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Major league bullpens are smaller now

Welcome to the era of the 13-pitcher limit

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Detroit Tigers v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Dodgers start a nine-game road trip on Tuesday night against the Reds at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, the first time this season Los Angeles will have “only” 13 active pitchers on the roster.

Monday was the day that MLB enforced a 13-pitcher limit, a rule that has been in place since the start of 2020, but was relaxed the last two seasons under health and safety protocols. Teams had a limit of 14 pitchers from May 2 through Sunday.

Caleb Ferguson was placed on the injured list to get the Dodgers down to a baker’s dozen (the team hasn’t officially announced his injury yet), which means eight relievers after using having nine and 11 pitchers in the bullpen for the first 40 percent of the season.

White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz talked to James Fegan at The Athletic about the growth of bullpens in recent years, and the trend for using more pitchers in shorter bursts:

“When you look at bullpen pieces, they’re high-octane,” said Katz, alluding to the higher effort that innings require nowadays. “Guys are doing a lot more. Guys prefer to do one-ups (innings) and be done, as opposed to doing multiple ups. It’s harder to get back up a second time after you’ve kind of blown it out. It’s a lot different now the way players are constructed and what they’re able to do. It makes it tougher to ask more from them.”

Using bullpens, and pitching staffs is pretty much the point of the 13-pitcher limit, which again was supposed to go into effect in 2020. Getting away from maximizing the importance of every single pitch could lead to pitchers forced to pace themselves, with longer outings potentially both for starters and in relief appearances. The hope is that would at least decrease strikeout rates, putting more balls in play and a more entertaining, less stagnant game.

Having “only” eight relievers active, and possibly sometimes only seven relievers if the Dodgers call up a spot starter or two during this stretch of 20 games in 20 days that begins Tuesday, means a shift in sorts of how some relievers have been used.

Current active Dodgers bullpen

Pitcher Games Multi-IP Innings K rate BB rate ERA xERA FIP
Pitcher Games Multi-IP Innings K rate BB rate ERA xERA FIP
Craig Kimbrel 22 1 21 34.0% 11.3% 4.71 2.74 2.32
Daniel Hudson 23 2 23 26.1% 5.4% 2.35 2.70 2.09
Brusdar Graterol 27 7 30 21.0% 8.1% 3.90 2.70 3.56
Alex Vesia lhp 26 1 20⅔ 29.3% 9.8% 3.48 3.29 2.45
Evan Phillips 25 4 25⅔ 31.4% 7.8% 2.10 2.82 2.82
Yency Almonte 12 6 16 30.6% 9.7% 1.13 2.15 2.69
Phil Bickford 21 2 19⅔ 18.2% 3.9% 4.12 4.27 4.30
David Price lhp 14 5 14⅔ 28.1% 4.7% 4.30 3.38 3.95

The Dodgers have had 39 relief appearances of at least four outs this season. Only three teams fave fewer outings.

Brusdar Graterol leads the way with seven multi-inning games, though just one has come in June. Same for Yency Almonte, who has six such appearances, but only once this month.

Spreading out the usage during the time of expanded or no pitcher limits has worked out well so far for the Dodgers. They only have three relievers in the top 100 in MLB in games pitched, topped by Graterol tied for 40th place with his 27 appearances. The LA bullpen ranks eighth in the majors in ERA (3.41), and fourth in FIP (3.29) and FanGraphs WAR (3.0).

Beginning a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, the bullpen will be used heavily, but the Dodgers have Tony Gonsolin on the mound to start things on Tuesday. Gonsolin and his 1.42 ERA is on six days rest, and has been incredibly consistent this year, lasting at least six innings in each of his last six starts.

Game info

  • Teams: Dodgers (40-25) at Reds (23-43)
  • Pitchers: Tony Gonsolin vs. Tyler Mahle
  • Location: Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati
  • Time: 3:40 p.m. PT
  • TV: SportsNet LA