I don’t like having to write these types of posts, but I feel this one is way overdue. I’m not a mean person, and while I haven’t met Brandon League yet, I’m sure he’s a very nice guy. By all accounts, League is a very good human being. I wish him all the best. It is my job to evaluate and write about Dodgers, and if I were to sugar coat stuff for you, or blow smoke up your pipe, I would be doing you a disservice.
Unfortunately League just isn’t a very good pitcher right now, and it’s time the Dodgers end the experiment and send him on his way. The Dodgers acquired right handed reliever Brandon League from the Mariners for two minor leaguers last year on the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. I understand League is struggling and suffering too, but we all suffer when we have to watch him pitch.
League may never have been very good to begin with. He pitched three seasons for Seattle and blew 17 saves combined over those three years from 2010-2012. He did have one good season with the Mariners in 2010 in which he saved 37 of 42 and posted a 2.79 ERA in 65 games. Even in that year, he still had trouble striking guys out, only whiffing 45 in 60 frames. That’s been League’s problem his entire career, an inability to miss bats. His career K/9 rate is a paltry 6.5, and he’s only had two seasons ever where he has posted a mark over 6.8.
Of course League isn’t that bad. He is a major league pitcher, (barely), and yes he’s better than me. I’m not a major league pitcher obviously, and League is better than most people at pitching. But compared to his peers and other pitchers at the major league level, he’s not very good.
Actually League had been pitching better. He had posted a 2.78 ERA since the all-star break. But even the worst pitchers can have a few good outings here and there. It’s not like I’m on the mound or something. Not to mention it’s a small sample size.
When League was traded to the Dodgers last season, he started off bad. His first few appearances were rough. The Dodgers reported that they had found some mechanical flaw in his delivery. The numbers after that seemed to prove they were probably correct, or at least we thought so. From then on the rest of the 2012 season, League was great. League pitched in 28 games in 2012 for the Dodgers and allowed just seven earned runs in 27 innings, whiffing 27 and walking 14. He collected six saves along the way, and was quite solid while filling in for Kenley Jansen while he was out with his heart problems. It fooled the Dodgers into thinking he could be a closer, and the Dodgers signed him to a 22 million dollar contract during the offseason.
They displaced Jansen once again, and League started the 2013 season as the Dodger’s official closer. He was so bad that eventually the Dodgers had to move him out and place Jansen back into the closer role.
This season League has been awful, just awful. If you want to see his numbers then try and put on your barf bag. While his record this year is 6-4, he’s posted an atrocious 5.48 ERA. In 49 games he’s allowed 33 runs and 54 hits in 46 frames. That’s well more than a hit per inning. Every single stat says he’s been awful. He’s given up 10.6 hits per nine, and allowed eight home runs. His WHIP is 1.4, and if you want to look at FIP, his is 5.31, and 3.97 for his career.
The biggest problem with League is his inability to miss bats. That’s an important quality for a late inning reliever, they have to be able to strike guys out, and League has only whiffed 25 in his 46 innings. He almost has as many walks as he does strike outs this year with 14. We’ve seen this before, once a late inning reliever starts to lose his ability to miss bats, than he becomes useless. If you can’t strike anyone out, then you better be a ground ball expert, Mariano Rivera, or you’re in trouble.
But why has League been so bad this year? I don’t know, a hidden injury could be the cause. Otherwise it’s probably just general decline, or poor pitch sequencing, and control. Or maybe he wasn’t that good to begin with? There are many unanswered questions here. Let’s delve in further.
League’s line drive percentages have actually gone down over the last few seasons, from 26.8% in 2012, to 17.8% this year. But less line drives, have meant more balls hit in the air. His fly ball rate has risen from his career low of 14.1% in 2008 with Toronto, up to 22.1% this season. League is basically a three pitch guy. He’s got a fastball, (two-seamer,four-seamer), slider, and a splitter. Over the years he’s been throwing his regular fastballs less and less, and his splitter more. He rarely ever throws his slider anymore. (4%) His fastball percentage has gone down from 83.2% in 2008 to a career low 61.5% in 2013. His splitter usage has risen from 17.8% in 2009, to 28.7%. For whatever reason his splitter usage has gone way up. but I’m guessing his splitter isn’t splitting so to speak. Batters just aren’t biting. Often times his fastball is flat with little to no movement, but he can get it up there at 96 MPH most of the time.
But even the basics of pitching escape him. You know, don’t fall behind in counts, don’t give up hits with men on base, don’t allow the lead-off guy to reach, etc. etc.. In case you’re wondering, opposing batters are hitting .357 (20 for 56) with runners in scoring position. With RISP and two outs, .333, with men on base, they’re clubbing him to a tune of .315 (28 for 89), and that’s not a happy tune. When League falls behind in counts batters are hitting .300. This is more than just poor batted ball luck or whatever you BABIP-ists think. He can’t locate his pitches anymore.
Relief pitching is volatile, and League’s story sounds similar to what happened to George Sherrill, and Broxton. Sherrill was similar in that he was acquired at the trade deadline, had a great 30 games with the Dodgers in 2009, allowing just three earned runs in those 30 games. The next season he was atrocious, posting a 6.69 ERA and an 11.4 hits per nine rate. Like Sherrill, League has become very hittable, and when that happens it’s a recipe for failure.
I’m not saying the Dodgers have to release League. They have options. Please don’t tell me that the Dodgers “Can’t” rip up his contract and release him, because they can. The Dodgers can do anything with him. They can place him on the DL with a phantom injury, they can just not use him. They can shut him down. They could trade him, or DFA and eventually release him. The club has already placed him on waivers, but I’m guessing nobody claimed him. Shocking I know.
The frightening thought is that League is owed 7.5 million dollars in 2014, and 2015. He has a bunch of vesting options built-in as well making this a 27.5 million dollar contract.
Baseball is a tough game. Like Tom Hanks said, there is no crying in Baseball. You can’t keep everyone, and sometimes tough decisions have to be made. Guys get cut. Guys get released. Terrible players get released. It happens. The Dodgers just released Ted Lilly, and they would have released Matt Guerrier had they not worked out a trade with the Cubs. My point is, guys get released all the time, and Guggenheim has the money to eat the contract. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some kind of hidden injury, but there is no reason to just keep sending him out there over and over again hoping he magically fixes himself. They don’t have to release him, but they do have to stop using him unless it’s in a mop-up role, until they figure out what the hell is wrong with him. There is no way the team could trust him to hold a lead in a playoff game. No way.
With the additions of Carlos Marmol, and Brian Wilson, the Dodgers don’t need League anymore. I understand why the Dodgers take fliers out on these Bum relievers, sometimes you can hit the lottery. But what’s the end game here? These games are way too important to be experimenting with League. Either shut him down, fix him, or ship him out.
I don’t take any joy from writing this. League is a Dodger and I’m rooting for him to succeed, but doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is insanity. Am I right?
Sunday night against the Red Sox, League came in to pitch the seventh inning and retired only one of the three batters he faced before giving up a double and a two-run home run. Watching him serve up another long ball was the last straw for me.
Sometimes you have to do what’s best for the entire team instead of what’s best for one player, or pitcher. The needs of the team outweigh the needs of the one. It’s time for the Dodgers to make a move. It’s time for the Dodgers to dump Brandon League.