Brandon League Could Still Provide Some Value From His Ground Ball Abilities
By Scott Andes
I’m sorry for the somewhat deceiving title guys. I know, I know, it’s League. He does actually still have a valuable skill set. Read on before you tar and feather me though. I promise this will make sense.
The Dodger bullpen was certainly a constant source of aggravation throughout the 2014 season for Dodger fans. One of the primary goals of the Dodger brain trust is to rebuild the bullpen for next season. The process has already begun. The club has added Joel Peralta, Adam Liberatore, Juan Nicasio, and Chris Hatcher via trades. The club did not resign Chris Perez, or Jamey Wright, and recently released Brian Wilson. Now the club is reportedly trying to shop right hander Brandon League.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
League overall has been pretty atrocious over the duration of his contract. Since the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners in 2012, he has not made much of an impression. We were warned by several Seattle writers about his problems. The walks, the blown saves, and the near heart attacks were par for the course with him, or so we were told. But League does have one redeeming skill.
Look I’m not saying he hasn’t been a huge disappointment. His horrendous performance in 2013 was vomit inducing. He posted a 5.30 ERA, and 4.93 FIP in 58 games that year and was demoted from the closer role into middle relief. He allowed 11.4 hits per nine and whiffed just 4.6 per nine over 54.1 frames. However he was pretty good in 2012. He posted a 2.30 ERA, and 2.77 FIP in 28 games, with an 8.9 whiff per nine clip.
In 2014, League had somewhat of a bounce back season. He wasn’t awful. He posted a 2.57 ERA and a solid 3.40 FIP in 53 games. Although he still couldn’t miss bats. He whiffed just 5.4 per nine, and his walks were up by nearly two a game. His 1.4 WHIP was less than encouraging.
So what was his special skill? He didn’t allow home runs. at all. he was adept at inducing ground balls. League allowed zero long balls in 2014. He also didn’t allow any in 2012, but did allow eight during his awful 2013 campaign.
As a matter of fact, League has done a pretty good job of limiting the home run ball throughout his career. With a home run rate of 0.7, he’s been fairly decent at keeping the ball in the park.
The reason for this is because of his sinking splitter. He worked hard in spring training to get that splitter down in the strike zone early in counts. A mechanical change in his delivery helped. It worked somewhat. League did post a ground ball percentage of 67.5%. That was his highest mark since 2006 with the Blue Jays.
What could the Dodgers expect from League if they were to keep him in 2015? Steamer projects a 3.82 ERA and 3.77 FIP in 55 games. He still projects low value overall, but his projected home run rate is 0.64. League has not had a positive value season since 2011.
Call to the Pen
And he may not have one in 2015 either. It’s highly unlikely the Dodgers will keep him around. He is still owed 8.5 million dollars for next year, with a vesting option for 2016. The option for 2016 can vest if League throws 55 games in 2015, or a combined 100 games between 2014-2015. That means he needs to pitch in just 37 games next season for his 7.5 million dollar option to vest.
Sure enough the Dodger brain trust will try to get out of that contract as best they can. But it’s possible they may not be able to. They may decide to keep League around for another season, if they can’t find a way to unload him onto another club.
If they do decide against trading League, then he should be utilized correctly. Don Mattingly used him in this capacity most of last season. That capacity was as a late inning ground ball guy. Mattingly used him a lot to induce double plays late in games.
And that’s the way the Dodgers should use him if they hang onto him next year. That would allow the Dodgers to leverage League’s biggest viable talent. That might be the Dodger’s last chance to squeeze the last bit of value from his bloated contract.