Dodgers 2018 Season Grade: Pedro Baez Shocks the World

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 09: Pedro Baez
PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 09: Pedro Baez /

The Dodgers got plenty of quality relief innings out of their bullpen in 2018 and perhaps one of the bigger surprises was Pedro Baez.  After falling off the map in 2017, Baez rebounded with a strong season in 2018.

“Uh oh.”  Those were the first two words out of the mouth of every Dodgers fan worth their salt when they saw Pedro Baez trotting in from the bullpen for much 2017, and even at the beginning of 2018. Baez was a nightmare incarnate for Los Angeles, as he teetered on the edge of making the playoff roster for the Dodgers in the NLCS a season ago. I even remember calling in to talk to radio host Petros Papadakis of the Petros and Money Show to discuss leaving Pedro Baez off of the playoff roster.

But 2018 brought on a new wave of Pedro Baez excellence, something unforeseen, though albeit not oft-thought of, by any major sportswriters during the 2017/18 off-season. And due to this excellence, I did not feel comfortable letting his most recent season go unappreciated this off-season.

Pedro “La Mula” Baez (check out the nice little story on his nickname) was an above-average reliever in his age-30 season whether he is being judged using traditional or sabermetric benchmarks.

In his 55 regular season appearances, Baez accumulated a 4-3 record and threw 56.1 innings, during which he pitched to a 2.88 ERA, which was good for fourth among Dodger relievers with at least 25 innings pitched, with 62 strikeouts.

When you bring up Baez around most Dodger fans, even after his success this season, they will bring up not his regular season numbers, which have remained remarkably consistent over his last four MLB seasons, but his last in the season and postseason failures.

In 2017, these complaints were justified. Baez gave up 10 earned runs in just 8.2 innings of work in September and October regular season games, making him almost unusable.

He found a way to correct these numbers late this season though, and really he did more than just correct them. He became an elite reliever in September. This September, Baez gave up just one run in 10 innings of work, holding opposing hitters to a minuscule triple slash line of .167/.237/.278.

Among all relievers who threw at least 10 innings in September and October regular season games this season, Baez had a top-30 WHIP (0.90) and line drive rate (13.8%) and the ninth-highest swinging strike rate (16.9%) which put him amongst tough Brewer relievers like Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress.

In maintaining his performance all the way through September this season, Baez came a long way from 2017 in terms of solidifying his spot on the playoff roster.

Pitching in the playoffs for the first time since 2016, Baez was electric, carrying much of his late-season regular season success throughout the month of October. He held batters to a tiny .108 batting average against while striking out batters at a higher clip (33.3%) than he did during the regular season (26.2%).

When looking for reasons for why Baez improved this season, I found two key indicators of a pitcher with an altered approach, which hopefully will lead to sustained success.

One is his repertoire breakdown. Baez went from throwing 72.7% fastballs to just 61.4% fastballs, and his fastball had the second best pitch value of his career at 5.1 according to Fangraphs. To make up for the lack of fastballs, Baez added about 4% more sliders and 6% more changeups.

The next indicator is his home run stats. Baez gave up far fewer homers in 2018, pitching to the lowest HR/9 in his career and the lowest hard contact rate of his career, excluding his partial season in 2014, goes a long way in explaining this.

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Baez still gave up mostly flyballs, just like in 2017, but his HR/FB rate dropped from 11.3% to 6.3%, putting him in between well-known relievers Joakim Soria and Aroldis Chapman in terms of suppressing the long ball, as he ranked 22nd in baseball last season.  If Baez can sustain these gains, he should be able to continue to pitch in close games and in games that matter for the Dodgers.

Reliever . Los Angeles Dodgers. PEDRO BAEZ. B+.