While many fans of the Dodgers were once again pointing their fingers at the bullpen after Saturday’s loss to the Padres, I thought I’d try to make some sense of what was happening by digging a little deeper into some of the general numbers. And while there’s been no rhyme or reason as to when exactly the relief corps is likely to implode, there has been a bit of uniformity, nonetheless.
I’ve never been a big fan of using ERA as a measuring stick, especially when it comes to relief pitchers, mainly because when the inherited runners score they’re credited back to the previous pitcher which can often be one of the starters. Nevertheless, before Sunday’s game, the Dodgers were sitting 18th in baseball with a 4.12 ERA which also ranked them 10th in the National League.
Consequently, one of the scariest stats I came across was that Dodgers’ relievers have already surrendered 25 long balls this season, which is the second-worst in the NL, trailing only the Marlins of Miami.
Aside from the horrific numbers that Wilmer Font put up over the first several weeks of the campaign, righty Josh Fields is once again leading all the relievers in home runs surrendered with five. He allowed 10 over 57.0 innings of work last year which was a career-high, and he’s already halfway to that mark this season. For as effective as he’s been, he’s always had a problem keeping the ball on the ground. Currently, his ERA is sitting at 2.28, which is a bit of an illusion as his 4.41 FIP is much more indicative of the way he’s trending. While many believed at one point that he was the best eighth-inning option to bridge the gap to closer Kenley Jansen, Fields sometimes gives the impression of being a little bit more vulnerable each time he throws.
Another frightening number is how many batters the relief crew has walked so far this season. Dodgers relievers have already issued a whopping 82 walks over 190 innings which translate into almost four runs per nine innings. Three relievers—Pedro Baez, JT Chargois and Scott Alexander—have already reached double-digits in walks. Both Chargois and Alexander completed this feat in less than 18 innings of work apiece. In the back of our minds, we have a general idea how often these runners score, especially when they’re issued a free pass to lead off an inning.
The Dodgers are the only team in the National League with double-digit blown saves, many of which came early in the season. The good news is that Jansen’s numbers are finally trending in the right direction. Over his first 12 appearances, he surrendered nine runs—seven of which were earned—on 13 hits and six walks. However, over his last 10 games, he hasn’t allowed a run or a walk while only giving up five hits, calculating to a .132 batting average against.
And while Kenley’s numbers are undeniably wonderful signs, the bad news is that there’s nobody else even close in terms of effectiveness. The only other relief pitchers on the squad to have an ERA+ over 100 are Adam Liberatore, Baez and Fields. Liberatore, coincidentally, is currently on the Triple-A Oklahoma City roster.
Tony Cingrani appears to be headed in the right direction with a 2.58 FIP after a stretch where his ineffectiveness was attributed to dead arm syndrome. However, four other relievers—Daniel Hudson, Yimi Garcia, Pat Venditte and Edward Paredes all have FIPs over 5.00.
I think it goes without saying how much the relief corps is missing the presence of one Ross Stripling, who was jettisoned into the starting rotation a few weeks ago when injuries smoldered the starting rotation.
So far this season, the front office crew of the Dodgers has seemingly tried a ton of different arms in the big league pen, but none have had an overwhelming amount of success, sans Jansen. And although it may seem far away in the distance, the non-waiver trade deadline is right around the eight-week mark, and Los Angeles may need to find several trade partners if they’re committed to making any upgrades. Otherwise, the team may be limited to the farm crew to find a ray of hope which at this point, seems a bit unlikely.