Heading into the 2018 regular season, one of the biggest concerns for the Dodgers was finding a suitable setup arm for closer Kenley Jansen. Yet, when Jansen was struggling mightily for the first few weeks of the campaign, that worry shifted, as all the focus was on getting the All-Star righty’s mechanics fixed. Now that Kenley appears to be back on the right track, the focal point of the bullpen could fall back on the setup role.
As it stands now, Los Angeles is sitting fifth in the National League with 3.86 runs allowed per game, which isn’t too shabby considering the club’s loss of a few key components from last season, most specifically Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Still, the two scariest things are that the Dodgers’ relief corps have already allowed 11 long balls and a whopping 31 walks over 82-1/3 innings of work. And although the current WHIP of the bullpen crew translates to a medial 1.275, the good news is that the 13 earned runs surrendered by Wilmer Font may soon start to dissipate, so long as the rest of the crew continues to hold their own.
At first glance, Ross Stripling‘s numbers appear to be very solid, but anyone who watches daily might have a different feeling. Despite his 0.68 ERA over 13-1/3 innings, his peripherals are out of whack, mainly because the six walks and 12 hits he allowed translate into a 1.350 WHIP, which basically tells us that he has been very fortunate by working himself out of several tough situations.
Walks have also hurt a few other relievers, especially Pedro Baez and Scott Alexander. The southpaw Alexander has already issued seven free passes—among other things—that have contributed to his 6.48 ERA, 4.98 FIP and 1.680 WHIP. Baez has handed out six walks—including walking a run home against the Nationals last Friday—which have bumped his WHIP up to 1.300, despite a relatively healthy 1.80 ERA.
Although his numbers are trending towards the ugly side, hard-throwing righty JT Chargois may still have some value moving forward, based on his skill set alone. And if the three performances by Adam Liberatore are any indication of what’s to come, he may very soon supplant Alexander as the club’s No. 2 lefty reliever.
But the real workhorses of the bullpen so far have been right-hander Josh Fields and lefty Tony Cingrani. After being victimized by 10 long balls in 57 innings last year, Fields has yet to issue a homer this season, and more impressively, has struck out 14 batters in his 11 innings of work. His 0.82 ERA is solid, and although he’s allowed seven hits so far, his 1.450 FIP and 0.909 WHIP aren’t too bad in the least.
As far as Cingrani goes, his stuff just seems to be getting better each time he takes the mound. The home run he allowed to Daniel Descalso on April 13 has ballooned his ERA a bit; however, he still has the best FIP of all Dodger relievers at 1.14. While his fastball seems to be down a tick or two, his slider appears to be spinning better than ever, and he has also utilized his changeup much more during the early part of the year. After having used his four-seam more than 80% of the time over his career, he has thrown the slider 29.67% of the time in April of this year alone, which has led to his transformation.
Looking ahead, while Fields and Cingrani may eventually emerge as the club’s most dependable eighth-inning options, the team may continue to mix and match until the numbers pile up and provide more data. Last season, Chris Hatcher and Sergio Romo were the featured setup men during the month of April, until their respective numbers ultimately forced them out of the entire bullpen picture. Morrow didn’t even hit his full stride until right around the All-Star break.
But as much as the fans would like to see a competent and dependable setup man emerge, and as good as the overall performance of the bullpen has been so far, the most important thing right now are the mechanics of Jansen in the closer’s role and his ability to stay consistent.