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2022 Dodgers in review: Phil Bickford

Or “Regression in 2022” or “a Jekyll and Hyde act in the bullpen depending on whether I was present”

St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers
Phil Bickford reacting to becoming a part of baseball history ala Dennis Eckersley or Ralph Branca.
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Sometimes I have too many essay ideas and not enough time to write about them. One such idea concerned Phil Bickford. Consider this Year in Review post the lost “Defense” article of the 2022 Dodgers. From my perspective, Bickford should have made the postseason bullpen, but I will justify this observation momentarily.

Bickford appeared in almost as many games as Craig Kimbrel (60 vs. 63), which was good enough for fourth-most in appearances for the club. That mark is even more impressive when you consider that Bickford made six appearances for Triple-A Oklahoma City in his two stints being optioned.

Bickford’s number of appearances with the Dodgers is even more impressive when you remember that he started the year at Triple-A, due to arm soreness limiting him to two games during the truncated spring training. On April 17, the Dodgers recalled Bickford in the first roster move of the regular season, and the next day he made his 2022 debut against Atlanta at home.

Bickford warming up. Angels Stadium. July 16, 2022
Bickford warming up. Angels Stadium. July 16, 2022
Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

In 2021, Bickford was a reliable, high-leverage arm out of the bullpen, but 2022 was not as kind to him. On May 27, the Dodgers optioned Bickford in favor of Ryan Pepiot, who was needed to provide a spot start. On June 7, Bickford returned to the Dodgers when Kimbrel was placed on the paternity list.

Bickford remained with the major league club until August 30, when Jake Reed and Heath Hembree were recalled for emergency coverage. On September 1, Bickford was recalled for the final time in 2022, when Brusdar Graterol went on the injured list with right elbow inflammation.

On September 28, Bickford’s season came to an end as he was placed on the injured list for right shoulder fatigue. Considering how often Bickford was used in various roles in the bullpen, I was generally surprised at how the fanbase had seemingly soured on Bickford in 2022 to the point I was preparing to write an essay about the contradiction until his shoulder injury ended his regular season.

Phil Bickford in Colorado. Coors Field. July 31, 2022.
Phil Bickford in Colorado. Coors Field. July 31, 2022.
Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

When looking at the statistics and the peripherals, Bickford’s 4.72 ERA was almost double his scintillating 2.50 ERA in 2021. The primary reason was the steep increase from six to 12 home runs allowed.

I witnessed eight Bickford appearances in person in 2022 and for the life of me, I did not share the fanbase’s opinion regarding Bickford. My recollection was that Bickford was fine, not consistently bad like Reyes Moronta or anxiety-inducing like Kimbrel. Not exceptional like Evan Phillips either — just fine. Wondering if my memories had been skewed by recency bias, I went over my notes covering all the Bickford appearances I was present for. What I found surprised me.

  • July 16 at Angels: 1 IP, 2 strikeouts
  • July 30 at Rockies: 1 IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts
  • July 31 at Rockies: 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 strikeout
  • August 12 at Royals: 1 IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts
  • August 13 at Royals: 1⅓ IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts
  • August 16 at Brewers: 1 IP, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
  • September 9 at Padres: ⅔ IP, 1 hit, 1 strikeout
  • September 10 at Padres: 1 IP, 1 hit, 1 strikeout

That is eight scoreless innings of work, which is about an eighth of his season. I did not see Phil Bickford give up a run in 2022. He gave up six hits, walked one, and he struck out 13. While Bickford’s ERA overall was 4.72, in my absence, his ERA was actually 5.43, largely caused by giving up the long ball. When I was around in 2022, Bickford had progressed from his 2021 form. Therefore, from my perspective, he probably should have been on the postseason roster (prior to his injury). Still, looking at the statistics, I understand why the fanbase had soured somewhat on Bickford.

The most infamous home run allowed by Bickford was in his final regular-season appearance against the Cardinals at home on September 23 — the 700th of (Uncle) Albert Pujols’ career — in the Dodgers’ most lopsided loss of the year.

At the time, I joked that Andrew Heaney, the game’s starter and the victim of Pujols’ 699th home run on a batting-practice-level-center-cut-fastball, owed Bickford for “sparing” Heaney from being linked with Pujols in history.

With all of the roster turnover in the Dodgers’ bullpen and the fact that Bickford is out of options, 2023 is shaping up to be a “make or break” year for the mulleted right-hander. If current trends hold, Bickford need only reach out to supplement my travel budget. Otherwise, his performance whether he rebounds into another high-leverage option or joins the parade of former-Dodger relievers on the waiver wire.

2022 particulars

Age: 27

Stats: 2-1, 1 SV, 4.72 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 3.46 xERA. 60 G, 61 IP, 14 BB, 67 K, 12 HR, 1.098 WHIP

Salary: unknown

Game of the year

As Bickford had such an up-and-down year when I was not around, picking a Game of the Year would presumably be difficult. Instead, let us go with August 13, where Bickford picked up his second win of the year in relief for the injured Andrew Heaney while recording four outs on a dreadfully muggy night in Kansas City.

Roster status

Bickford is on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster and has one year, 134 days of service time. Bickford is out of options.