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2021 Dodgers in review: Brusdar Graterol

An up and down year for Bazooka

NLCS: LA Dodgers vs. Atlanta Braves Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Player development is often not linear, and each step along the way toward growth is not to be taken for granted. 2021 was a mixed bag for Brusdar Graterol, the lovable flamethrower who appeared headed for a setback season before righting the ship in October.

Graterol was a bright spot with the Dodgers as a rookie in 2020, used in key spots throughout the season, and even saved a game during the postseason. But his second season got off to an agonizingly slow start, behind in his offseason throwing program and very limited during spring training.

Graterol spent the first two and a half weeks of the season on the injured list with an undisclosed reason, but considering his activation required a corresponding transaction to make room on the 40-man roster, Graterol was almost certainly sidelined because of COVID-19.

“There’s a lot of things that took place this winter for Brusdar that didn’t allow for him to prepare like he normally would have, as far as throwing bullpens to prepare for spring training,” manager Dave Roberts said during spring training. “The last thing we want to do is speed him up when he’s not ready.”

By June, Roberts clarified slightly, “Some of the things were out of Brusdar’s control, and some things, quite frankly, were in his control. But it’s where we’re at right now.”

Before the All-Star break, Graterol only pitched in five major league games, and allowed at least one run in three of them. In between was another injured list stint, missing 31 games with right forearm tightness, and a month on option in Triple-A Oklahoma City for what Roberts called “finishing school.”

Graduation came for Graterol after the All-Star break, and he was up for good on August 3. But the results were only so-so.

Watching Graterol, it’s easy to see why the future seems so bright for him. He throws triple digits seemingly effortlessly, with his sinker averaging exactly 100 mph this season.

Graterol is also adored by his teammates thanks to an infectious love of the game, and an exuberance that caused Meg Rowley on the Effectively Wild podcast at FanGraphs to wonder, “Doesn’t it look like he’s trying to punch God as he exits the mound?”

But Graterol’s main issue is missing bats, or rather not missing them.

Brusdar Graterol’s first two LA seasons

Year IP UIBB rate K rate ERA FIP xERA
Year IP UIBB rate K rate ERA FIP xERA
2020 23⅓ 3.4% 14.8% 3.09 3.41 2.95
2021 33⅓ 4.9% 18.0% 4.59 3.95 3.89
Source: Baseball Reference & Baseball Savant

Among the 472 major league pitchers with at least 30 innings in 2021, Graterol ranked 398th in strikeout rate (18 percent), which was actually an improvement over last year but still well below the 23.2-percent league-wide mark.

There’s still room in this form for Graterol to be effective, with roughly three out of every five batted balls against him hit on the ground, often weakly.

Part of the finishing school saw Graterol working on the sharpness of his two main pitches, with a slider in addition to his sinker. The fruits of that labor were seen in the playoffs, when Graterol was braking bats and occasionally throwing 103 mph with movement.

Graterol pitched in eight of the Dodgers’ 12 postseason games, allowing only a run on four singles in nine innings. He didn’t walk anyone, though he did hit two batters. Small sample size to be sure, but Graterol’s strikeout rate in October was 21.2 percent. An improvement at the very least.

“It’s just really getting the trust in his stuff,” Roberts said after a perfect two innings from Graterol in Game 5 of the NLCS. “Now, most importantly, I think Brusdar’s really been able to slow the game down, trust his stuff, and know that 100, 101 plays in the strike zone. He’s getting ahead of guys and attacking.”

It’s something to build on heading into 2022, especially if Graterol can, in Roberts’ words, take care of the things he can control this offseason.

2021 particulars

Age: 22

Stats: 4.59 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 27 K, 13 BB (6 IBB), 33⅓ IP

Salary: $590,500

Game of the year

The real choice was probably Graterol’s two perfect innings in Game 5 of the NLCS, needing only 14 pitches. But since that was referenced above let’s go with another outing of two scoreless innings.

In the longest MLB game of the last two seasons, the Dodgers and Padres on August 25 (and into August 26!) scoffed at the idea of scoring even with a runner starting each extra frame at second base. In a game that took 16 innings to decide, Graterol helped tilt the scales in the Dodgers favor, pitching scoreless baseball in the 13th and 14th innings while retiring the six batters he actually faced. He also intentionally walked three, part of a major-league-record eight intentional walks issued by the Dodgers, who exploited San Diego running out of position players to hit in the later innings.

The Dodgers won that game, 5-3.

Roster status

With one year, 167 days of major league service time — just five days shy of two full years — Graterol isn’t yet eligible for salary arbitration. Under the current collective bargaining agreement (which expires on December 1), Graterol would likely be arb-eligible after 2022 as a Super Two, among the top 17 percent in service time among players with at least two but not yet three years.