The Dilemma (?) of Dodger Relievers

Yesterday, e-6 and Hawkeye were commenting on the relief pitching (or maybe lack thereof) that seems to be coming to LA this upcoming week.  When I thought there were going to be only 7 relievers I listed Kenley, Alexander, Baez, Cingrani, Fields, Stripling, and Chargois as the 7.  Now that it is back to 8 (at least for right now), I agree with Ken Gurnick that Font will be #8.

 

This off-season, FAZ’s 2 big acquisitions were for relief pitching; Tom Koehler (FA) as the heir apparent to Joe Blanton and Brandon Morrow, and Scott Alexander via trade for fan favorite Trevor Oaks, and Luis Avilan.  IMO Kemp was a salary dump acquisition, and even FAZ did not believe he would be on the team come March 29, so I choose to make my literary prerogative and exclude that transaction in this discussion.

 

When e-6 commented that he was not excited about Scott Alexander, I chuckled and agreed saying to myself (I do that a lot), that I have not been excited for the last 3-4 games with him.  Alexander is a supposed ground ball specialist but he is giving up a lot of batted balls with air underneath them.  In his last outing against the Angels, in his 1 inning he gave up 2 line drives (1 for an out and 1 for a double), 2 K’s, and the one ground ball that he did get was a RBI single by Mike Trout.  It wasn’t that Trout got an RBI single, as he will do that against the best of MLB pitchers all year, but it was that there was not a single ground ball out.  He was so consistent with his ground ball outs last year that I am hoping that come Thursday, he finds that groundball pitch again.  Or maybe 2017 was the outlier.  Right now, I do not see an upgrade of Alexander over Avilan, much less throw in Oaks to complete the transaction.  I am comfortable with waiting for the regular season to see if things get better for the newcomer.  Changing teams is not always easy.

 

This discussion about the lack of relief pitching has been so prevalent for the last few years.  How long have Dodger fans lamented about the lack of that lock down 8th inning guy?  The Dodgers did not have that guy two years ago, and yet Joe Blanton assumed that role and was fairly good until he tired in the playoffs.  Same thing last year, until FAZ finally listened to me and brought Brandon Morrow up to finally take that role, and he excelled.  This year who is going to assume that role? I believe the thinking was that FAZ could catch lighting in a bottle again with Tom Koehler.  He still may be, but not until he is healthy.  I know there are many on here (and throughout the Dodger blogs) that have less than zero confidence in Koehler.  But many had that same confidence level in both Blanton and Morrow.

 

Of course there were many nay-sayers about Andrew Miller until Tito Francona told him to go into the bullpen and prepare to be a multi-inning reliever because he was no longer a MLB starting pitcher.  Miller had only 1 believer in him (outside of his family), and that was Tito Francona.  I am not ready to anoint Ross Stripling as the next Andrew Miller, but he has shown that he can come in to non-closing high leverage situations and shut down an opponent.  Just like Miller, Stripling will not be a lock down 8th inning setup guy.  But maybe he is the guy to come into the 5th or 6th inning, stop a rally, pitch another inning, and turn it over to the late inning relievers.  Reading comments from fans about Stripling (mostly on other sites) I know I am in the minority, but I like Ross Stripling, and I think he can be a very effective reliever.  Many harken back to Ross’ MLB debut when he took a no-no into the 8th against the Giants before he was taken out and Chris Hatcher blew yet another save.  The Dodgers went on to lose that game, but Ross Stripling came of age.  However, I choose to think back to April 7, 2017 in Colorado.  The Rockies had just gone ahead of the Dodgers 2-1 in the 5th and with runners on 1st and 3rd and Nolan Arenado coming up, Doc took Ryu out and brought in Stripling.  Stripling went on to completely overwhelm Arenado and strike him out with a high fastball.  Stripling then went on to pitch the 6th, and retire the side in order, but the Dodgers could not come back and lost the game 2-1.  That is where I think Ross Stripling has value.

 

I also do not share the disdain (by many) for Josh Fields.  In 3 ST games he has pitched 3 perfect innings with 2 K’s.  Yes I know very small sample size.  But last year, Josh was 5-0 in 57 IP with a .965 WHIP, 15 BB and 60K.  His one problem was the 10 HR’s he allowed.  I think a lot of pitchers had that problem last year (right Clayton?).  But looking at it in more detail, five of those HR’s came in six games in June when he was just plain bad.  But before and after June he was very good.  He allowed 0 HR’s in April (9 games), 1 in May (12 games), 1 in July (10 games), 1 in August (10 games), and 2 in September (10 games).  The 2 in September came on September 4, a 13-0 blowout from the DBacks.  We all remember that time of year when all of the Dodgers were bad.  Following that September 4 game, Fields pitched 9 additional games with 9 IP, allowed 1 ER on 5 hits, 1 walk, and 10 K’s.  I know it is not perfect as some fans insist on, but I would be happy with a pitcher who did that in September.  Not every reliever has to be the 2016 version of Zach Britton.

 

I am also pretty high on J. T. Chargois who is finally healthy.  I do not believe there was a GM in MLB who did not believe in J.T.’s arm or ability to pitch.  His ability to stay healthy? …yes.  Sound familiar Brandon Morrow?  In 8 ST games, he has 8 IP, has allowed 2 hits and 1 run, with 3 BB and 10K, and a .625 WHIP.  No he is not Kenley, but what has he done this Spring to not show at least some confidence in him?

 

Tony Cingrani seems to pitch himself into trouble this Spring, but then pitch himself out of it.  I still believe that Tony is a legit LHRP, and will be very effective (especially against LH hitters) this year.

 

The two that are questionable are Pedro Baez and Wilmer Font (which disappoints me).  I have less than zero confidence in Pedro Baez, and I only remain hopeful that Font can show at the ML level what he did at AAA, and what Matt Herges saw in him.  Maybe he is another Chris Hatcher. He will have a very short leash with Pat Venditte, Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore, Edward Paredes, and Joe Broussard all chomping at the bit in OKC.  I do not know why 1-Pitch Baez continues to get looks.  In 6.2 IP this Spring, he has 1 BB.  Normally that is reason to cheer.  But when all you have is one pitch, and it is always around the plate, what ML hitter wouldn’t want to face him.

 

The one thing I have learned about FAZ is that they will tinker with the bullpen until they are happy with it.  Maybe that will take until June.  But just like the sun comes up in the East, Dodger fans will bitch and moan about the relief pitching in April, and by the summer will finally stop complaining out loud.

 

One final thought…Mark and I have consistently urged for the Dodgers to shake some sense into Brock Stewart and permanently move him to the pen.  Maybe the best thing for Stewart is to get traded to Cleveland so Tito can give him that Andrew Miller speech.

Posted by Always Compete

This article has 20 Comments

  1. Just one thought on Alexander. He is pitching in AZ. His sinker may not work as well in the light air.

    The one I will be upset, if he is on the team is Joc. He will be a bench player. You cannot use him as a pinch hitter because he cannot hit. He needs to go back to AAA to figure out his problems. The majors is not the place to tinker with his hitting.

    Baez reminds me of Hatcher and I did not like Hatcher. Chargois looks good. He could be our 8 th inning reliever. Clayton looks ready let it begin.

  2. Baez’ troubles have been well documented and discussed here. Josh Fields is another matter. Josh was essentially a faster-working Pedro Baez last year. Look at his career numbers though, and he is worse than Baez.

    In 235 career innings he has walked 85 and given up 26 HR. His 1st season in LA he had a WHIP of over 1.4 – last year it was below 1.0, but this was an outlier season. His career WHIP is over 1.2. His career WAR after 5 seasons is .9, which was also his WAR last year, meaning that in his career he is essentially a replacement level player – a 25 man, a AAAA player. Not a bridge to Jansen.

    I have been worried about Alexander this spring too. I haven’t had a chance to see him pitch but the numbers don’t look good. Alexander was 27 last year, his 1st full season in the majors. He has a career WHIP of over 1.3, not great for a late-inning reliever. His career GB rates are not consistent with what he did last year (in an admittedly small sample size). And he was not placed in many high-leverage situations with KC last year – check out his numbers at Baseball Reference.com.
    https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/alexasc02-pitch.shtml

    Font did nothing to deserve a roster spot this Spring. He shouldn’t be on the roster – much as Trayce Thompson doesn’t deserve to be on the roster.

    Chargois may be the lastest find by the Braintrust. i am excited to see what he can do. I am also high on Cingrani. he has very good stuff.

    Stripling is not a high leverage reliever. If he’s not going to be a back end starter then the Dodgers are using him correctly as a mid innings, multi-inning reliever best in low leverage situations.

  3. Trevor Oaks was a fan favorite?

    Sborz looked nice in that one he inning he threw. Hopefully we use him as a reliever, and he eventually replaces on of Fields/Baez later this year.

  4. The lack of innings that our starters eat up makes me more nervous about the pen too. Not even Baez’s mother trusts him to get anyone out these days. It’s just a lack of conviction in his breaking pitches. The funny thing is that I feel like his off-speed stuff has improved tremendously, but he’s still afraid to throw it. I don’t have a big problem with Fields. He has good spurts of pitching and then he gets rocked occasionally which seems to be followed by a DL or AAA stint for rest. I think Honeycutt and the front office have him focus on what he does best. He’s a better version of Baez. I think Stripling kind of ran out of gas toward the end of the season having never truly pitched out of the pen as much as he did. He’s a valuable piece, not the missing 8th inning guy. I truly don’t know what we have in Alexander and I guess I don’t believe in Font. I wish I did and I hope I’m wrong. I think the Dodgers are going to carry 8 to give him an audition or they say they’re going to carry 8 in case another team wants him. I’m hoping for a move this week for a pen piece. When Buehler is ready, I think the Dodgers will give the starters a turn taking a rest on the DL and then hopefully move Maeda to the pen. Right now the Rockies have a better pen on paper and I believe they will be the Dodgers main competition in the NL West.

  5. AC – as always, a very well written and thoughtful analysis of the bullpen. From the comfort of my recliner, my limited view has led me to conclude that Alexander and Cingrani will work out fine. Like you, I think that Fields is better than most think and I hope that he performs consistent with his talent. Same goes for Stripling, I like him as a multiple inning reliever. In addition, it probably won’t hurt to carry Font for a little while and see if he’s worth keeping before they make the decision to waive him. I’m rooting for Chargois to have an injury free year and for him to pitch consistent with his talent. When healthy, he has a big time arm. My feeling is that if Yimi Garcia did not have to start the year on the disabled list, we would probably have seen the last of Baez. But alas, he’ll be around for awhile and cause me to throw things at the TV screen!

    No matter how the roster shakes out, it is going to be a fun year!

    1. I switched my cable provider to Spectrum two years – wanted to see and hear Vinny one last time. I’ve been 2 lazy to switch back.

  6. Last day in Haiti. I was able to watch bits and pieces of yesterday’s game. Looks like they are bored and ready to go. Even during the Freesy Series they are just ready for the season to start. They all have one goal and most of them tasted it but are galvanized by not reaching their goal last year. It’s a little different team but the same and these guys have something to prove. Bring it!

    Hey, we can get KAZ back at the minimum and turn him into a lockdown reliever… or not!

    I hear we have 12 inches of snow in INDY and then Tuesday I head to Denver.

    Dodgers will be mean in 2018!

  7. The Dodgers are going to start the season with a bullpen of 8 and I’m sure some of them won’t be on the team in September.In my opinion, Baez, Alexander, and Font need to have very good results when they get the call. I hope FAZ has a very short leash on anyone failing to deliver.

    1. All they use are bigger inflated balls and their feet. Who knew?
      -
      There might be s couple of prospects on the other side of the island.

  8. Looking around the division I would take the Dodgers starting 5 over all of them: Projections based on OD starter:

    Rockies-Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, Kyle Freeland, Chad Bettis and winner of Marques- Senzatella
    Snakes-Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Greinke, Walker and Godley
    Midgets-Ty Blach, Cueto, Derek Holland, Stratton and Tyler Beede or ??
    Madres-Clayton Richard, Brian Mitchell, Lamet, Perdomo and winner of Tyson Ross-Robbie Erlin

    Comments: Rockies went out and bought a bullpen but have homegrown starters. D-Bags have a good rotation on paper but Greinke and Ray have struggled all spring. Gints have had front line injuries that severely test rotation depth. Pads are a mess with question marks everywhere. Ross would be a nice feel good story.

    Meanwhile the Blue have Kershaw, Wood, Maeda, Hill and Ryu with Buehler on deck and Urias as a wild card. They could withstand 1 injury but two would force Stripling, Stewart or Font into a starter role. I think Font deserves an early season chance to show he belongs, as much as Baez does. At least Font throws strikes and has 4 pitches. Baez problems are mental and no high leverage please. 7th and 8th innings will be interesting for the first few weeks. I don’t really care who wins between Joc, Toles, Farmer and Thompson. Toles will probably be sent down to play everyday and Farmer may be too despite playing well so my guess is they keep Joc and Thompson for OD.

  9. From Jesse Rogers, ESPN:
    Ohtani, 23, unofficially threw 85 pitches, but his fastball command was off, resulting in five walks, a hit batter and two wild pitches. His velocity was also down from previous starts, according to scouts in attendance.
    Still, the Angels said they were happy with the performance. Manager Mike Scioscia called it a “great outing.”
    *
    I wonder what Mike considers a so-so outing, or even a terrible outing.

    1. AC

      Thanks again, for another good piece, with good thoughts!

      The truth is this is not really a competition, because if it was, Farmer and Toles have already won this competition, as well as Verdugo, to truly be honest.

      I don’t worry about the bullpen like I did in the past, because the front office has done a very good job, building bullpens.

      And Roberts will not continue to use a pitcher in a high leverage situation, like Mattingly use to do, if the same pitcher continues to have trouble.

      Instead, Roberts will try someone else, until he finds the right pitcher in the bullpen, he can trust, in high leverage situations, like he did, with Blanton.

      There is not much more to say, except it is to bad Bumgarner went out again, because I was looking forward in seeing Puig, hit one out, against Bumgarner, and stare at him, his entire HR trot.

      1. Seems like Toles was pulled from the competition. I hope that he does get some CF time at OKC.
        ~
        Verdugo hit primarily off the bench so I’m not sure he would have won a spot if it were an open competition.
        ~
        Both are better off getting full-time AB’s I guess. At least until Toles is ready to take over LF.

        I’m not a fan of starting with 8 relievers with all the off days in April.

        1. Hawkeye

          Exactly, because after Toles was doing really well, they didn’t start him, for six straight games.

          And Joc was the one, getting most of those starts.

          It was like Roberts was trying to jump start Joc, by giving him, those starts.

          And Toles only had four or five, at bats, in the next five games, so he cooled off, a little.

          But he started yesterday for the first time in a while, and he got a hit, and it was against a leftie.

          I think your right, it will be good for Toles to play Center regularly in the outfield, in AAA.

          Because no one in spring training, really gets enough balls hit their way, to really work on their defense.

          And the repetition in AAA, will give Toles more confidence with his knee, on defense.

          AC made a good point that it would be good, for Toles to see more live pitching, after he missed most of last year.

          I know your not big on Kemp, and but I think he is chomping at the bit, to start playing, the regular season.

          Because I bet Kemp can’t wait until he plays at Dodger Stadium again, as a Dodger.

          With the way they take our starters out so early, I think they will have a 8 man bullpen, most of the time.

          But they can always adjust that.

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