Thoughts About the Dodgers’ Closer Situation

As Los Angeles Dodgers fans well remember, the front office made a somewhat surprising trade right before the season started, in which they sent outfielder AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox, straight up, for Craig Kimbrel.

As of this point in the season, the trade hasn’t really worked out in the way either team would have hoped. Pollock is only batting .243 with seven homers, and saw some time on the injured list. And Dodger fans now are worried every time that Kimbrel comes into the game in a save situation.

Kimbrel most recently blew the Dodger’s one run lead in the 10th inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. In fact, Kimbrel has blown all four of the one run leads his team has given him, two of which were in extra innings with the ghost runner at second.

After Tuesday’s game, manager Dave Roberts said, still, that he isn’t worried. Roberts “felt Craig threw the baseball just fine tonight.”

Roberts went on to add, “The result is not what any of us wanted, but I’m not gonna just go by results alone, if I believe that the stuff is good, the process is good.”

When asked about his performance after the game, Kimbrel told reporters that he knows he needs to do better, and feels like he has been taking himself all season. He also said that he’s confident that he will turn things around. “It’s gonna change. It has to”, he stated.

In Tuesday’s game, the Brewers put together a bunt hit, a walk, and a bleeder that scored the tying and go ahead runs. Not exactly power hitting, but it doesn’t really matter how you win the game. Kimbrel’s command of the strike zone has been what has been hindering him all season. As a closer, especially with a ghost runner, you cannot allow a batter to reach base.

The Dodgers have a commanding 17 game lead in the NL West, so the team can give Kimbrel plenty of leeway to work out his command issues. While that might exasperate fans, it could be the best possible scenario. What the team needs is to see who will be the best option as closer come playoff time.

In that vein, the Dodgers will see a few relievers returning to the bullpen very soon. Blake Treinen had his second rehab outing at Triple-A Oklahoma City. He induced fly out and groundout, allowed a single after an error, then got a called strikeout to end the inning. He threw two cutters that averaged 92.5, five sliders that sat around 82-83 mph, and nine sinkers that ranged from 93-96 mph. Treinen threw a total of 17 pitches with 12 being strikes.

Flame thrower Brusdar Graterol is also working towards his return. In his last rehab outing also with Oklahoma City, he retired the side on 11 pitches. His sinker maxed out at 100.4 mph, and his slider maxed out at 93.4 mph.

At the beginning of the season, Roberts had said that Treinen was not going to be used as the closer, but in the most high leverage situations. When Treinen does return, will the same still hold true? Or if Kimbrel still can’t quite get it together, will Evan Phillips move towards the closer’s role? Phillips has been dominate this season, usually in the high leverage spots, allowing only four runs in the 47 games he’s appeared in.

As the Dodgers move closer to the playoffs, the pitching of the relievers will work itself out. It just remains to be seen whether the team Kimbrel gets himself together, or if the team turns to a closer by committee, maybe even incorporating pitchers that were once starters, like they did with Julio Urías in the 2020 World Series. Stay tuned.

16 thoughts on “Thoughts About the Dodgers’ Closer Situation

  1. Kimbrel is a two pitch reliever – fastball, curve. I’ve seen him pitch only twice this season. Both times his pitches which began going toward the strike zone had so much movement that they were out of the zone by the time they reached the plate. If that is the case, he may be then taking something off his fastball for better control, but that makes it more hittable. Catch 22 – better control, more hittable.
    Looking at the underlyng numbers, he has clearly been unlucky. His FIP and SIERA both say his ERA is strongly inflated. But those numbers are over all 2022 innings. For a reliever only one bad pitch can yield a bad outing. The other numbers that stand out are his fastball is slower than anytime in his career, and hitters are making contact inside and outside the strikezone at a very high rate compared to his career norms.
    We saw Jansen/Dodger coaches remake Jansen in the middle of last season. Kimbrel’s problems were visible in Chicago. Certainly the Dodger braintrust had a plan for his improvement in LA. But it is not clear what the remake on Kimbrel needs to be.
    I’d be happy to read what anyone else’s deep dive says.

  2. Kimbrel is definitely a concern as well as management making a possible change to someone else or not. My other concern is the Mets and likely hood of facing deGrom and Scherzer possibly twice each in a 7 game series.

    1. Facing deGrom and Scherzer twice each in a 7 game series is nothing to look forward to, but the odds that both are healthy for the playoffs are not all that great, especially deGrom. Meanwhile the Mets have had Walker and Carrasco each go down with injury in the last couple of days.

      It might be that we would have to face their 5th or 6th best starter for 3 games (which we could win) and then only beat deGrom/Scherzer once out of 4 games.

      1. Jeff: That is a reason to look at the season as two almost unconnected seasons. During the 162 game season good hitting beats pitching. That’s because at least 40% of the time, hitters are facing the other team’s 4th, 5th, or worse starters and the other team’s best relievers only late in the game. In the playoffs, teams can optimize use of their best 3 starters. Since those starters typically can go deeper into the game, that allows the teams to use fewer of their poor relievers. So good pitching beats good hitting. The team that has prepared to make that transition into postseason has a real advantage. The Dodgers should be already planning how to prepare their staff for that transition. Your best regular season roster is not necessarily your best playoff roster. It’s going to be fun to see how the Dodgers prepare.

      2. The Dodgers will have a harder time than usual determining their three best starters. Urias is a known quantity and he’s certainly one of them. But then you have Gonsolin, who has been great, but has also pitched far more innings than he ever has. And Anderson who is pitching far better than he ever has, even though he’s been around for quite a while. Or is Kershaw one of your three best, even though his playoff record is not spectacular and his back could go out on him at any time? Or maybe May, who might have the best potential, but is just now coming back from injury and does not have along track record in any case.

        I say, just have Kimbrel start every game. That would eliminate any possibility of using him as the closer.

      3. Waldo that is exactly why the regular season record means very little, especially the dodgers playing.half the games against below 500 teams. The batters play against poor pitching and pitchers play against poor hitters in most of division games. It’s one of the reasons we don’t do well in post season, the past 10 years. I often wonder if we would even make the post season if we played in american league east playing half our games against those 4 teams. Houston has been in a very similar situation with very weak teams.

      4. Gordon: That is a very interesting assertion. I’ve been playing around this morning with player and team stats that could predict how 26 Dodger players would perform in the AL and against likely AL opponents. Tough nut to crack, but I may learn something new.

  3. A little redemption for Kimbrel last night. Still a rollercoaster ride, but we got the win.

  4. Unless the bats wake up ASAP they are going to lose this one. Heaney gives up two no doubt bombs to McCutcheon.

  5. Good luck with that Waldo. I’m a numbers guy, but that would be beyond me. But you’ll find im right. You just can’t compare teams in really bad divisions to teams in strong divisions. Records/ numbers mean little over 162 games.

  6. I’m not trying to find if you are right or wrong. Intuitively you should be right. I’m just trying to see if it can be supported. It’s a lot easier as far as number crunching because the DH is in both leagues. And the difference between division and leagues can be adjusted by a constant. I’ve can do it with pitching. That’s because we know how to evaluate a lot about pitching that is situation independent. But hitting is more multivariable situation dependent and may be impossible to yield a satisfying answer.

    1. I’m just impressed. Although I have no idea what you said in the last 2 sentences
      I’m sure Jeff will explain it to me.

      1. It’s all about the variables, Gordon, it’s all about the variables.
        Or it could be about the situationals.
        I’m not ashamed to admit that Waldo has left me in the dust.
        If they had told me that you had to be smart to be a Dodger fan I would never have signed up.

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