Dodgers: Projecting the Dodgers’ Potential Postseason Bullpen

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 07: Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on August 7, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 07: Rich Hill #44 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Alameda Coliseum on August 7, 2018 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Dodger fans would have liked to see the Dodgers front office acquire a frontline reliever at the trade deadline.

The Pirates picked up Keone Kela, who is having a nice season, from the Rangers.  The Yankees picked up Zach Britton from the Orioles.  And…the Dodgers picked up John Axford from the Blue Jays.

Axford is not exactly the elite addition fans were hoping to see in Dodger blue.  Not to mention, Axford was shelled in his only appearance so far.   The front office acquired Axford as an additional depth piece, but I don’t think anyone expects him to regain the elite closer status he had at the early part of this decade.

The Dodgers were in play for several of the other veteran relievers shopped at the deadline but did not want to pay the price in prospects.  Cleveland cut loose Zach McAllister this week, and he remains a viable middle relief option for a contending team so the Dodgers could be in play for his services.  However, he is not an elite reliever.

I contend the Dodgers have at least three potential elite relievers on their roster.  I think the organization has a backup plan and strategy to reinforce their bullpen should the team make it to a sixth consecutive postseason.  Barring any unforeseen injuries, the Dodgers will have seven quality starting pitchers headed into the postseason.  Now, I am making some assumptions based on recent injury updates.

First, Hyun Jin Ryu seems to be healthy and will accumulate enough innings to be an effective back-end starter in the playoffs.  Julio Urias is not fully healthy and might not be available for the playoffs.

Relievers Josh Fields, Tony Cingrani, and Erik Goeddel will be healthy soon, and will be available for bullpen duty…if they are not squeezed out by one of the starters!    Finally, the Dodgers will carry a five-man bench, four-man starting rotation, and an eight-man bullpen.

With those assumptions, the Dodgers will be able to deploy a 4 man rotation in the playoffs, with the three remaining starters each scheduled to pick up 2-3 innings of relief behind each starter.  In this scenario, the playoff rotation would look like this:

  1.  Clayton Kershaw/Ross Stripling
  2. Walker Buehler/Rich Hill
  3. Alex Wood/Kenta Maeda
  4. Hyun Jin Ryu/Stripling

Bear with me and hear me out!  This deployment of the starter/reliever combination would allow the Dodgers to have one of the better bullpens in the league.  Obviously, this model is not sustainable during the regular season, both for baseball purposes, and business purposes, as many of these starters either have bonuses tied to starts, or future paydays will depend on these guys’ track record as starting pitchers.

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The above combinations would present different looks for opposing batters in each game.  For example, Walker Buehler’s overpowering stuff, combined with Rich Hill’s deceptiveness and breaking pitches would theoretically present the opposition with a bad day in the playoffs.

The trickle-down benefit to this plan is everybody else in the bullpen becomes better as they settle into lower leverage roles, or are used sparingly in high leverage roles.  If Stripling, Hill, and Maeda open the playoffs in the bullpen, that leaves room for five more relievers.

Slotting behind Kenley Jansen, I would expect to see Josh Fields, Erik Goeddel, Dylan Floro,  from the right side, and Scott Alexander from the left side.  That leaves Pedro Baez, John Axford, JT Chargois, Tony Cingrani, Caleb Ferguson, and Daniel Hudson on the taxi squad should any injury occur.  Now that’s depth!

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This plan relieves the starters of pressure to go deep, eases the burden on the relievers so they do not become overworked like Brandon Morrow did last October, and makes it difficult for the opposition to get comfortable with the starter, as the starter likely won’t face the lineup a third time through.   I think employing this strategy will set the Dodgers up for postseason success.