Constructing the Playoff Roster – The Bullpen
The Kansas City Royals have shown us the importance of having the ability to shorten the game over the last two seasons. If the Royals starter left the game with the lead, manager Ned Yost could pretty much count it in the win column. Having the ability to protect a lead late in playoff games is crucial in determining a teams fate. The bullpen has been the Achilles heel for the Dodgers in the last few seasons and we can all recall Pedro Baez giving up that three run shot to Matt Holliday in last years NLDS.
This year the Dodgers bullpen has undergone a dramatic overhaul. Brian Wilson, Chris Perez and Jamey Wright were all paid to pitch somewhere else and Yimi Garcia and Pedro Baez earned opening day spots. Chris Hatcher was acquired from the Marlins with the intentions of filling the 8th inning hole and has rounded in to form after a horrific first half. Joel Peralta was also acquired from Tampa Bay but has battled injuries and ineffectiveness for most of the season. Jim Johnson and Luis Avilan were acquired at the trade deadline with mixed results. Meanwhile, mainstays Kenley Jansen and J.P Howell have turned in impressive campaigns.
No matter how you look at it the bullpen is going to be a key factor in determining the success of the Dodgers 2015 campaign.
The Contenders: Kenley Jansen, Jim Johnson, J.P Howell, Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan, Chris Hatcher, Yimi Garcia, Adam Liberatore, Joel Peralta, Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias, Mat Latos, Juan Nicasio
Closer: Kenley Jansen – 2.06 ERA , 31 Sv, 5.2 H/9, 1.2 BB/9, 14.4 SO/9
No surprises here. The Dodgers’ closer has been outstanding yet again this year, even after a late start as he recovered from having a benign growth removed from his foot. Jansen is one of the elite closers in the game and the Dodgers know they can rely on him late in the game
Setup 1: Pedro Baez – 3.77 ERA, 9 H/9, 1.7 BB/9, 10.7 SO/9
Armed with a high 90’s fastball and a hard slider to compliment it with, Baez is tough on righties. That electric fastball means he is always going to post good strikeout numbers and he has done just that striking out more than one an inning. His control is exceptional as well for a guy who throws that hard evidenced by his 1.7 BB/9. Baez was thrown in the deep end in last years playoffs but with a full year of experience under his belt, manager Don Mattingly should have no hesitation throwing him out there in key situations.
Setup 2: J.P Howell (L) – 1.59 ERA, 1 Sv, 9.8 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 8.6 SO/9
Howell was the primary setup guy on last years roster and has continued to be one of the most reliable relievers in the pen again this year. A soft-tossing lefty, Howell has produced noticeable platoon splits (.799 OPS vs RHB compared to .539 OPS vs LHB) and as a result should be protected against dangerous right handed hitters. He is however, the first lefty out of the pen and the left-handed setup guy on my roster.
Middle Relief: Luis Avilan (L) – 4.13 ERA, 8.1 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, 8.1 SO/9
Avilan is another easy choice in this bullpen. After trading away Paco Rodriguez at the deadline, Avilan now becomes the second lefty out of the bullpen. Whilst the ERA isn’t pretty, the metrics say Avilan has simply suffered from bad luck as he has compiled a 2.27 FIP since coming to the Dodgers (3.37 on the year). Avilan is the LOOGY on my roster, especially early in the game
Middle Relief: Yimi Garcia – 3.20 ERA, 6.8 H/9, 1.6 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9
This is where it starts to get tricky. In my book, its Jim Johnson, Garcia and Chris Hatcher vying for the last two spots in the middle of this bullpen. Garcia gets a spot here and has been a solid contributor to the bullpen all year. His metrics are some of the best on the roster but has been shaky at times – an issue Mattingly chalks up to his mental approach to the game. He throws hard and is armed with a nasty slider making him a good option to throw the 7th
Middle Relief: Jim Johnson – 4.26 ERA, 10 Sv, 9.7 H/9, 2.8 BB/9, 6.6 SO/9
This spot really is a lottery pick. However, not many guys can boast two 50 save seasons but Johnson is one of them. An elite closer with the Orioles, Johnson has continued his trend of struggling on new teams. He was significantly better with the Braves this year (2.25 ERA, 48 IP) and has shown flashes of effectiveness in his time with the Dodgers. Hatcher has been great since returning from the DL so this one might come right down to the wire.
Long Relief : Juan Nicasio – 3.27 ERA, 8.1 H/9, 2.6 BB/9, 10.8 SO/9
A converted starter, Nicasio has been a bright spot in the bullpen this year. His high 90’s fastball and big slider has allowed Mattingly to deploy him late in games and he should continue to do so. His high walk rates however deterred me from putting him in the set up role as you simply can’t afford to give up free passes late in games. Also, with Alex Wood and Brett Anderson at the back of the rotation, someone will have to eat up some innings and Nicasio seems best equipped to do so.
So there it is. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments below.