Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dodgers should look at Wesley Wright, John Axford to replenish bullpen

With the impeding re-signing of Brian Wilson, the Dodgers' bullpen looks a little bit stronger than it did on Monday. But there's still work to be done.

The Dodgers need another left-handed pitcher to complement Paco Rodriguez, who wore down late last season. At age-22, that'll happen. J.P. Howell coming back would be ideal, even if it's for three years. If not, then a guy I'd consider is Wesley Wright.

Wright was drafted by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 2003 MLB Draft. He was left unprotected for the 2007 Rule 5 Draft and was selected by the Astros. He was traded to the Rays last season and was non-tendered on Monday.

Wright had a 3.69 ERA and a 9.3 K/9 in 53 2/3 innings. The number of innings pitched shows he's not just a LOOGY, even if he should pitch a lot more against lefties. In 2012, he had a 3.27 ERA and 9.2 K/9 in 52 1/3 IP.

For his career, Wright holds lefties to a .231 batting average and has a 3.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Righties have hit .266/.356/.500 against Wright for his career. That's not great. Wright has also given up 35 home runs in his career -- 28 of them to right-handed hitters.

Home runs have been a bugaboo for Wright, as he's allowed 1.3 per nine innings pitched. He's also has a 4.0 BB/9, but he's improved dramatically from his first two seasons (5.5 and 5.0 in 2008-09 to 2.9 and 3.2 in 2012-13)

Wright isn't anywhere near as good as Howell against right-handed hitters, but he does know how to get lefties out.

Wright is the rare reliever who has four pitches he throws fairly regularly. He boasts a classic arsenal -- fastball, slider, curveball, changeup. In 2013, he threw his fastball 59.3 percent of the time, his slider 22.4 percent of the time, his changeup 9.5 percent of the time and his curveball 8.8 percent of the time.

He leans heavily on his fastball-slider combination. His fastball isn't a plus-offering by any means (90.6 MPH for his career), but it doesn't have to be. His slider is a low-80s offering that is his only positive-value pitch.

Somewhat surprisingly, his brekaing pitches are good -- not great -- against left-handed hitters. In 2013, lefties hit .256 with a .282 slugging percentage against his slider (163 pitches) and .267 with a .533 slugging percentage against his curveball (42 pitches). That slugging percentage against his curveball is cause for concern.

He absolutely needs to not throw anything with a wrinkle to right-handed hitters. Righties hit .308/.462 (BA/SLG) against his slider (44 pitches) and .417/.667(!) against his curveball (45 pitches). His fastball/sinker and changeup are much more effective against righties.

Like I said, I'd much rather have Howell on a 3-year deal than any other available lefty, but Wright would be a solid consolation prize on a 1-year pact at $1.5 million.

The Dodgers also, seemingly, need to replace Ronald Belisario. Chad Moriyama already suggested it, while I suggested it on Twitter Monday -- that pitcher could be John Axford.

Axford was an elite closer in 2011 before faltering big time in 2012. His 2013 season wasn't nearly as bad as it seemed.

From Moriyama:
"After two years of being a very effective reliever in 2010 and 2011, Axford had a down year in 2012 (4.67 ERA). He started 2013 by posting a 24.30 ERA in his first four appearances and subsequently lost his closing job with the Brewers. That seems to be all that most remember, but following that stretch, he posted a 2.92 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 61.2 innings. That includes a 1.74 ERA and 2.08 FIP with the Cardinals down the stretch.
Axford’s still a bit of a risk since he’s only months removed from a disastrous stretch of pitching, but if there wasn’t any risk, he wouldn’t be available. And at a reasonable deal, Axford fits both the role and the makeup of the position the Dodgers are currently trying to fill. If the team can’t get Brian Wilson back, and it doesn’t seem like they can (or even if they do), then Axford may be the best remaining option to shore up the pen."
The biggest reason he was non-tendered by the Cardinals is because he was due $5-6 million in arbitration. Now, teams are free to sign him to any kind of contract they want/he'll agree to.

Axford has big strikeout stuff. His mid-90s fastball is a big weapon out of the 'pen. He also posts a sometimes-plus curveball (79-80 MPH) and slider (83-85 MPH). Of any non-Dodger free agent reliever, I'd like to see the Dodgers bring him aboard for a year and $3-4 million.


Those are just two free agent options to fill the bullpen. Wright would be just in case Howell didn't come back and Axford would effectively replace Belisario and could be another legitimate late-inning option for the Dodgers along side Wilson, Kenley Jansen, Chris Withrow and Rodriguez.

Photo credit: Steve Paluch, Flickr

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