Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Preview: Bullpen

In the first of a nine-part series, I preview the Los Angeles Dodgers' bullpen heading into the 2011 season.

RHP Ronald Belisario
- I made a post about Belisario nine days ago, saying I think he'd have a bounce-back season. He could end up being an important 6th- or 7th-inning reliever for the Dodgers. His stuff is nasty and his ability to get ground balls (58.5 percent for his career) is crucial when the Dodgers need a double play.

RHP Jonathan Broxton
- We all know Big Bad Jon struggled mightily after June 27. He still made the All-Star team and closed out the win for the National League. We all know what happened in the World Series. Anyway, I'm one of the only people left in Broxton's corner, it seems. He's the No. 1 scapegoat of all the Dodger pitchers -- even more than the "gutless" Chad Billingsley (love ya, Chad!). I haven't made many predictions, but I'm predicting Broxton gets back to his 2006 through the first three months of the 2010 season. He will make folks forget about the horrific 29 2/3 innings last year. He will re-establish himself as one of the game's best closers.

RHP Matt Guerrier
- In one of the biggest head-scratchers of the off-season, the Dodgers have Guerrier a 3-year contract. The guy is durable, which is a plus. However, if that's his best quality, the Dodgers definitely overpaid. He was consistent in Minnesota. Coming to the National League should help him, but that isn't always the case. He'll be a 7th-inning guy for the Blue.

RHP Kenley Jansen
- Jansen was dominant at every stop he made last season. With an electric fastball and a nasty slider, Jansen will be a key player in the Dodger 'pen. He'll serve as a 7th- and 8th-inning guy for the Dodgers, with the chance to snake a save opportunity from Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton every once in a while.

LHP Hong-Chih Kuo
- Kuo had one of the greatest seasons any Dodger reliever has ever had. He was rewarded with an All-Star berth and the chance to take over for Broxton when he faltered in 2010. Kuo's inability to pitch on consecutive days is the only thing keeping him from being mentioned among the league's best relievers (even though he still is). He could step in as the part-time closer, if needed.

RHP Vicente Padilla
- Padilla re-signed with the Dodgers in the off-season, despite not being guaranteed a spot in the rotation. He was the team's 2010 Opening Day starter (for some reason). Padilla got on a role in 2010. From April 16 to Aug. 10 (12 starts, due to injury), Padilla went 6-2 with a 2.42 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and a .188 BAA. He was flat-out dominant.

However, he's slated for long relief this season with the Dodgers -- a role in which he could thrive. There's even talk of him getting a save opportunity every once in a while. He has the stuff, but the Dodgers have a few other relievers capable of closing.

Guys in the mix

The 25-man roster is far from being set, so here are some guys competing for the last bullpen spot (assuming the Dodgers go with a 12-man pitching staff, as they're prone to do).

LHP Scott Elbert
- Elbert had a tumultuous season in 2010, which ended when he took a leave of absence from the Albuquerque Isotopes. He had a great Arizona Fall League showing and was primed to lock up the last spot in the Dodger 'pen. However, the signing of Mahay could spell the end of that. Elbert, like Troncoso, will likely begin the season in Triple-A because he has options remaining.

RHP Blake Hawksworth
- Hawksworth was acquired from the Cardinals for Ryan Theriot. At the time, we all knew it was amazing a team gave up anything for "The Riot," but to get a potential decent (which I use loosely) reliever was good for the Dodgers. However, he's out of options and isn't exactly the favorite to win the last opening. If he's to remain a Dodger, he'll have to be lights out in Spring Training or slip through waivers -- neither of which I see happening.

LHP Ron Mahay
- Mahay was signed just last week and could steal the last bullpen spot. He's a veteran LOOGY and had a decent season with the Twins in 2010. I'd bet a large amount of money he's the last guy to make the Dodger 'pen.

RHP Ramon Troncoso
- Troncoso had a decent debut in 2008 before having a better 2009 (though, not as good as some may think) before falling down a little in 2010. He isn't going to blow you away with his stuff, but his ability to get grounders is vital to his success. He had a bout with the home run ball, giving up seven last season. While that may not sound like a lot, just consider he gave up just five home runs in his first two seasons -- combined. His HR/9 rate jumped from 0.3 in 2009 to 1.2 in 2010. He'll likely start the season in Triple-A, as he has an option remaining. He could get a midseason call-up.

Analysis

The Dodgers are shaping up to have one of the best bullpens in baseball. However, that's contingent on everyone -- or almost everyone -- playing up to his potential. If Broxton returns to form, Kuo stays healthy and Jansen continues his dominance -- Kuo's health being biggest question mark of the three -- the Dodgers could boast the best bullpen back end in the majors.

Next up: Starting Rotation

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