included an MLB-record 607 appearances in 2016. The Dodgers bullpen is also third in ERA (3.36), second in FIP (3.55), third in strikeout percentage (26.9%) and second in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.28) during that time.
One of the ways the Dodgers have been able to stay atop the heap even with the heavy usage is by having strong depth, constantly rotating in fresh arms whenever possible, and using an eight-man bullpen at times.
Carrying 13 pitchers would be nothing new for the Dodgers.
In 2016 the Dodgers played 131 games before rosters expanded in September (minus a doubleheader on Aug. 31 for which they used a 26-man roster), and in 77 of those games the club had 13 pitchers on the active roster. In another game, they had 14. Last year the Dodgers played 132 games before September, and 67 of those were played with 13 pitchers. Five more games were played with 14 pitchers.
That means in the last two years the Dodgers have had 13 or more pitchers on their 25-man active roster 57% of the time. That included 44 games straight in 2017 from July 8 (just before the All-Star break) through the end of August, after which rosters expanded.
That’s not to say the Dodgers will necessarily carry 13 pitchers right out of the gate in 2018. But eventually they will get there, likely for roughly half the time if not more for the first five months of the season.
Carrying 13 pitchers is just par for the course with the Dodgers. Get used to it.
Kenta Maeda starts for the Dodgers making his 2018 Cactus League debut, facing old friend Jesse Chavez and the Texas Rangers.
Time: 12:05 p.m. PT
Location: Camelback Ranch
Streaming: Rangers audio