Brusdar Graterol strengthened his hold on a trusted, high-leverage spot in the inner circle of the Dodgers bullpen in 2023, authoring his best season to date thanks to an absurd finish that continued into October.
The usual caveat about Graterol is that he doesn’t miss enough bats to be an elite closer, and the first part of that remained true this season with an 18.7-percent strikeout rate that ranked 338th among the 410 major league pitchers with at least 40 innings.
Yet Graterol remains effective as ever, thanks to limiting hard contact and missing barrels, and that’s served him well. His 64.4-percent groundball rate was fourth-highest in the majors (again, minimum 40 innings), which helped Graterol induce 11 double plays despite pitching only 67⅓ innings. Clayton Kershaw, a starter with nearly double the innings of Graterol, was the only Dodgers pitcher to induce more double plays (16).
Graterol’s workload this season was 35 percent more than his previous high since shifting to relief in the minors in mid-2019. In all those innings, he posted a minuscule 1.20 ERA that’s fourth-best in Dodgers history in a season of at least 40 innings, and in a virtual tie for second with Hung-Chih Kuo (2010) and Eric Gagné (2003).
Lowest season ERA, Dodgers
Graterol allowed only nine earned runs all season, but also give up five unearned runs, four of which came thanks to his own errors. Even if we count those four extra runs against Graterol’s ledger, we’d still be talking about a high-leverage reliever with a 1.74 ERA who led the Dodgers in appearances (68) and relief innings.
Thanks to his strong batted-ball data and a 4.7-percent walk rate that was in the top five percent of the league, Graterol had a 3.09 xERA that was best on the Dodgers.
He last allowed a run on July 24, a solo home run by Toronto’s Matt Chapman at Dodger Stadium. Graterol struck out the other three batters he faced that inning.
Graterol pitched in 24 more regular season games after that game against the Blue Jays, and did not allow a run in his final 25 innings, the longest scoreless streak by a Dodgers reliever since the team moved to Los Angeles in 1958.
Graterol only allowed 12 hits during his scoreless streak, all singles. His last extra-base hit given up was that Chapman home run in the Dodgers’ 99th game of the season.
Zeroes continued for Graterol into October, racking up three more scoreless innings in the final two games of the NLDS. He relieved Bobby Miller in the second inning of Game 2, the earliest non-opening appearance for Graterol in two years. Graterol wiggled out of that jam and pitched into the fourth inning, the first time he’s pitched in parts of three innings in the majors or minors since switching to relief in 2019.
Graterol’s six outs recorded in Game 2 matched his major league career high. When he walked his final batter faced in that game (Geraldo Perdomo, on four pitches), Graterol ended a string of 31 consecutive batters retired, dating back to September 9.
That’s four outs more than nine innings, with Graterol achieving the rare “hidden perfect game,” achieved by a Dodgers pitcher in the last decade plus only by Kenley Jansen (2013) and Evan Phillips (2022).
That’s the company Graterol keeps these days. He’s an excellent high-leverage reliever who pitched excellently in 2023.
Stats: 1.20 ERA, 3.09 xERA, 7 saves, 67⅓ IP, 48 K, 12 BB, 2.5 bWAR, 1.4 fWAR
Salary: $1.225 million, in his first season of salary arbitration (as a Super Two player)
Game of the year
While it was tempting to pick Game 2 of the NLDS, when Graterol set the tone for excellent bullpen work that was the Dodgers’ only bright spot in an otherwise dreary series, there is an obvious choice here.
On September 19 against the Tigers, Graterol pitched a scoreless eighth inning. It was during his hidden perfect game, so all three batters were retired. The inning featured a groundout and two flyouts, including a drive to the warning track near the short wall in left field by Spencer Torkleson that represented a rare threat to Graterol actually giving up a run.
When Graterol finished the inning, he had tears in his eyes as he got back to the dugout, where manager Dave Roberts pointed out to Graterol exactly where his mom Ysmalia was sitting, watching her son pitch in the majors in person for the first time.
Graterol signed with the Twins as an amateur out of Venezuela in 2014, but he hadn’t seen his mother since 2016. It took years of effort, but Graterol finally got the paperwork needed to allow his mom to visit the United States from Venezuela, which made for quite an emotional reunion.
“It was a moment that left me paralyzed,” Graterol said of the reunion. “I didn’t know what to say. All I heard my mom say was that I was very big and beautiful. And the only thing that I told her when I calmed down, was I told her she smelled like home.”
That’s the good stuff.
Two days later, Ysmalia Graterol, a former softball player, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to her son at Dodger Stadium, and in her delivery showed where Brusdar got some of his talent.
Ysmalia Graterol, First Pitch pic.twitter.com/3pjFnnuqNT— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) September 22, 2023
Graterol has three years, 167 days of major league service time, and is eligible for salary arbitration for the second of potentially four such seasons. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Graterol will earn $2.5 million in 2024, a tad more than double his 2023 salary.