Monday, February 9, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Bullpen

Here is the second installment in my season preview series.  Last season, the bullpen was a huge weak spot on a division winning team, as the Dodgers had a very difficult time getting the ball to their dominant closer, Kenley Jansen.  It ended up being one of the big reasons they Dodgers went four and out in the playoffs.

So, have the flurry of moves made this unit stronger heading in '15?  Let's take a look.

Closer - Kenley Jansen
Setup - Brian Wilson
J.P. Howell
Brandon League
Chris Perez
Jamey Wright
Pedro Baez

Closer - Kenley Jansen
Setup - Joel Peralta
J.P. Howell
Pedro Baez
Brandon League
Juan Nicasio
Chris Hatcher

Then Compared to Now:
Right off the bat, what jumps out is the addition by subtraction.  That is, getting rid of dead weight in Wilson and Perez.  They both were so horrendous last season, it's hard to imagine those two signings going any worse.  Wilson had a 4.66 ERA in 61 games, and Perez collected a 4.27 in 49.  Awful, just awful.  Good riddance!

In their places come Peralta, Nicasio, and Hatcher.  The biggest name is Peralta, who's coming off of three straight seasons of more strikeouts than innings pitched.  But, he's also seen his ERA creep up the last few seasons as well.  Like Peralta, Hatcher relies on his fastball to blow hitters away, so the strikeout is always a possibility.

Howell will look to pitch more like the guy the first few months of the season, and less like the one who was knocked around at the end.  Baez will look to step up into a bigger role, and Nicasio will look to play the swingman role of long reliever and spot starter.

Individual Breakdown:
Jansen (2014 stats): 2-3, 44 SV, 2.76 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 101 K's in 65 1/2 IP
After some bumps in the road to start the season, he really turned it on as the summer months got hotter and hotter.  The result was another terrific season in which he by far posted his most career saves.  He's in love with the cutter, and when it has a sharp bite, it's practically unhittable.  When he mixes in softer stuff like a slider, he's even more effective.  He's only 27 with not much mileage, so the Dodgers have very little worry that he'll continue that success.

Peralta (with Rays): 3-4, 1 SV, 18 HLD, 4.41 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 74 K's in 63 1/3 IP
The good news is that he can't possibly be worse than Wilson in the setup role (right?).  The bad news is that he appears to be going in the same direction as Wilson.  Of course, that's not to say he'll completely fall off the map too, as I can't imagine he'll get roughed up nearly as bad as The Beard did.  The strikeouts are still there, and he only walked 15 last season in 69 appearances, which is very good.  With an improved defense behind him, those are reasons to believe he'll be effective.  Is he an everyday setup man?  That might be a stretch, but we shall see.

Howell: 3-3, 27 HLD, 2.39 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 48 K's in 49 IP
It's a shame he started getting shelled in September, because before that, he was really, really good.  And what do you know, he's once again the only lefty in the bullpen.  Like it or not, he's the man to face tough lefties.  He's not going to blow you away, as he's a location and breaking ball type of guy.  When it's working, it's good.  When it's not, it's practically batting practice.  Maybe he just ran out of steam last season, so hopefully he can be fresher down the stretch, because he'll be needed.

Baez: 0-0, 5 HLD, 2.63 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 18 K's in 24 IP
In his first season, he only appeared in 20 games, so the sample size is small.  Even with that, he was thrust right into the spotlight of the postseason, giving up a huge three-run shot to Matt Holliday in that epic meltdown in Game 1 against the Cardinals.  Still, I like what he offers, as he throws hard and seems to have good composure on the mound.  With Chris Withrow most likely out for all of 2015, his role will be increased even more.

League: 2-3, 11 HLD, 2.57 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 38 K's in 63 IP
What a roller coaster ride it's been for him since being traded to the Dodgers from the Mariners in 2012.  He went from closer of the future to a complete waste of a big money deal.  Then he posted a fantastic ERA last season, but a very high WHIP showed just how often he was playing with fire.  At this point, he is what he is - a guy who will fool some with his breaking stuff, and will go through awful stretches where he lets everyone on base.  He survived the offseason without getting canned, but if he falters once again, he'll be sent packing.

Nicasio (with Rockies): 6-6, 1 HLD, 5.38 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 63 K's in 93 2/3 IP
The best thing for any young pitcher is to finally get out of Coors Field, as he owns a 5.24 career ERA at home.  It's not like he lit it up on the road, though, with a 4.81 ERA.  Still, he has to feel great about coming to the Dodgers and taking the ball in a much friendlier ballpark.  If there's a silver lining, he's made six career starts in LA (seven games overall), and owns a 3.63 ERA.  That's something to build on.

Hatcher (with Marlins): 0-3, 6 HLD, 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 60 K's in 56 IP
Like Jansen, he was once a catcher who converted to a hard throwing reliever.  His first few seasons weren't so hot, but after getting called up in late May with the Marlins last season, put together a good season.  He throws hard and keeps his walks low, which is always a good combination.  Right now he's a young, power arm on the rise, so if he can keep missing bats and avoid the free passes, he'll be a good weapon.

Other Names to Remember: Daniel Coulombe, Carlos Frias, Yimi Garcia, Paco Rodriguez

Is Now Better Than Then?
The Dodgers could pair just about anyone up with Jansen and be considered better this season.  They absolutely needed to dump Wilson, even if it cost them $10 million in dead salary.  Big deal, it needed to be done.  And thank the Lord that it did.

The guys who were brought in - Peralta, Hatcher, and Nicasio - aren't names that will jump off the page, and will have to prove that they can be the answer.  Peralta appears to be the first in line to pitch the eighth, and finally give a reliable bridge to Jansen in the ninth.  That, in my opinion, was the biggest Achilles' heel of the Dodgers last year, so that's something that absolutely needs to get better if they want to take the next step in the playoffs.  If not Peralta, then maybe a surprise name such as Baez or Hatcher can be that guy.

Two other guys who are gone from last year are Wright and Perez, as their best days are clearly behind them.  Because of those subtractions, I'll easily take this year's squad as an upgrade over last year's.  But, does that mean this year's group is good?  There's always a huge plus with Jansen at the end, but the newcomers and young guys like Baez will have to show they can put up consistent numbers all season long to be one of the better bullpens in baseball.

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