The Dodgers’ J.P. Howell has seemingly righted the ship and the stats say it’s for real
A big talking point among Dodgers fans for the last few years has been the streaky bullpen. When I think of the bullpen, a certain movie quote comes to mind…something about a box of chocolates. But anyway, one standout reliever has been J.P Howell.
He’s been your friendly neighborhood lefty specialist at Chavez Ravine since 2013. In those three seasons, he’s had ERA’s of 2.18, 2.39, and 1.41. ERA alone usually doesn’t tell the whole story, but the advanced and peripheral stats back those sparkling numbers up.
He’s done it all by inducing ground balls and stranding runners at far above average rates. All in all, he’s been a nice piece of the bullpen.
This year though…not so much. The 2016 season is still young, but to start the year he has an unsightly 9.00 ERA. Unsightly is the nice way to put it, what I meant to say was hideous. It’s no secret he’s had some rough outings this last month for the Dodgers, but he’s been much better for the past two weeks or so.
After those two ugly showings against the Giants, he’s thrown six innings of one run ball. Taking a closer look at the stats should give us fans (and J.P.) reason to think that turnaround is not a mirage.
First off let’s look at his BABIP (batting average on balls in play). This is a stat that gives us an idea of how hard a ball is hit, the defense behind the pitcher, and luck. Having a BABIP around .300 is average, and that’s right around Howell’s career average of .298. This year, the Dodgers’ other bearded ginger has a BABIP of .375.
That rate is high enough that it’s probably unsustainable. As more balls in play find gloves instead of grass, his results should start to improve. His BABIP isn’t even the only reason to think his fortunes could change.
Howell has also been inducing ground balls at an above average rate. Inducing ground balls is a great way for a pitcher to shut down the opposition, as there are less runs scored per ground ball hit than line drive or fly ball. J.P.’s ground ball rate is 63.6%, significantly higher than an average of 44% since 2002 when the stat was first recorded.
He’s been inducing ground balls at a rate much higher than his 52.7% career rate ever since joining the Dodgers, so that doesn’t seem due for regression.
All this adds up to a 2.41 FIP according to Fangraphs, which is a stat that only holds a pitcher responsible for the things he can control (home runs, walks, and strikeouts). That means that instead of the 9.00 ERA he currently has, his pitching should actually have earned him a 2.41 ERA.
Yes, I see all the begging for the Dodgers to release Howell on comment boards across the internet. My response to those people is to be patient, because Howell might just be a big part of improving the consistency of the bullpen. Maybe it’s just the obnoxious eternal optimist in me, but I think he will be.