Over the past two seasons, the Dodgers have relied heavily on a well-enforced bullpen. Dave Roberts, since the onset of his managerial career, has been known for his short leash on starters and the tendency to go to his pen.
For that reason, depth, skill, and trust must be had in these pitchers and the best possible reliever corp must be assembled. This is the pre-spring training breakdown of who’s in, who’s out and who’s on the fence.
Let’s start with the obvious and check Kenley Jansen off the list. Jansen has been the NL reliever of the year for two straight seasons and has led all eligible NL relievers in ERA, ERA+, FIP, WAR, strikeouts, saves and a strikeout to walk ratio. Needless to say, Jansen will be the closer in 2018 and Dodger fans should just enjoy the magic.
The Dodgers acquired Alexander from the Royals in the deal that saw Luis Avilan go to the White Sox and Trevor Oaks to the Royals. Alexander was a dominant reliever in 2017 posting the best groundball percentage in all of baseball. His 93 mph sinker, thrown 90.9 percent of the time, is compared to that of Zach Britton, high praise for any relief pitcher. The 28-year-old southpaw is a sure bet to be in the 2018 bullpen and will probably be used as an eighth-inning setup man and a lefty specialist. Alexander’s ability to get outs on both sides of the plate should quickly make him a go-to for Roberts.
Cingrani was acquired at the trade deadline last year for Scott Van Slyke. The former Reds’ starter saw a change last year when he made a full time move to the bullpen and he did not disappoint. Cingrani’s wipeout slider and mid-90s fastball combine to make him a phenomenal lefty specialist. His strikeout abilities should pair very nicely with Scott Alexander’s ground ball prowess to make them a shutdown lefty duo.
I know what you are thinking: why on Earth is Pedro Baez in the lock section? I’ll tell you exactly why he is better than people give him credit for. Bearing any unforeseen roster movement, Baez looks to build off of his incredible first half of the season in 2017. His well under par second half should move him away from high leverage situation but he should still be a great option for middle relief. Like it or not, Baez is going nowhere.
Tom Koehler also feels like a given to make the bullpen because the Dodgers signed him to do just that. Koehler’s ability to be a starter and a reliever makes him a valuable asset to a team that uses pitchers like firewood. Koehler’s incentive-laden contract indicates he will spend most of his time in the pen and I also know there are options in front of him to make spot starts when needed. Look for Koehler to provide valuable bullpen innings this year.