Hyun-jin Ryu got hit hard against the Red Sox in the first inning yesterday before settling down, but what’s most interesting is that five relievers combined to throw four scoreless innings after Ryu left. While the offense couldn’t quite take advantage of that to come back, it does continue what’s surprisingly been a huge strength of this team: the bullpen.
Since the All-Star break, no team has a lower relief ERA than the 1.69 that the Dodgers do. They’re second in FIP and xFIP, fourth in K/9, and fifth in K/BB. They’re fifth in left on base percentage, second in groundball percentage, and first in batting average against, which is .182 when no other team is below .200. They are, it should be noted, showing the second-lowest BABIP during that time as well, but still: when you’re missing bats, keeping walks down, and getting a ton of groundballs, you’re going to be successful.
Kenley Jansen gets the bulk of credit, and he should: while he’s striking out slightly fewer than last year, he’s also cut his walk rate in half. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings, exactly two (Edward Mujica & Koji Uehara) have a better K/BB than he does, and there’s a pretty convincing argument to be made that he is the most dominant reliever in the game today, no matter how many times the Dodgers try to replace him as the closer.
While these are of course small sample sizes, that trio has been all but unstoppable, & while Belisario & Howell haven’t quite made it to that level, they’ve both been more than effective. Setting aside the injured Dominguez, that leaves the trio of failed closers in League, Marmol, & Wilson at the back end of the ‘pen, and while we can delve into the good and bad that we’ve seen from all three, that’s the point: they’re the bottom of the barrel here. Whatever you get from them at this point is gravy, but you don’t have to count on them. If even one of the three can become a consistent option, you’re looking at a bullpen that goes six deep.
Now as much as I love Jansen, I don’t think anyone should expect a .125 BABIP to last that long, and again, these are small sample sizes. Still, that BABIP could double and still be better than average, and he’s been excellent since the day he arrived in the bigs, so I don’t have a whole lot of worry about regression there.
It’s really Rodriguez who has been the breakout star, as Buster Olney notes today:
There is nobody else in baseball with a delivery like his, because when he draws his arm back, there is a slightly hesitation, with the ball behind his head, which seems to throw off the timing of hitters. And, as teammate A.J. Ellis says, Rodriguez’s slider is like Sergio Romo‘s slider in that it just keeps sliding. It just keeps breaking.
It’s truly amazing to see how different things are from early in the season when the bullpen was a huge black hole, and while that’s partially because guys like Javy Guerra, Matt Guerrier, Peter Moylan, & Josh Wall were down there at various times contributing little, it’s mostly because Belisario worked out his issues, Jansen continued to ascend, and Rodriguez developed into an under-appreciated star. While the attention for the team’s magical run rightfully goes to Hanley Ramirez, Clayton Kershaw, Yasiel Puig, and others, the fact is that the bullpen has turned into an extremely solid crew that deserves more notice than it gets. As this team heads into October and you see guys like Rodriguez getting outs on national television with the game on the line, I’m guessing that situation will change.