Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Myth and reality about the Dodger bullpen

St.Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers

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.


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  1. oldbrooklynfan

    Leading the division by 2 1/2 games as of June 13th, could say that the bullpen isn’t doing too bad.

  2. Great article Jon, but there is one glaring omission and may be the reason why the “perception” is that we have a crappy Bullpen. Maybe it’s in the way that Donnie deploys them. There’s been a handful of times this year when I wondered why he left someone in… of course it’s monday morning quarterbacking, but I wonder if you can gather up a stat that would show blow saves/blown wins (is that a stat?), and the pitcher that came in after. I wonder what the stats would be for that pitcher that replaced the “blower”.

    • Jon Weisman

      It’s pointless to do without a comparison to how other teams fare. I’m confident the the fans’ tendency to lay so much at Mattingly’s feet is overdone. Last night was a perfect example – fans were complaining that Kershaw was pulled too soon and left in too long.

      Think about it: Does it really pass the logic test that the Dodger bullpen problems would be solved if Mattingly just used different players at different moments? Do you really think baseball is that simple and logical?

  3. @Benzo your are correct. One thing is to have the arms the other thing is how you use them. We have a manager who doesn’t believe a relief pitcher can pitch more than one inning, nor that your best reliever should pitch any inning except the 9th.

    That mentality makes a finicky bullpen even more finicky. And you set up a situation where a complete novice end up in the most critical situation instead of your biggest gun and he gives up the cataclysmic HR which flushes the entire season down the sewer.

    And remember history tends to repeat itself.

    On the above stats the key question is why are those runners on base scoring at a high % given the good strikeout rate. Wild pitches, pass balls, errors, mental mistakes (like Agon’s the other night)?

    Bullpens are finicky!

  4. Maybe the Dodger bullpen isn’t QUITE as bad as many of us think. But the fact that Fangraphs states that its Wins Above Replacement is NUMBER ONE IN ALL OF BASEBALL (?!!!) tells us all we need to know about Wins Above Replacement.

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