While most pieces of the bullpen have shown flashes of brilliance during the young 2017 campaign, Friday evening’s implosion against the Diamondbacks left many fans of the Dodgers wondering if the relief corps has the structural integrity to hold up over the long haul, or if the front office crew will feel the need to go shopping for a few upgrades before the trade deadline arrives in July.
Nobody’s anywhere near a panic point just yet, though. Fans will remember the beginning of the 2016 season, when the relief corps was nothing short of a nightmare. Besides Kenley Jansen, relievers Chris Hatcher and Pedro Baez were believed to be the best late-inning options, as the Dodgers’ bullpen struggled for nearly a month to establish some sort of identity. Yet once the management crew was able to develop critical player data regarding matchups, righty Joe Blanton quickly settled into the chief setup role, and along with the emergence of Louis Coleman and Adam Liberatore, the Dodgers’ crew eventually proved to be among the best in baseball.
Needless to say, there were some ups and downs. Coleman and Liberatore suffered significant injuries, perhaps from over-usage, and were never the same upon returning from the disabled list. Hatcher went on the shelf in July with a strained oblique and never came back at all. On the plus side, Ross Stripling evolved into a very dependable long man. Grant Dayton emerged from Triple-A Oklahoma City and showed tremendous value. Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields, who were both acquired right before the trade deadline, also made key contributions down the stretch run of the regular season. Josh Ravin returned from a half-year suspension to flaunt his triple-digit heater, showing fans that the Dodgers have a surprising amount of depth in the pen heading into 2017.
As it stands now, gone are Blanton, Coleman and Chavez. Dayton and Ravin are sitting on the disabled list struggling with injuries, while Liberatore is throwing at OKC trying to make a case for his inclusion on the big league roster. Alex Wood, who appeared to have some much-needed firepower for the relief crew, has already been shuffled back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation. And Hatcher has been used sparingly so far, appearing mainly in low-leverage situations or when the club is in need of a multiple-inning, mop-up type of role.
Fans also believed that the signing of righty reliever Sergio Romo would help bridge the gap to Jansen, assuming that the 34-year-old still had the tools to be an effective eighth-inning setup option, which he certainly is not. As it would appear that Romo would be phenomenal in a ROOGY (Righty One-Out GuY) role, his effectiveness against left-handed batters is often questioned.
Over the course of his 10-year career versus right-handed hitters, Romo has a stellar .188/.230/.313 slash line against, while surrendering a .241/.306/.366 line to lefty batters. Because of injuries, 2016 saw his vitals elevate against hitters from both sides of the dish, but over 70 games during his age-32 season in 2015, he tallied an amazing .170/.181/.286 line against righties, while surrendering whopping .371/.443/.486 averages against left-handed hitters. There’s no doubt that there’s a definite role on the club for Romo moving forward, but it may not be in the capacity that many fans perceived at the beginning of the campaign.
Baez certainly has the potential to be an eighth-inning savior, yet there’s still several aspects of his overall game that need polished before he shines in that particular role. Stripling and Dayton have turned many heads during their short stints in the bigs, but the sample sizes of both are still relatively small to be considered formidable setup options for Jansen.
Looking ahead, while an upgrade would indeed provide the club with more constructive alternatives down the road, there may be just enough relief depth in the system to get by until the trade deadline, barring any additional epidemic of injuries. And as the 2017 calendar has yet to turn to May, there’s still plenty of time for skipper Dave Roberts and his staff to evaluate his relievers, and to calculate more formulas while figuring which pitchers fill each specific relief role.
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