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With only a handful of days remaining before the Dodgers officially submit their 25-man roster, the bullpen remains one of the few areas that has stayed relatively healthy throughout the spring, and outside of maybe one possible bubble player, is in its final stages of being a finished product — at least for the beginning of the season.
The biggest question lingering right now is whether or not the club decides to carry two left-handed relievers. As long as he’s in good health, J.P. Howell will inevitably command the LOOGY role, while conceivably the only other seasoned lefty on the radar, Luis Avilan, has struggled in almost every outing he’s made this spring and is in jeopardy of beginning the season in the minors.
Manager Dave Roberts has said recently he certainly prefers to carry two southpaws, having seen some left-handed relievers become overtaxed in the past, especially when they are the only lefty in the bullpen. However, advanced metrics have come to light revealing that many of the Dodgers’ right-handed throwers are equally as effective against left-handed hitters as they are right-handed batters.
“Even if we decide to go with one lefty, we’re fortunate in the sense that we have right-handers, if you look at their splits, they get lefties out,” Roberts told Doug Padilla of ESPN. “That’s a luxury to have and in no way do I plan on abusing anyone in the bullpen, let alone if there is just one lefty.”
While spring training statistics shouldn’t be a heavy indicator in regards to regular season projections and selecting the 25-man roster, Avilan has not been able to find even the smallest amout of consistency. In nine appearances spanning seven innings, Avilan has recorded a dreadful 11.57 ERA and a 2.571 WHIP. He’s surrendered 15 hits, 12 runs (9 earned), while allowing three home runs and three walks.
“Luis, you can see it, the look in his eyes and the lack of confidence to be able to execute a pitch when you need to,” Roberts said to Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. “Right now he’s kind of fighting himself.”
As for the intangibles, we know that Kenley Jansen will command the closer role, while 31-year-old Chris Hatcher may handle the majority of setup situations, at least until he begins to consistently falter. Howell is also another option for setting up Jansen, depending on the opposing team and the relative pitching matchups.
Veteran Joe Blanton will presumably take care of the long man needs, having recently rediscovered himself as a reliever after many years as a starting pitcher. In 2015 with the Royals and Pirates combined, he recorded a 2.04 ERA and a 2.56 FIP in 32 relief appearances, with 62 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 57 innings of work.
Newcomer Louis Coleman also appears to be a lock for the Dodgers’ bullpen after an extremely productive spring camp. He’s limited opposing hitters to a .223 batting average in parts of five big league seasons, while averaging better than a strikeout per inning, with 186 Ks in 177.1 innings pitched. Coleman has the makeup and skills to contribute as either a long man, a setup man, or even a closer, if needed.
Pedro Baez, once a top third base prospect for the Dodgers and probably the hardest thrower among the group, is poised to contribute to the team for his third consecutive campaign. This spring he has appeared nine times over 9-1/3 innings, having given up only two earned runs and six hits while striking out 14 batters.
25-year-old Yimi Garcia perhaps fitting in somewhere in between everybody mentioned, probably makes the Opening Day roster only because of Avilan’s recent troubles. He was shut down with a sore left knee earlier in camp, but appears to be completely healthy heading into the Freeway Series. He showed flashes of dominance last year in posting a 10.8 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 at the big league level. Home runs were an issue at times, but he should have a good shot at sticking this year if he shows his best stuff.
In summary, TBPC predicts seven relievers total in the bullpen on Opening Day which include Jansen, Howell, Hatcher, Baez, Garcia, Coleman and Blanton. Based on performance and potential injuries, members of the group may change often over the course of the season, but the club does hope to maintain a very strong sense of consistency, nonetheless.
Hard throwing rookie Yaisel Sierra may also factor into the 2016 bullpen at some point, joining Liberatore, Thomas and Avilan as players on the fringe.
We project Carlos Frias to be a part of the starting rotation come Opening Day, but may find himself contributing as a reliever eventually, depending on his success as a starter.
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