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2023 Dodgers in review: Caleb Ferguson

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Caleb Ferguson was part of a triumvirate in the back end of the Dodgers bullpen who pitched the highest leverage innings for pretty much the entire season. He was also the most volatile of the group.

Ferguson’s average leverage index of 1.509 (where 1.000 is average, and anything above represents higher leverage) was behind only Evan Phillips (1.583) and just ahead of Brusdar Graterol (1.483). So Ferguson was pitching in important spots most of the time, but it goes even deeper than that.

Ferguson pitched with a runner in scoring position 88 times, a total only surpassed on the team by starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw (106 plate appearances), Julio Urías (103), Bobby Miller (101), and Tony Gonsolin (97). Pitching with runners in scoring position represented 32.6 percent of Ferguson’s batters faced, compared to 24.4 percent of the team.

Part of that was opposing batters posting a .352 on-base percentage against Ferguson. Among the 22 Dodgers pitchers with at least 20 innings this year, only Gavin Stone (.401) allowed a higher OBP.

Another factor was that Ferguson inherited 26 runners when he entered games, five more than next-highest on the team. He allowed nine to score, the 35-percent rate higher than every regular Dodgers reliever except Victor González (who allowed five of 10 to score). MLB relievers on the whole allowed 32 percent of inherited runners to score in 2023.

So Ferguson was pitching with some kind of traffic more than any other Dodgers regular, and given when he usually pitched it made for some rather important moments.

When it went bad for Ferguson, it went very bad. Like when he took the loss in all three appearances on a road trip in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, or during the final week of the season when he allowed seven runs in two games at Coors Field while recording three outs. Or the blow-up inning in San Diego in August.

FanGraphs tracks meltdown performances, which they deem to be any relief appearances that results in a loss of at least 0.06 in win probability added. Ferguson had nine meltdowns in 2023, second on the team to Alex Vesia (11), who was volatile in his own right.

But the flip side of meltdowns are shutdowns, which are any outings with a gain of at least 0.06 in WPA. Ferguson led the Dodgers with 24 such games.

In total, Ferguson’s numbers were pretty good. He had a 3.43 ERA, 3.34 FIP, and 3.79 xERA. He cut his walk rate to 8.5 percent after walking 12 percent in 2022. He was also durable, tying Graterol for the team lead with 68 games pitched.

Ferguson also opened seven times, and did not fare well in those outings, allowing five runs on 11 hits in 6⅔ innings, allowing opponents to hit .367/.441/.533. In his actual relief outings, Ferguson had a 3.02 ERA.

He retired seven of his eight batters faced in the NLDS, allowing only a walk and two strikeouts. It was Ferguson’s first postseason action in five years. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery during the 2020 and 2021 playoffs, and last year was left off the NLDS roster. But this year, Ferguson moved up the depth chart.

Ferguson this season was in the Pedro Báez zone, where he had an overall good year, even if at times while watching, clutching at an emptying container of heartburn medication, it might not have felt like it.

2023 particulars

Age: 26

Stats: 7-4, 3 saves, 3.43 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.79 xERA, 68 games, 60⅓ IP, 70 K, 23 BB

Salary: $1.1 million

Game of the year

On June 15 against the White Sox, Ferguson pitched a perfect 11th inning at home, stranding the free runner with a strikeout, flyout, and groundout. He earned the win after Freddie Freeman’s walk-off single in the bottom of the frame.

Ferguson also pitched in extras the next night against San Francisco, working around a hit by pitch to keep the Giants at bay in the 10th inning. Those were the only two extra-inning appearances for Ferguson on the season, and they came on back-to-back nights.

Roster status

Ferguson is arbitration-eligible for the third time this winter, with his five years, 93 days of major league service time. Anthony Franco and Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors estimate that Ferguson in 2024 will earn a $2.3 million salary, a little more than double this year.