While there are plenty of question marks surrounding the impending relief crew for the Dodgers heading into 2018, there are many options for the club to consider for the bullpen as the season approaches. A handful of arms who can contribute as either a starter or a reliever could play into the team’s roster plans, and Brock Stewart is certainly right at the top of that list.
Stewart made his major league debut for the Dodgers in the summer of 2016 when the club purchased his contract to make a spot start against the Brewers in Milwaukee. The rise of the Illinois native through the Los Angeles farm system was quite remarkable. In 2015, he began his campaign with Low-A Great Lakes and ended with High-A Rancho Cucamonga, throwing a total of 101 innings. In 2016, he breezed his way through the California League with the Quakes, had a cup of coffee with Double-A Tulsa, and made a quick pit stop in Triple-A Oklahoma City, which led to his big league debut on June 28.
Last season, the 26-year-old Stewart made 17 big league appearances—four of which were starts—and posted a combined 3.41 ERA with 29 strikeouts over 34-1/3 innings of work. As a starter, he tallied a 5.27 ERA, allowing eight earned runs over just 13-2/3 innings. On top of the dismal ERA, he handed out a whopping 12 walks while striking out 10 batters. However, when appearing in relief, the right-hander registered a 2.18 ERA in 20-2/3 innings, collecting 19 punchouts against only seven walks in the process. Out of the bullpen, he permitted a .197 BAA, while allowing a .264 BAA when starting—all huge deviations when evaluating his potential purely from a numbers perspective.
So what’s the best bet for 2018? Will the Dodgers finally use Stewart exclusively as a reliever, or will management still treat the righty as a starter, giving him the opportunity to slide into the big league rotation whenever there’s a need?
As of late last summer, GM Farhan Zaidi wouldn’t lean towards one particular landing spot when asked about Stewart’s future role.
“With guys like him who have good track records as starters, you always have in the back of your mind — this guy would bring a lot of impact out of the bullpen,” Zaidi said. “Then you see him in that role and it becomes a little bit of a dilemma. Do we leave him here where he’s a big part of the team or do we put him back in that starting role where there might be greater long-term value for the team?”
Skipper Dave Roberts took a nearly identical stance, but the tone of his comments gave the impression that he viewed Stewart as a more valuable asset when relieving.
“I think he’s an option in high-leverage situations against the right matchup,” Roberts explained. “He’s got an elite fastball, slider and a plus-change. So for me, when you get guys that you have similar confidence in and now I have an opportunity to look at matchups and see what fits their pitch mix. I do trust him in leverage spots. But I also like the length, too.”
Even though it’s only a small sample size, the discrepancy in his general statistics—especially in the numbers from 2016—say that he could be better suited as a reliever moving forward. In the past, the Dodgers counted on Stewart to step in and make starts when other members of the big league rotation were injured, however, with guys like Walker Buehler and Trevor Oaks on the fringe ready to go, it could give Stewart the opportunity to focus his collective energy on relieving.
Looking ahead to the 2018 season, there’s no question that it will take time for the Los Angeles relief crew to develop and establish an identity. And depending on how things play out once the dust settles, Stewart may ultimately become a key contributor to the bullpen down the stretch run of the regular season.
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