Ever since he first stepped on a major league mound as a reliever for the Dodgers, Brusdar Graterol has made waves throughout the big leagues, lauded for the flashy stuff he displays every time he pitches. It wasn’t until these past couple of seasons, though, that he’s been able to translate the potential into production.
Graterol was pretty good in 2020, but then he took a major step back in 2021, pitching to the tune of a 4.59 ERA. Still, because of the massive potential his stuff possesses, he was provided every opportunity to be a high-leverage arm for this team.
Over the past two years, Graterol has taken his game to another level, and that evolution has culminated in a scoreless run that extends back to late July.
Yes, you heard me right. Graterol has not allowed a run since July 24th, to be exact. Ever since that outing against the Jays, Graterol has tossed 24 straight scoreless appearances, allowing a hit in only nine of them. He’s retired his last 25 batters faced, dating back to September 9.
This insane run of dominance is a big reason why the power-throwing right-hander wrapped up the year with a minuscule 1.20 ERA, fourth-best in Dodgers history with a minimum of 40 innings.
So, how did Graterol go from a 4.59 ERA in 2021 to a 1.20 ERA? Well, first and foremost, and I know no one wants to hear this, but clearly, he wasn’t as bad as that ‘21 mark, and he’s unlikely to sustain this ‘23 mark as well.
For some context, Graterol’s FIP in 2021 was 3.96, and this season it’s 3.03. His xERA was 4.07 in 2021 and 3.07 this year, the latter in the top nine percent of MLB.
It’s never just as simple as one thing, most of the time change comes from several improvements, but there are some clear factors to point to.
A big point, Graterol has been less sinker-reliant than he was early in his career, and that has worked to his benefit.
A sinker that allowed a .442 slugging percentage in 2021 has allowed marks below .300 in both 2022 and 2023.
The sinker is probably the pitch that gets the most attention from the public for Graterol, but the slider and cutter are both extremely effective. In 2023, hitters have a .275 wOBA against his cutter, and .238 off his slider.
This new distribution of his pitches has also helped Graterol severely lower his walk rate, from a slightly below league-average mark (8.7) he had in 2021, to a number that’s in the 96th percentile for relievers in 2023 (4.7).
The reason an outstanding walk rate becomes even more critical for an arm like Graterol is that despite his top-level stuff, and even though his most dominant runs, Graterol is not a strikeout arm.
After ticking up with a strikeout rate above 21 percent in 2022, Graterol’s number came back down into the 18s this season, which is well, well below league-average (23.7) for relievers.
Outstanding relievers with elite strikeout relievers can get away with walking a decent chunk of batters, but for an arm like Graterol it is critical he limits those free passes. No team wants to deal with a high number of balls in play with runners on.
The importance of Graterol in the postseason
The Dodgers know what they have in Evan Phillips. A top-10 reliever in the sport, the Dodgers’ star reliever is a sure thing to be on the mound in the most critical of spots.
Beyond Phillips though, and this was the case last season, the bullpen was more a collection of above-average arms without really one or two standout guys.
This season Yency Almonte took a big step back, Alex Vesia was volatile, and guys like Chris Martin and Tommy Kahnle left the team.
Ryan Brasier has been phenomenal since coming over from the Red Sox, but the vacancy is sort of there for Graterol to be a 1B to Phillips 1A, and join that elite group of relievers you trust completely.
Shelby Miller and Brasier have both been money but on limited samples. The Dodgers bullpen is better with those guys down the depth chart a bit, but with Graterol and Phillips as the two main guys the Dodgers bullpen looks strong heading into the postseason.