Friday, February 14, 2014

Looking at the Dodgers' numerous bullpen options for 2014

The Dodgers have a LOT of guys who are viable bullpen options, not even counting starting pitchers who are biding time. It's likely all these guys see action at some point during the year, but what should the pecking order should be?

I looked at the peripheral stats for all the guys and projected how I think they'll do this year. The rigorous approach led to some surprises and insights. Here's my list of candidates, and projections for these players, with Dodger Stadium as their home park, in 2014.

Pitcher
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
ERA
Kenley Jansen
12.6
2.5
0.7
2.10
Brian Wilson
8.9
3.9
0.3
2.77
Jose Dominguez
8.5
4.3
0.4
3.15
Paco Rodriguez (L)
10.2
4.5
0.7
3.29
Jamey Wright
7.0
3.5
0.6
3.53
Yimi Garcia
8.6
3.3
1.1
3.64
Javy Guerra
7.5
4.0
0.7
3.76
Chris Perez
8.4
3.4
1.1
3.89
J.P. Howell (L)
7.6
3.8
0.9
3.91
Scott Elbert (L)
9.0
4.3
1.0
3.96
Brandon League
5.4
2.7
1.0
4.08
Seth Rosin
6.5
3.6
1.1
4.15
Onelki Garcia (L)
7.9
5.4
0.9
4.17
Chris Withrow
9.1
5.2
1.2
4.79

Kenley Jansen, of course, is a beast, and I feel good about Brian Wilson ($10 million looks like an overpay in light of later "closer" signings this winter, but whatever). Rodriguez ought to bounce back from a poor close to the season. That's three good guys, which goes a long way to having a solid bullpen. Relievers are volatile, but you can be pretty sure about the A-listers here at least.

Chris Perez and Brandon League are what they are -- and it could go a lot worse than what you see here.

Some guys I thought were pretty good actually just got lucky last year, or temporarily elevated themselves (I'll believe it's permanent if they do it again), and I'm not sure I see them carrying their performance level through to 2014. I'm speaking specifically about J.P. Howell and Chris Withrow.

A lot of people are down on Withrow, and I couldn't see why. I remember him getting a lot of outs last year. He did better in the majors than he ever did in the minors in terms of strikeouts and walks. He also had a completely unsustainable .205 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Howell also had a crazy-low BABIP (.241) and a HR rate 1/3 of his career average.

On the other hand, I think there's a few guys who I weren't thinking of that highly who could surprise this year.

Jose Dominguez , Yimi Garica and Javy Guerra look ready to make the jump to solid big-league contributors. Dominguez is going to get the strikeouts with that 100 MPH fastball, and I think he'll continue to limit the number of home runs he allows. His control isn't great, but it'll play. Yimi Garcia has a great slider that's striking out everyone. Guerra has been up and down, but if you normalize his BABIP & HR/FB, he actually looked good last year in both the majors and Triple-A. Jamey Wright is an ageless marvel. Seth Rosin, I don't see what the Dodgers see.

Rodriguez and Howell have the two lefty spots pretty much locked up. Scott Elbert Onelki Garcia are both recovering from surgery. Elbert is a mid-year return, while Garcia hopefully is ready close to opening day.

As far as minor-league starters spending a little time in the bullpen, I see Zach Lee (4.22 ERA) and Stephen Fife (4.28) as not that great this year. Chris Reed (4.69) and Matt Magill (4.96) just do not look good to me. Ross Stripling (3.56) is the one guy I think could contribute in that role. The numbers in parentheses are how I project them as major league starters, so perhaps they'd do a bit better in the bullpen (on average, bullpen ERAs are about 0.3 lower despite having lower quality pitchers than starting rotations). However, maybe they'd have a hard time adjusting (Fife's season was basically ruined by the disruption last year).

Paul Maholm (3.83), Josh Beckett (3.80) and Chad Billingsley (3.55) all might or might not be asked to get in the bullpen business too, with Dan Haren (3.62) as an extreme outside shot. Most likely, they'd be at least toward the middle to upper-end of the pack if they had to do that.

A lot will go into the decision besides performance -- who has what kind of contract situation in terms of minor league options, Rule 5 status, etc. There's also who the Dodgers might want to showcase for a trade, or how Beckett's recovery is going, and so on. But opening day is just a point in time. People will get injured or be ineffective and others will get their chances.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue

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