Admit it: you forgot that Caleb Ferguson was an effective member of the 2022 Dodgers’ bullpen. To be fair, the Dodgers bullpen is a bit like a major metropolitan airport; apart from stalwarts like Evan Phillips and less successful members like Craig Kimbrel, no one remembers all the airlines present even if you have forgotten like Heath Hembree or Jake Reed.
Prior to his debut in 2022, Ferguson had not seen any major league action since September 2020. Unsurprisingly, Ferguson began his 2022 on the injured list rehabbing from Tommy John surgery before doing a six-game rehab assignment in Triple-A Oklahoma City. While at OKC, Ferguson pitched 4⅔ innings and gave up eight runs (six earned) with 3 walks and 5 strikeouts.
However, Ferguson’s last two appearances for Oklahoma City were scoreless and on May 16, Ferguson returned and pitched an inning of scoreless relief in his first major league game in 20 months. Ferguson’s reward for his return was to be immediately optioned back to Oklahoma City the very next day.
The Dodgers recalled Ferguson at the earliest, non-injury opportunity on June 2. While at Oklahoma City for this stretch, Ferguson appeared in four games, providing scoreless relief every time and striking out eight of the ten batters he faced during that timeframe. Upon his return, Ferguson made five appearances in the month of June, pitching four scoreless innings.
On June 20, in part to make room for recently acquired Cinderella Man Trayce Thompson, the Dodgers placed Ferguson on the injured list once again, backdating his entry to June 17 with left forearm tendinitis. It was this stint on the injured list that led to Ferguson’s most notable moment in 2022: expressing public frustration with the Dodgers’ communication and management of Ferguson’s place on the team.
On June 23, Ferguson vented his frustrations to Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times:
“I went through a longer rehab process than what I thought — and not really by choice, but that was what the team thought was best for me,” said Ferguson, who is contractually under team control for two more seasons. “I did it. I shut my mouth and did it. And I feel like we’re kind of going back on with that.”
Asked whether he’d tried pushing back, Ferguson alluded to more disconnect. “I’ve had some conversations,” he said. “Some conversations I feel like I get my point across, and other conversations I feel like it goes in one ear and out the other. There’s a couple people that I feel are in my corner that truly mean it, and there’s a couple people that are business people. That’s kind of it.”
Now like the kerfuffle in the media about Freddie Freeman’s return to Atlanta, this incident seemed to be a tempest in a teapot rather than a player actually going rogue and calling the Dodgers out. In any event, whatever remained in the controversy took place in private and Ferguson was recalled from Oklahoma City on July 6, and stayed with the major league club for the rest of the year.
From July 8 onwards, Ferguson had a 2.12 ERA in 29⅔ innings over in 31 games. On the season, he was used in middle relief in arguably medium-leverage spots a couple of times a week. In an odd twist, Ferguson was one of the few regular relievers in the Dodgers’ bullpen to not record a save in 2022.
He was not Evan Phillips (to be fair, who is?) but he was not along for the ride, a la David Price, nor was he making one reach for an antacid, like Craig Kimbrel. I was fortunate enough to see Ferguson in person five times in 2022. As I recall, he was effective and efficient. And like Phil Bickford, he did not allow a run in my presence in 5⅓ innings.
Ferguson was left off the postseason roster, a victim of having too many effective arms in the bullpen able to pitch on successive days. As several of those arms are now either gone or injured for 2023, there is a prime opportunity for Ferguson to cement his role in the Dodgers bullpen in the coming years.
Stats: 1-0, 1.82 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.05 xERA, 37 G, 34⅔ IP, 17 BB, 37 K, 1.209 WHIP
Game of the year
On September 4 in Los Angeles, Ferguson was chosen to be the opener of a bullpen game against the Padres. Ferguson struck out the side on 11 pitches. The plan was for Ryan Pepiot to do the bulk of the innings that night, which did not happen. Regardless, the Dodgers still won.
Ferguson’s game score of 56 is the regular maximum that an opener can get, assuming the opener only goes one inning and no Chris Martin-well-I-guess-I-have-to-strike-out-four-batters-or-more-in-an-inning shenanigans occur. (50 points for starting, one point for an out, one additional point for a strikeout, no deductions from surrendering a hit or walk).
Ferguson has four years, 88 days of major league service time, and is eligible for salary arbitration for a second time. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to make $1.1 million in 2023. Ferguson has two option years remaining.