The Dodgers are currently sitting within arm’s reach of 1st place. As the halfway-point of the season approaches, the Dodgers, who are tied in 2nd place in the National League West, and sharing the 3rd best record in the whole of the National League, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, are not exactly where they want to be. However, that isn’t to say they haven’t had a successful season thus far — they definitely have. Despite a revolving door of starters, injuries to key players, and a reliance on young players, the Dodgers have a 20% chance of winning it all, according to Fangraphs. The emergence of some young stars such as Cody Bellinger and Chris Taylor, complemented by the veteran presence of Adrián González and Chase Utley, has certainly helped to keep the Dodgers above water. That said, the team’s true backbone throughout the season so far has likely been the bullpen. They’re putting up league-leading numbers across the board, whether you look at standard or advanced stats.
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Overall, these numbers speak volumes as to just how good they really are. From these numbers it appears their biggest weakness is their tendency to give up a lot of fly balls. While a possible weakness for some, it’s really not much of a concern for the Dodgers for two reasons. The main reason is that, despite allowing many fly balls, not many are hit out of the park. This is understandable given their great, and very low, Hard%. Hitters just aren’t hitting the balls particularly hard very often. Another stat that helps to show their effectiveness is their IFFB%. It is, in essence, a percentage stat to show how often the balls put in play are both in the air and stay in the infield. Their IFFB% is leading all of baseball at 17.5%. Suddenly their high FB% doesn’t look so bad when viewed in conjunction with other related numbers, does it?
Due to their aforementioned “revolving door” of pitchers, the Dodgers have often used starters in the bullpen this season. Ross Stripling, for example, was primarily a starter in 2016. This year, however, he’s only pitched out of the ‘pen and has embraced his new role. Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu have, and soon Kenta Maeda will have also seen action in a relief role. The plethora of starting pitching options the Dodgers have allows them to use their starters as long-relief and rest their usual relievers. This kind of depth and roster flexibility will certainly help the team’s longevity and health throughout such a lengthy grind of a season.
As good as the bullpen has been for the Dodgers, and as sustainable as it is, it can always be improved. Sergio Romo has not been particularly effective, potentially leaving an open spot for a right-handed relief pitcher in the future. Opposite of that, the Dodgers only have a single left-handed relief pitcher currently on the active roster in Grant Dayton. This can easily be supplemented by the two names stated on what is being called their “wish list of southpaws” for the trade deadline. Tony Watson and Brad Hand, from the Pirates and Padres, respectively, are both left-handed relief pitchers and are worth keeping an eye on as the deadline approaches.
The Washington Nationals, with a bullpen ERA of 4.99 (2nd worst in MLB), are certain to seek relief pitching help at the deadline. They look to be the Dodgers’ greatest competition, not only in acquiring new arms, but also in getting to the World Series. While they lack a consistent and proven closer, the Dodgers may have the best in the game. To wrap it up quickly, just as he always does, Kenley Jansen recently set an MLB record for most strikeouts without a walk to start a season. He now has 40 strikeouts, 0 walks, and boasts an ERA of just 1.17. Already having a historic season and showing no signs of stopping anytime soon, “The Big Man” is standing tall above all the competition.