By Jon Weisman
The bullpen was the Dodgers’ biggest problem last year? Why hasn’t anything been done about that?
Actually, quite a bit has been done. Including the playoffs, the 2014 Dodger bullpen threw 498 innings. Pitchers who threw 236 of those innings — 47 percent — are not with the team in 2015.
OK, but the bullpen is still a huge Achilles heel. Why isn’t it any better?
Actually, it is better. Even before Friday’s game (2 1/3 innings, two unearned runs, three hits, no walks, five strikeouts), the 2015 Dodger bullpen had outperformed last year’s.
OK, but saying it’s better still isn’t saying much. It’s still not good.
Let’s see. It’s the No. 1 bullpen in baseball in wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs. Through Thursday’s games, no bullpen had a better strikeout rate, and only the Cardinals had a lower rate in home runs allowed.
In terms of WHIP, the Dodger bullpen ranked ninth out of 30 teams — not ideal, but certainly solid.
Now, in percentage of runners stranded on base, Los Angeles was 21st (73.2 percent), and that’s essentially where the problem is. Not very many baserunners get on, but when they do get on, they tend to score more often than most other teams allow.
You can argue that the Dodger bullpen isn’t great. It’s harder to argue that it isn’t good, and even more so to say that it’s below average. Even if a quarter of the runners who reach base are scoring, that total number who score compares quite favorably to the rest of the big leagues.
OK, but “good” isn’t good enough. Not when you plan on winning a World Series. The front office should have done more to fix the bullpen.
No one’s suggesting that the Dodgers should settle for anything less than the best possible roster. Putting aside the fact that the front office has done everything in the world to show that it’s not done tinkering with the team, it’s easy to say that more should have been done, but a lot harder to be precise about who should have been acquired.
Andrew Miller of the Yankees is one obvious name, but even Miller is on the disabled list now. And for every Andrew Miller, there’s a Craig Kimbrel. San Diego swooped in and got Kimbrel from the Braves, only for him to produce a WHIP (1.30) worse than the average Dodger pitcher and an LOB% (73.6) that’s equal.
That’s not to say Kimbrel won’t improve as the season goes on — his uncharacteristic .353 batting average by opponents on balls in play suggests as much. But that’s not the exercise, is it? The question is, why isn’t the Dodger bullpen better now?
No doubt, there’s a perfect bullpen combination out there, just like there’s a perfect way to fill out your March Madness bracket. But given how few reliably great relievers come on the market each year and how fickle relief pitching is from year to year, it’s a fallacy to suggest that there was an obvious way to build a better bullpen than the one the Dodgers have on June 13, 2015.
But hey, maybe I’m wrong. You know what the Dodgers should do for the bullpen, this year or next, don’t keep it a secret. Let me know.