While it’s probably not the most ideal time to begin a discussion about the Dodgers bullpen considering the way the offense has been producing over the last month, the 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is now a mere four weeks away, and it would be very surprising if the club did not try to upgrade with at least one quality arm.
Just before last season’s deadline, right-handers Josh Fields and Jesse Chavez were added to the squad’s relief corps, right around the time stalwarts Joe Blanton and Louis Coleman began running out of steam. And just like last year, the Dodgers 2017 relief crew is also filled with several mediocre arms, but the ease of demoting some of the pitchers is a bit difficult, mostly because many do not have any options remaining on their respective contracts. So looking ahead to the postseason — if Los Angeles does indeed clinch a playoff berth — the bullpen may have a few different faces.
There’s no question that team ERA is one of the most inaccurate statistics to measure a particular club’s overall success in its respective bullpen, however, it’s one of the very few figures that’s commonly used across the board. Taking a cursory glance at the relief pitching as a whole, though, the bullpen ERA of 2.93 is far and away the best in the National League, and only trails the Indians and the Red Sox for the best mark in all of baseball.
But that’s not really saying much, because the bulk of the outstanding numbers have been registered by the team’s two workhorses, Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez. Between both Jansen and Baez, a whopping 66 appearances have already been made. Jansen has an insane ERA of 0.79 over an even 34 innings of work, while Baez is sporting an impressive 1.32 ERA over the exact same number of innings as Kenley. Throw a highly effective Brandon Morrow into the mix, and not only does the team ERA drop to even lower levels, but Morrow’s arm theoretically gives Los Angeles one of the best 7-8-9 combinations in the game.
Still, that’s only three pitchers, as the rest of the bullpen has developed a reputation for being a bit shaky. The worst thing about using ERA to measure the effectiveness of a reliever is that it doesn’t take into consideration what happens with inherited runners. A notable example is the IRS% (inherited runner scoring percentage) of right-hander Josh Fields. Even when his ERA was lurking under the 1.00 mark in late May through early June, he was still allowing inherited runners to score — figures that never showed up in his primary stats. Once his ERA ballooned to over 3.00, his IRS% was 52.6% — of the 19 total runners he inherited over the course of the season, he allowed nine to score. This is by far the worst on the club. Behind Fields was Sergio Romo with five runs scored by inherited runners, while both Luis Avilan and Ross Stripling had three apiece.
Looking at the bullpen’s 2.93 ERA from the opposite angle, six of the primary arms — Grant Dayton, Chris Hatcher, Avilan, Stripling, Romo and Fields — all have earned run averages above 3.00, with Romo north of 6.00 being the worst. And if you exclude the numbers of Jansen, Baez and Morrow, along with transitional relief numbers from Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the bullpen’s combined ERA escalates to 3.99 — well over a full run per nine innings.
With all that said, the old adage of a superior starting rotation making a bullpen look much better certainly remains to be true. Even when the offense of the Dodgers took the spotlight in the month of June, the starting pitchers have gone deeper into games, allowing the club to skip over the questionable middle relief arms, and in most cases, go directly to Morrow, Baez and Jansen, at least in the tightly contested affairs.
Looking ahead, while there are a few potentially available relief arms out there which could prove to be useful for Los Angeles, any prospective trades surely depend on the pieces that the other teams desire in return. The prices for quality pitching at the trade deadline seemingly rise each year, but the front office crew of the Dodgers will surely be prudent in its discussions.
In the end, a proven setup man or a dependable middle relief addition would certainly be nice, but not necessarily paramount for success.
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