With the non-waiver trade deadline essentially 24 hours away, the one thing you’ll hear seemingly on repeat is this: the Los Angeles Dodgers need bullpen help.
But is it true?
It seems that even if the Dodgers did need reinforcements in the bullpen, the answer they’re looking for might be in the clubhouse already. Consider where the Dodgers stand at the moment.
At the back of the bullpen is Kenley Jansen, who has nine saves (12 appearances) in the past 30 days with a 2.03 ERA over that stretch. In front of Jansen has been Scott Alexander — one of the team’s offseason acquisitions — who has an even better 1.43 ERA over the last 30 days (13 appearances).
Since posting a 6.35 ERA in March and April, it appears as if Alexander has settled into the role the Dodgers envisioned for him.
But what do the Dodgers have beyond Alexander and Jansen?
Aside from Daniel Hudson, who has been dreadful (6.23 ERA in 11 games), the next two relievers on the depth chart seem to be J.T. Chargois and Caleb Ferguson. Chargois has a 1.35 ERA in his last eight appearances to go with nine strikeouts and just two hits allowed.
Meanwhile, Ferguson has thrown 20 innings in relief the last month while pitching to 1.35 ERA with an absurd 25 strikeouts against two walks over that stretch.
At the moment, the bullpen is rounded out by the likes of Pedro Baez and Erik Goeddel. Zac Rosscup and Dylan Floro were also part of the picture but have since been placed on the disabled list and optioned, respectively.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t include Tony Cingrani and Josh Fields, both of whom remain on the DL but are expected back by the season’s end.
But of all these names, the one that is most interesting to me is Ferguson, and here’s why: what Ferguson shows (and what the team’s usage of Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling in the past has shown) is that the Dodgers have the ability to maximize the potential of starters within a relief role.
And the reason this is significant is because the Dodgers are about to have far too many starters. Here are the starting pitchers currently on the 40-man roster (or disabled list): Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Maeda, Stripling, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu (DL) and Julio Urias (DL).
Ryu is expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment this week, while Urias is inching closer to a rehab assignment.
If all those pitchers were to be healthy at once, however of a long shot that may be, they Dodgers would have three more starters than they needed (not even including Ferguson). Meaning, three more powerful arms that could be exploited in a bullpen role.
For some of the aforementioned names, it would be nothing new. Stripling began the season in the bullpen and posted a 0.59 ERA in 15.1 innings. Maeda, of course, was dominant in relief throughout the postseason last year.
Wood has 46.1 innings of relief experience in his career going back to 2013 — and has posted a 2.53 ERA with more than one strikeout per inning. Finally, there’s Urias, who’s expected to rejoin the team in a relief role — something he did in 2016 with some effectiveness.
While it’s impossible to ever assume that this group of starters will ever be healthy all at once, the point is that it’s possible the solution the Dodger bullpen needs come October is already right in front of them.
Alexander has been really good lately, but not good enough to be a reliable setup man come the postseason. But what if Maeda could assume that role? What if Stripling returns to the bullpen alongside Urias and Alexander becomes your third- or fourth-best reliever?
The Dodgers didn’t need Manny Machado, but they went and got him because they could. I think the same type of scenario has presented itself in the bullpen: the Dodgers don’t need a reliever if they’re willing to move some of their pitchers around.
Now, whether or not that means they’ll stay put and stick with this group? We’ll see.
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