One of the main objectives for the Los Angeles Dodgers heading into this offseason was to tinker with their bullpen. They are now linked to another intriguing reliever.
It makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Stanek was originally drafted by Andrew Friedman in the first round of the 2013 draft when Friedman was running the Tampa Bay Rays.
Stanek pitched for the Rays from 2017 to 2019 before he was sent to the Miami Marlins as part of the trade that sent Nick Anderson to the Rays.
Anderson was famously the pitcher that Kevin Cash pulled Blake Snell for during Game 6 of the 2020 World Series.
Anderson proceeded to give up a double to Mookie Betts, threw a wild pitch that scored Austin Barnes from third, and gave up a fielder’s choice to Corey Seager that scored Betts.
The Dodgers never relinquished the lead after that, and they clinched their first championship since the 1988 season.
There is a lot of poetic beauty in the Dodgers being linked to the guy traded for arguably their biggest World Series victim.
It is more than just trivia that makes Stanek potentially great for this Dodgers bullpen, though. After all, allowing for the Game 6 losing pitcher to be in that opportunity is not a good enough reason to explore an acquisition.
Stanek brings a lot of interesting tools to any bullpen he is a part of. It is fair to address a particularly lackluster 2020 season, though.
Stanek registered a whopping 7.20 ERA and 1.90 WHIP in nine appearances last season. He walked eight batters in 10 innings.
The challenge of prognosticators around the league is going to be assessing which anomalies of 2020 represent legitimate red flags and which can simply be chalked up to the weirdness of a season during a global pandemic.
From 2018-2019 with the Rays, Stanek threw 142.1 total innings and had a combined 3.52 ERA with a 1.20 WHIP during that stretch.
He became known throughout the league as the pitcher the Rays would use as their “opener.” In that role, he set multiple MLB records, including throwing seven consecutive scoreless starts.
He set another record by posting 17 consecutive starts of one earned run or less given up and became the first rookie in 75 years to start back-to-back games.
The novelty of a designated “opener” relative to the history of baseball ensures that Stanek will be noted by scholars of the game decades from now, either as a pioneer of a role or indicative of a fad.
Beyond just the uniqueness of his career, though, Stanek has been a effective pitcher who can be utilized as a weapon in a variety of ways out of the bullpen.
He can get both righties and lefties out. For his career, his slash line against right-handed batters is .231/.323/.427, and he’s even better against left-handed batters, holding them to a .209/.300/.364 slash line.
What is interesting is that the Marlins never used him as an “opener,” and his stats with the Marlins were not nearly as impressive.
For his career when starting a game, he has a 2.71 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP. When used as a traditional reliever, however, those stats balloon to a 5.18 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP.
For whatever reason, it is clear that Stanek has found a niche in this league as an “opener.” The team that signs him would be wise to put him in the best situation to succeed.
There are certainly arguments for and against the use of “openers,” but Stanek has shown that the role is what he is typically best at doing in this league.
It would not make much sense for a team to sign Stanek without the plan to use him as an “opener” at least occasionally, unless the pitching coaches believe they can mold him successfully into whatever plan they have for the unit.
Regarding his pitch repertoire, Stanek has a four-seam fastball that hovers around the high 90s and a slider and splitter that hit the high 80s.
Stanek’s average velocity on his four-seam fastball has dropped each of the previous four seasons. It topped out at 98.2 MPH in 2017 and fell to 96.0 MPH in 2020.
That velocity drop has coincided with a decrease in reliance on that four-seam fastball each of the previous four years. Back in the 2017 season, he threw that pitch 67.1% of the time. He threw it just 43.9% of the time in 2020.
In 2019, he threw his splitter a career-high 22.5% of the time. In 2020, he threw his slider a career-high 38.6% of the time.
He has been throwing his splitter and slider much more in recent years. From 2017 to 2020, his slider usage increased by 20.6%. His splitter usage increased by 5.4% that same span.
Stanek looks like he is reinventing himself as a pitcher. That is only natural to combat a drop-off in velocity. He is an intriguing option for the Dodgers. Given Friedman’s familiarity with him, it would not be a surprise if he is brought aboard.