In another installment of our season in review series, today we’ll be reviewing the Dodger bullpen. What started out shaky in the first month of the 2012 season, eventually turned into a team strength, and one of the best bullpens in the National League. The Dodger relievers ranked tied for seventh in the majors, and tied for third in the National league in ERA. Only the Reds, and Braves ranked ahead of the Dodgers in relief ERA. The Dodgers finished tied for 18 in saves (40 for 59), and ranked 17th in whiffs (452), and fourth in the majors in BAA (.221), and tenth in WHIP (1.26).
The Dodgers began spring training by choosing Jamey Wright over lefty John Grabow for the final spot in the bullpen. At first it seemed like a bad decision as the Dodgers needed a lefty reliever, and Wright wasn’t expected to do much. However Wright surprised all of us by having a solid season. The 37 year old right hander pitched in 66 games, posting a 5-3 record, a 3.72 ERA, and a 7.2 whiff per nine rate, with his 54 whiffs against 30 walks.
The Dodgers began the season with second year right hander Javy Guerra as the closer. Also returning was veritable strikeout machine Kenley Jansen, lefty Scott Elbert, and rounding out the bullpen Matt Guerrier, Jamey Wright, and Ronald Belisario.
For Belisario it was a season of redemption. After missing all of the 2011 season because of Visa problems stemming from a drug problem, Belisario was taken off of the restricted list, the Venezuelan set-up man stepped up to have a fantastic season. Belisario finished the 2012 season with an 8-1 record, in 68 games, with a 2.54 ERA, 69 whiffs, and only 20 walks, and an 8.7 whiff per nine rate. Belisario’s tremendous season earned him third place in the NL comeback player of the year voting.
The problem in the beginning of the season was the struggles of Javy Guerra. In 2011, Guerra took over the closer role from the meltdown king Jonathon Broxton, and went on to save 21 games for the Dodgers down the stretch. This earned him the respect of Dodger fans, and was christened as the “Javintar”, or “El Javy”. In 2012 Guerra only had eight saves, and struggled early in the season. On April 24th, Guerra was hit in the head by a Brian McCann line drive. He never recovered, and eventually lost his closer job to Kenley Jansen. Guerra still has a good year, despite the early struggles. I like Guerra, he has a strong fastball, and I think he has a bright future ahead. Javy finished the season with a 2.60 ERA, 8 saves, and a 7.4 whiff per nine rate in 45 games. He had a knee injury, and shoulder problems stemming from the line drive, and also had to have arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder after the season was over.
Kenley Jansen was arguably the Dodgers most dominating relief pitcher this season. The converted catcher from the island of curacao was utterly unhittable in 2012. Jansen finished with a 5-3 record, a 2.35 ERA, and 25 saves in 65 games. Jansen whiffed an unreal 99 batters against only 22 walks. That comes out to a 13.7 whiff per nine rate. Jansen will be back in 2013, but more than likely as a set-up man, or middle reliever.
Why isn’t Jansen going to be the closer in 2013? That’s because the Dodgers acquired right hander Brandon League from the Mariners in late July, and he pitched very well after overcoming a rough first few outings. Once League was acquired the Dodger’s pitching coach Rick Honeycutt saw a mechanical flaw in his delivery. Once that was fixed, League was dominate. League had an ERA of less than a run over his last 20 outings or so. Overall League finished with a 2.30 ERA with the Dodgers in 28 games, and saved 6 games. League took over the closer role after Jansen had to miss time with his irregular heartbeat issue. The Dodgers ended up resigning the tattooed right hander who we have nicknamed “Inky”. The Dodgers have already announced that League will be their closer in 2013.
Lefty Scott Elbert was solid again before having to miss the last month of the season with elbow problems. This forced the Dodgers to trade for lefty Randy Choate from the Marlins as insurance. I almost forgot to mention Matt Guerrier existed in the Dodger bullpen! Matt “give it away” Guerrier is a major league relief pitcher who the Dodgers wasted 12 million dollars on. He only pitched in six games before being put on the DL because of a sore shoulder. He didn’t return until September where he proceeded to blow several games. Give it away Guerrier will be back in 2013, ready to be just as mediocre as he has been his entire Dodger career.
Let’s take a look at the list of saves this season recorded by Dodger relievers. Only four Dodger relievers recorded saves in 2012.
Kenley Jansen 25 saves
Javy Guerra 8 saves
Brandon League 6 saves
Ronald Belisario 1 save
With the Dodger bullpen ravaged by injuries towards the end of the season, the Dodgers had to rely upon some of the youngsters. For instance, young right hander Shaw Tolleson who finished with a 9.3 whiff per nine rate in 40 games, and rule five guy Paco Rodriguez. The 21 year old lefty that was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft, had to be put on the 40 man roster to be protected from the rule five draft. Paco was impressive posting a 1.35 ERA in 11 games as a lefty one out guy.
One of the big strengths of the Dodger bullpen was that they rarely ever allowed home runs. Keeping the opposition in the ball park is a very important factor for any pitching staff, especially the bullpen. The Dodger relievers only allowed 34 home runs in 2012, which ranked them second in the majors, behind only the reds, who allowed 33 long balls. Another strength for the Dodger relievers, was stranding inherited runners. The Dodger relievers only allowed 166 earned runs which ranked them fourth in all of Baseball. The Dodgers had 81 holds, which ranked them ninth, but they were middle of the pack in inducing double plays with 40. Also note the Dodgers were one of the best teams in uncorking the least amount of wild pitches. They had only 15 by their relievers all season long. The Dodgers also led the league with allowing the least amount of fly outs by their bullpen. (372). However, if they did have one weakness it would be the walks. Oh lord how it was the walks. Dodger relievers allowed 211 walks, only four other teams gave up more free passes then the Dodger relievers.
When all was said and done, the Dodger bullpen was very very effective during the 2012 season. I was extremely pleased. Even though they got off to a rocky start, it turned into a team strength. It seems once Jansen was moved into the closer role, everything clicked into place. The Dodger bullpen ranked in the top ten in just about every pitching category, and was one of the toughest in the National League all season. This is why I’m giving them an A grade. The Dodger relievers figure to be their stingy selves again in 2013.