2012 in brief: Lindblom was seemingly one of the more effective Dodger relievers in the early going, but had trouble containing longball problems before being dealt to Philadelphia (and performing poorly there) in the Shane Victorino trade.
See that huge difference between ERA & FIP for Josh Lindblom above? That’s a fantastic example of why ERA for relievers just doesn’t work, and it’s also a pretty good indicator of just how big the gap was between Lindblom’s perceived performance and his actual contribution.
We spent most of the spring expecting that the addition of veterans like Todd Coffey & Jamey Wright to an already-crowded bullpen would push Lindblom to the minors, despite the fact that Lindblom’s quality 2011 debut proved that he was ready for a job. Lindblom lucked his way into a spot when Blake Hawksworth & Ted Lilly each had to start the season on the disabled list, though with Lilly’s stay expected to be short, that just turned into a daily game of “when will the guillotine finally come down on Lindblom?”
Surprisingly, it never did. When Lilly returned, it was Coffey landing on the disabled list to make room; when Ronald Belisario was activated, it was Mike MacDougal who was DFA’d only a month into his contract. While that was obviously the right choice, I was still pretty surprised at the time that Ned Colletti would really whack a veteran like that rather than ship out a young pitcher with options:
I have to admit, even though this was clearly the right move – you just can’t send down Josh Lindblom after how good he’s been this year, and MacDougal has shown no ability to get anyone out – I’m still pretty surprised that this actually happened. MacDougal was signed to a guaranteed deal over the winter, and in a bullpen with one NRI (Jamey Wright) and a few guys with options remaining, the fact that the Dodgers chose to eat MacDougal’s deal rather than ship off Lindblom or gin up a phantom DL stint is encouraging. Hey, maybe Stan Kasten’s new fan email box is paying off already!
Lindblom continued performing well through the end of May, joining with Kenley Jansen, Javy Guerra, & Belisario to form one of the better youngish relief quartets in the game. As the calendar flipped to June, Lindblom had pitched 25.1 innings, striking out 24 against 9 walks, with a 2.13 ERA that would have looked even better if not for one awful outing in Colorado on May 1 when he allowed three earned runs in 0.2 of a terrible inning. But hey, it’s Colorado. Those things happen.
On June 1, the Dodgers were again in Colorado, and Lindblom again struggled, allowing two solo homers. He followed that with seven consecutive scoreless outings, so no one was that worried, and after a scoreless inning against the White Sox on June 15, his ERA was down to 2.12. Unfortunately for Lindblom, it was downhill from there. On June 21 in Oakland, he allowed three runs without getting an out. Three days later against the Angels, he allowed two more runs in just two-thirds of an inning. In his final outing before the break, he allowed another homer in Arizona, and our concerns about his longball problems at the time were summed up in our midseason review:
Josh Lindblom (B)
You probably don’t remember this now, but Lindblom came pretty close to not making the team out of camp, avoiding being sent to the minors mainly because Ted Lilly ended up on the disabled list. As the season went on, Lindblom became a primary set-up man and has cemented his place on the team… yet has had a disturbingly high home run rate, contributing to a FIP over 5. He gets a B because he’s stuck around all season and been decent doing so, I’m just not sure how to reconcile this longball issue.
In Lindblom’s first outing after the break: boom, another homer to Chase Headley, just one of four hits he allowed to San Diego in two-thirds of an inning. Five days later against the Mets, he allowed three of four hitters to reach. Lindblom finished the month with five straight scoreless outings, but as the Dodgers grew increasingly desperate for left field help, he was dealt to Philadelphia on July 31 for Victorino.
Much as we disliked Victorino, I didn’t mind the thought of trading Lindblom:
Victorino didn’t come for free, and both Josh Lindblom and Ethan Martin will be missed – though not quite as much as you’d think. I like Lindblom well enough, but he’s an eminently replaceable non-elite middle reliever with home run problems. Martin is someone a lot of people think of as having a bounceback season in his second try at Double-A, and while I’m still a fan of his, it’s more than a little concerning that his big year is one in which he’s walking “only” 4.7 per nine. I’m not happy to see him go, but he’s the kind of guy the Dodgers have several of.
Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs agrees on Lindblom, even if I know you won’t:
Lindblom is an extreme fly ball pitcher, as only 69 of his 141 career balls in play (34.3%) have been hit on the ground. Not surprisingly, that has translated into a bit of a home run problem, as he’s given up 1.05 HR/9, a bit above the league average for NL relievers. But, HR-prone fly ball guys can still be good relievers as long as they pound the strike zone and miss a lot of bats.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lindblom has been essentially average at those two things as well. His 9.0% BB%/22.7% K% are just barely ahead of the average marks for an NL reliever (9.2 BB%/21.7% K%), and are supported by the underlying numbers as well — he throws an average number of strikes and gets an average amount of contact.
Toss in the significant career platoon split (.244 wOBA allowed to RHBs, .360 wOBA to LHBs), and Lindblom essentially profiles as a decent situational middle reliever. This is basically the same skillset the Dodgers got in Brandon League, so their bullpen won’t take much of a hit at all in this series of moves.
Lindblom went to Philadelphia and upped his strikeout rate, striking out 27 in 23.1 innings, but his control fell apart (17 walks in that span) and he allowed four more homers; of the 205 pitchers who threw at least 70 innings this year, only seven had a higher dinger rate than Lindblom’s 1.65/9. He’ll only be 26 next summer, and I still like his talent, but it’s hard to shed too many tears over losing a non-elite reliever from a position of depth; it’s just too bad that Victorino didn’t end up being worth the risk.
Next up! Tough year, Javy Guerra!