The Dodger Bullpen Has Lost Control


It’s no secret that the Dodger bullpen, once thought to be a strength, has dissolved into a nightmare. Just look at the nine pitchers they’ve had enter a game as a reliever this year. Two, Jonathan Broxton & Hong-Chih Kuo, were shadows of their former selves before hitting the disabled list. One is Ramon Troncoso, who was so ineffective (12 hits with just 17 batters faced) before he was shipped out that it was hard to believe, and he’s unlikely to be seen back with the team any time soon.

The remaining six – Vicente Padilla, Kenley Jansen, Mike MacDougal, Blake HawksworthMatt Guerrier and Lance Cormier – remain with the team. (Scott Elbert gets a pass for the moment since he’s not yet appeared in a game.) The results have been terrifying, particularly in the wake of Guerrier and Padilla nearly blowing an excellent Clayton Kershaw start last night by allowing three runs in relief. For Padilla, that makes five hits and seven baserunners over his last three appearances, though he’s generally escaped criticism because the Dodgers have won all three games and because he’s anatomically correct, or something.

Surprisingly, the problem isn’t that the group is striking out fewer batters even without the Broxton and Kuo of old, as the rate of 8.05/9 is 10th in the bigs and is actually slightly ahead of 2010′s rate of 7.97/9. Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter as much when the walk rate of the Dodger bullpen is the worst in baseball. No, really: the 4.76 BB/9 rate as of this morning is 30th in MLB. With the exception of Troncoso, who couldn’t avoid getting hit long enough to even issue four balls to a single batter, not one Dodger reliever is walking fewer than three per nine. Five of them – Padilla, MacDougal, Jansen, Broxton, & Kuo – have BB/9 rates north of five. Last year, of the relievers who saw more than a token appearance, only three – Broxton, Jansen, and George Sherrill – walked more than four per nine. On the whole, the walk rate has risen by nearly a full batter per game, from 3.90 last year to this year’s 4.76.

Worse, when the batters do put the balls in play, they’re not being converted into outs. We’ve been noting anecdotal examples all year where balls that weren’t hit all that hard have just barely eluded the collection of range-challenged defenders that are generally behind the pitchers, and the stats bare that out. The Dodgers are 26th in Baseball Prospectus‘ Defensive Efficiency, and it’s no surprise that the teams below them are struggling greatly in the standings as well. The combination of the two is in large part why the club ranks dead last in percentage of inherited runners stranded, at just 65.5%. By comparison, the Royals, who lead that category (!), strand 82.8% of such runners.

It’s a pretty simple formula, then. A bullpen that issues far too many free passes in front of a defense that fails to convert enough balls into outs is doomed to failure. None of this is completely surprising, of course, for a bullpen that has lost two of the most effective relievers of the last four years and has had to patch with retreads like Cormier and MacDougal. It’s also not likely to get better soon, particularly with the erratic Elbert yet to contribute and with little help on the way from AAA Albuquerque. Should be good for TV ratings, though, because you can never turn away from a Dodger game before the last out is made, right?

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James Loney and Juan Uribe each went without hits, again. It’s not even really fun to point that out anymore. But at least Jamey Carroll continued his generally unrecognized excellence by getting on three times, and even Aaron Miles is contributing enough that I can’t even really make fun of him anymore, despite his .286 batting average being totally empty.

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I also don’t want to shortchange Kershaw, because his his 80 Game Score (thanks to 11 K, 3 H, 2 BB, over seven scoreless innings) ranks as the fifth best start of his entire career.

Rk Date Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H ER BB SO GSc BF
1 2010-05-09 COL W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 2 0 3 9 84 28
2 2010-09-14 SFG W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 4 83 30
3 2009-04-15 SFG W 5-4 GS-7 7.0 1 1 1 13 83 22
4 2009-08-08 ATL L 1-2 GS-7 7.0 2 0 1 10 82 23
5 2011-05-13 ARI W 4-3 GS-7 ,W 7.0 3 0 2 11 80 26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/14/2011.

Sometimes I think we don’t fully recognize the maturation we’re seeing right before our very eyes, particularly in reining in the wildness and high pitch counts of previous years. Kershaw’s the best thing about the Dodgers right now.

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