The state of the Dodger bullpen

Dodger bullpen losses since April 17
April 17: Guerra allows two in bottom of ninth at Milwaukee.
April 18: Guerrier allows one in bottom of 10th at Milwaukee.
April 24: Guerra allows one in top of ninth vs. Atlanta.
April 25: Guerra allows three in top of ninth vs. Atlanta.
May 2: Wright, Elbert allow three in bottom of ninth at Colorado.

In their past 16 games, the Dodgers have gone 8-8. Five of those eight losses since April 17 have come in the ninth or 10th innings, and another, Friday’s 5-4 defeat against Chicago, came after Dodger relievers allowed a key run in their first inning of work.

Dodger relievers have a 4.38 ERA this season (compared to the starters’ 3.13) and have allowed 44 percent (17 of 39) of inherited runners to score. Last year, Dodger relievers had a 3.92 ERA, and 33 percent of their inherited runners scored.

It might be natural to conclude from this that the bullpen is a disaster. It’s not, but it has definitely shaped the Dodgers’ .500 play of late.

Two veterans – Todd Coffey and Mike MacDougal – have been almost completely ineffective, with MacDougal losing his job after only 5 2/3 innings this year. (Ken Gurnick of MLB.com writes that MacDougal never found his command after batting a finger injury and the flu.) Coffey, for that matter, has only pitched 2 2/3 innings himself in 2012.

A younger pitcher, 26-year-old Scott Elbert, has allowed opponents to go 12 for 27 with two home runs and three walks, for a 1.204 OPS – something close to a Matt Kemp figure. Left-handed batters are 5 for 13 with a home run and a walk (1.159 OPS).

On the bright side, Josh Lindblom and Kenley Jansen have been nearly flawless this season. Each has had two disappointing games – and yet the Dodgers have won every one of them. Lindblom allowed two inherited Padres to tie the game April 15 and gave up three runs against Colorado May 1, but neither outing cost the Dodgers a victory. Jansen has held opponents scoreless in 13 of 14 games since Opening Day, the only blemish being the two-run home run he surrendered to the Padres on April 13 – another game that the Dodgers pulled out in the end.

In addition, Jamey Wright, with the exception of his ninth-inning defeat Wednesday, has been useful.

That leaves us with Guerra, the pitcher who has done the most to shape the current perception of the bullpen.  Guerra began the year with six consecutive scoreless appearances, and even after his first blown save at Milwaukee, came back to retire the side in order with two strikeouts in each of his next two games.  Two weeks ago, Guerra had a 2.16 ERA, 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings and an opponents’ OPS of .450.

Then Guerra lost two games on consecutive nights against Atlanta, taking a line drive to the chin in one, before giving up another ninth-inning run in a victory over Washington, and suddenly he was dogmeat.

This should tell you something obvious – and not that Guerra doesn’t have the stuff to pitch in the ninth inning. It never fails that any late-inning failure will be seen by a huge number of fans as an inability to pitch in that particular stage of the game. There probably aren’t five people in the world who can tell you how Dodger batters hit in the ninth inning – so-called “clutch performance” at the plate has never been tied to a single inning, but rather late innings. But when it comes to relievers, there’s this vast perceived gulf between the eighth and the ninth – a gulf that, it seems safe to say, can be blamed on the invention of the save stat and the idea that any time you allow a tying or winning run to score in a save situation is inexcusable. Somehow, it’s lost that runs allowed in the seventh and eighth innings hurt your chances of winning as much as runs allowed in the ninth.

No, what Guerra’s season-to-date should tell you is how much one bad week can wreck a reliever’s resume, especially this early in the season. Again, compare this to hitters, or even starting pitchers. You would never take a bad week and let that be your verdict on a player who wasn’t a relief pitcher, not if you were a sentient human.  But, especially in the first part of a season, that’s exactly what’s being done with Guerra if you’ve lost faith in him.

There has always been some doubt about how good Guerra will be, but 60 games into his major-league career, even with the struggles of recent days, Guerra has a 2.95 ERA, 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings and an opponents’ OPS of .643. The next Mariano Rivera he isn’t, but he does seem to have some real talent (regardless, if this needs to be said, of what inning he pitches in).

One month isn’t enough to tell you how good a bullpen is. It doesn’t mean the losses don’t hurt – it’s amazing to think that Los Angeles could be 22-4 if Dodger relievers had been able to pitch just a little more scoreless ball. However, the fact that the Dodgers have come back to score their own late-inning rallies should be all you need to know about the imperfections of bullpens ’round the country.

Maybe Coffey or Elbert won’t get it together this season. Maybe someone like Shawn Tolleson (1.47 ERA, 11.9 K/9 in 55 innings at Double-A Chattanooga in 2011-12) could help the team now. And who knows what Ronald Belisario will bring? But you can’t say right now that any of the current Dodger relievers won’t be good over the course of the 2012 season. You also can’t say that one of the good ones won’t suddenly lose it. It’s all a matter of educated guesses at this point.

Guerra came back on Tuesday to save the Dodgers’ 7-6 victory at Colorado, two of the outs coming after a one-out single and A.J. Ellis’ passed ball put the tying run in scoring position. What does that tell you? Basically, nothing.

Dodgers at Cubs, 10:10 a.m.
Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
James Loney, 1B
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P
  • Anonymous

    Jamie not Jaret.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Actually, Jamey not Jamie. 

  • Anonymous

    Our first chance to blame Bobby Abreu for a loss of a game in its entirety!

  • Anonymous

    That was ugly, but it looks as if all popups and flyballs could be adventures today.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Hairston needed to get out of Gordon’s way after he called for it. Bad play and shouldn’t be an error on Gordon. 

    • Anonymous

       Agreed, but I’m not sure the scoring rules permit any other option.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

        I know, though if Hairston punched Gordon in the stomach just as the ball hit Gordon’s glove, I’d like to think Hairston would get the error. 

  • http://profiles.google.com/michaelgreen327 Michael Green

    My confession:  even when I liked Guerrier, I didn’t like him.  Elbert, truthfully, never made much of an impression on me.  I don’t see Guerra’s situation as failure so much as a slump, something mechanical, or perhaps an injury he’s keeping to himself.  But as I’ve said before, pitchers have slumps, just as hitters do.  He may need a few days off, so to speak, and let Jansen do the closing, but I think he’ll be fine.

    • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

      Guerra has pitched one inning in the past seven days, when he got the save on Tuesday.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! They don’t seem to be seeing the ball.

  • Anonymous

    Which way is the wind blowing?

    • Anonymous

      They haven’t shown the flags, but with the fog I am guessing that there is little or no wind.

      • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

        Wind seemed to affect the two pop-ups in the first inning. 

        • Anonymous

          You are probably right, though the announcers seemed to be suggesting that they were having trouble judging them because of the fog.

    • Anonymous

      I’ve been told I don’t need a weatherman to know that information.

      • Anonymous

        I was just channeling my inner Vin Scully.  Per Vinny when you go to Wrigley the first thing you do is look at the flags to see which way the “wind” is blowing. :) 

  • Anonymous

    Liverpool just scored.
    Chelsea 2 – 1 Liverpool 1

  • Anonymous

    In the end, a good AB by Treanor, but Volstad did throw him five balls prior to the sac fly.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Caupano ripped that. 

    • Anonymous

       I think he surprised everybody, including himself.

  • Anonymous

    Liverpool so close to the second goal

  • Anonymous

    I’ve said it before, but I’ll repeat it: it’s getting harder to second-guess Ned’s signing of Capuano.

    • Anonymous

      So you’re starting to second-guess your own second-guessing?

      • Anonymous

        I never thought he was terrible, but I can’t say I was wildly enthusiastic about him. And he could still revert to the mean.

        • Jibin Park

          After today’s performance, I picked up Capuano after having dropped him earlier on this year in my fantasy baseball league.  

  • Anonymous

    Chris Capuano hadn’t driven in a run in 5 years. The last time he did so, Noah Lowry was the pitcher.

  • Anonymous

    Controversy.  Did Andy Carroll score?  Great save by Cech!  I think the officials got it right.
    Still Chelsea 2 – 1 Liverpool

    • Anonymous

      99% of the ball over the line is not enough.

  • Anonymous

    Stupid wind.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    399-foot out for Kemp. 

    • Anonymous

      Toward left or right field?

      • Anonymous

         Dead center.

    • Anonymous

       That darn wind!

  • Anonymous

    Free kick for Liverpool just outside of the box!!!

    • Anonymous

      Turned into a corner

  • Anonymous

    Final minute of life for Liverpool

  • Anonymous

    Congrats to Chelsea!!!!
    Winners of the FA Cup

  • Anonymous

    The Dodgers are halfway to the team record for most sacrifice flies in a game.

    • Anonymous

       My softball team once had three in an inning.

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    I’ve never seen an ejection induce more laughs in the dugout than Ted Lilly’s ejection just now. 

    • http://dxmachina.livejournal.com/ DXMachina

      I would really love to know what he said.

      • Anonymous

         Perhaps he said that, if the umpire had one more eye, he’d be a Cyclops.

    • http://www.linkmeister.com/wordpress/ Linkmeister

       Oh, so that’s what that was all about. It wasn’t clear from what Mom told me, as she missed something. What did Lilly say/do, has anyone figured it out yet?

    • Anonymous

      It looks as if the umpire made a real fool of himself.

    • Anonymous

       The ball was at Abreu’s ankles. That itself induced laugh from my livingroom

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    Scott Elbert trying to fix his slider.
    http://atmlb.com/J51bFc

  • Anonymous

    Seven innings has been his max this year.  At close to 100 pitches.  Li’l Belli today?

  • Anonymous

    Nice grab!

  • Anonymous

    I demand instant replay!

  • Anonymous

    The Solution!

  • Anonymous

    Very encouraging inning from Belisario.

    • Anonymous

      Had the movement and got the groundballs.

      • Anonymous

        Also got the K on really nasty movement.

  • Jibin Park

    Guerra in to finish out the game?

  • http://www.dodgerthoughts.com/ Jon Weisman

    NPUT

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carl-Beury/1668946851 Carl Beury

    Please keep in mind that if relief pitchers were really any good, they would be starters.  Guerra will be fine, just had a bit of a slump.  But it has been the back end of the pen that has been a disappointment, with Elbert, Coffey, and MacDougal, since DFAd, underperforming.  Wright has been a pleasant surprise, but like Capuano, will see if he can perform at a high level the entire season.

  • Anonymous

    I wish God made hamstrings stronger.