Dodgers Bullpen: More Thoughts on the 2023 Closer Role

For the first time in what could be decades, the Los Angeles Dodgers will apparently begin regular season play without a designated closer. Of course, this idea could change as the year progresses — or even by the end of Cactus League play. But, for now, all indications are the team will employ a closer-by-committee strategy that enables the coaching staff to utilize the bullpen more on specific matchups rather than a role-by-inning approach.

Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reported the news on Saturday, stating that the primary goal of management is having the flexibility to maximize relief pitcher strengths against opposing hitter weaknesses.

“I don’t think it’s a necessity,” front-office boss Andrew Friedman said to Plunkett on having a designated ninth-inning guy. “I think the most important question to answer is whether you think our bullpen is going to be really good, and we do. And then it’s about the mindset of each one of those guys, keeping them in the best headspace to go out and have a lot of success.”

Craig Kimbrel’s 2022 Closing Woes

The Dodgers used righty reliever Craig Kimbrel as their primary closer for most of last year until the veteran’s inconsistency and loss of command finally became a liability for the club late in the regular season. Kimbrel finished the year with a poor 3.75 ERA and 1.317 WHIP, prompting management to exclude him from the NLDS roster altogether.

The 34-year-old, eight-time All-Star ultimately landed a job just before the holidays with the Philadelphia Phillies for the upcoming season on a one-year, $10 million deal.

After Kimbrel was bumped from the roster for the playoffs, the Dodgers used an approach that enabled them to employ their higher leverage guys — like Evan Phillips, Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia — in innings when facing the toughest part of the opposing batting order.

Evan Phillips, Yency Almonte and Alex Vesia

The righty Philips led the universe in relief stats lasts year with astronomical numbers, including a 1.14 ERA and a 0.762 WHIP over an even 63 innings pitched. He was the Dodgers’ go-to reliever for what seemed to be the entire season and the playoffs, appearing in the toughest game spots regardless of inning.

Although the right-handed Almonte spent approximately two months on the shelf with elbow issues, he still put up the best numbers of his career with a 1.02 ERA and a 0.792 WHIP over 35-1/3 innings.

Vesia, a southpaw, wasn’t far behind with an impressive 2.15 ERA and a 2.12 FIP in 63 appearances. The team used Vesia in situations against strings of lefty batters, while depending on him more against righty hitters than in previous seasons.

2023 Outlook

Almonte has struggled with lingering issues from his elbow and still hasn’t seen any Cactus League action this spring, although team officials still believe he is still on track to make the Opening Day roster. Veteran righty Daniel Hudson, who is recovering from ankle tendinitis and a torn ACL from last year, could join the club before the onset of summer.

Obviously, the closer-by-committee mindset could change as the season progresses, especially if the club targets a legitimate closer through a trade at any point before the summer deadline. There have been whispers that veteran righty Blake Treinen could be healthy enough to return at some point in the season, but it would be foolish for the organization to bank on any type of contribution.

For now, fans can expect to see guys like Phillips, Almonte, Vesia, Caleb Ferguson and Brusdar Graterol face opposing batters in the highest leverage situations.

3 thoughts on “Dodgers Bullpen: More Thoughts on the 2023 Closer Role

  1. I have absolutely no problem with not having a defined “closer”. Use your guys in the spots they can be most effective for that particular game.

    If they actually use that strategy all year long and it works, I can bet you that other teams will start adopting it.

    1. Agree. Always wondered why teams use their best reliever as a closer, rather then in real pressure situations often earlier in the game. Hard to think of the 9th inning, bottom of the order with nobody on base as a pressure situation compared to 8th inning, runner on second and middle of the order coming up.

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