Is the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen good?
There probably has not been a more polarizing question amongst over the past four or five seasons than this. Despite the fact that the team’s bullpen has the fourth-best ERA in baseball since 2015, it seems like the Dodgers’ relief pitchers are always a sore spot in the minds of fans.
And, well, it’s safe to say 2019 doesn’t figure to be any different.
Thus far, the Dodgers are 8-6. At least four of those losses have been credited to the bullpen. Of those games, three belong to newcomer Joe Kelly, who has been an unmitigated disaster from the start.
After signing a three-year, $25 million contract, Kelly was expected to be the guy who would fortify the back of the bullpen alongside Kenley Jansen. So far, however, Kelly has been the one in need of fortification.
He’s allowed nine earned runs and had 14 of 31 batters faced reach base in six innings pitched over five appearances.
But it’s not just Kelly who has struggled. Brock Stewart and Yimi Garcia are right there with him, both sporting ERAs over 10 after allowing a combined 15 earned runs in 9.2 innings.
And yet, here’s the thing: it’s not all bad.
If you asked some what they thought of the Dodgers bullpen, the answer will almost assuredly be negative. But what about the relief pitchers who have made positive contributions?
Jansen — the team’s most important reliever — has yet to allow a run in 5.1 innings over five appearances. Caleb Ferguson? No earned runs in seven appearances. Dylan Floro? No earned runs in five appearances.
Pedro Baez was at two earned runs in six appearances (eight innings) before combusting in the series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals.
So what’s the point?
The Dodgers bullpen has always been about strength via depth. They’re not the team to feature three closer-level relievers who were signed for massive amounts of money. Instead, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman puts together a group of 10 to 12 pitchers that float between the Minors and Majors until the team find the seven they can trust most.
At the moment, they’ve got four who fit that description, but more help is coming soon. When Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill return, the bullpen will probably add Ross Stripling (who was excellent as a reliever before returning to the rotation last season) and Julio Urias (depending on what happens with Hyun-Jin Ryu).
In addition, the Dodgers recently recalled Dennis Santana (one of the team’s best pitching prospects) and JT Chargois (who had a 3.34 ERA in 39 appearances last season). Though, Chargois was then optioned out in favor of Jaime Schutlz.
In the end, the Dodgers are a team built to win in October. And when it comes to the bullpen, their only goal should be spending the next five months figuring out which seven relief pitchers can be trusted.
With the four who have already emerged, can they find three more? My bet is yes.