Long a strength of the Los Angeles Dodgers and this front office has officially become a real cause for concern. Through 127.1 innings of relief, the bullpen has an ERA of 4.52 — good for 21st in the Majors.
For many teams, this wouldn’t be too far off the norm, I suppose. But the Dodgers are coming off back-to-back seasons in which their bullpen finished with an ERA among the top five in all of baseball (first in 2016; fourth in 2017).
Add into the equation that the Dodgers entered the season with what they assumed was one of the league’s top closers in Kenley Jansen and a strong group of returners that had been bolstered by the additions of Scott Alexander and JT Chargois.
But, well, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. Jansen is the team’s second-worst reliever according to WAR thanks to an ERA of 4.97 and just three perfect appearances in 13 tries.
Then there’s Alexander — who was acquired in a three-team trade that sent Luis Avilan and prospect Trevor Oaks elsewhere — who has actually been worse than Jansen (6.35 ERA in 11 appearances).
In fact, if you look at a ranking of the Dodger relievers according to WAR you’d be surprised to note who’s at the top: Ross Stripling, who was just moved into the starting rotation, and Pedro Baez.
And just to point out how pitiful this group has been: third on the list is Tony Cingrani, who has been downright dreadful of late with a 6.23 ERA.
To make matters even worse, take a look at the performance of the relievers who aren’t here anymore. Of the Dodgers’ top 10 relievers from last season, three left this offseason — two via free agency and one via trade. And, well, you might want to close your eyes for this.
Brandon Morrow, who was signed by the Cubs for two years and $21 million, has a 1.50 ERA in 13 appearances (including seven saves), while Avilan has a 3.60 ERA in 15 appearances for the Chicago White Sox — numbers that aren’t mind-blowing, but which would be more than welcomed in Los Angeles.
The third big loss from last season’s group was Tony Watson, who has a 0.57 ERA in 15 appearances for San Francisco. Watson signed a two-year deal with the Giants for just $7 million.
Of course, it’s worth noting that this past offseason was marked by frugality with an eye towards the future. The only real free agent signing the Dodgers brought in was Tom Koehler (one year, $2 million) — who promptly injured his shoulder and remains on the 60-Day disabled list without having seen the field yet this season.
As you put all of this together, it’s clear that as far as the bullpen goes, the last 4-6 months could not have gone any worse for the Dodgers. They bet on their returning relievers maintaining last year’s levels (or improving) — and they haven’t.
They bet on the fact that they could survive without Morrow, Avilan and Watson — which hasn’t worked out. And they bet on Koehler filling one of those holes — only he hasn’t even pitched yet.
With all this gloom-and-doom it’s fair to ask whether there’s hope on the horizon for this group, and my answer is as pessimistic as it has been in a long time. Jansen is a mess. Cingrani, who I felt great about at the end of last season and the beginning of this season, seems to have fallen off a cliff.
The rotation is so depleted that the team’s best reliever is no longer a reliever (Stripling). And finally, there really aren’t any young, impact arms waiting in the Minors who could reasonably be expected to make a massive difference.
As it stands, the team’s best hope is to make a move on the trade market, but even that is unlikely this far out from the trade deadline. And at this rate, it’s fair to wonder whether the Dodgers could be struggling enough to where the front office decides not to be buyers at the deadline? It’s unlikely, but definitely not impossible.
If the Dodgers are going to turn things around in 2018 — especially without Corey Seager for the season and Justin Turner or Clayton Kershaw for the immediate future, they’re going to need some help from their bullpen. Whether or not they can expect that, however, remains to be seen.