5 Relievers The Dodgers Should Target This Deadline

With Shane Bieber crowned All-Star Game MVP and Pete Alonso walking away with one million dollars, the all-star break is officially in the rearview mirror. We now transition to my favorite time of the year, trade deadline season.

Unlike years past, the Dodgers do not possess a glaring need simply to win down the stretch and compete in October. Last season, starting shortstop, Corey Seager, went down so Los Angeles had to nab Manny Machado. The year prior, Clayton Kershaw, fresh off an injury, led a rotation of three and four starters, lacking a true second ace, so the Dodgers went out and acquired Yu Darvish. Though I’m sure the front office wishes they would’ve taken a different route there.

An elite offense, stellar rotation, and world-class defense bring the Dodgers to 60 wins on the season, with 13.5 game cushion in the National League West. With that being said, they’re imperfect and a team with a championship drought that eclipsed three decades eight months ago, such as the Dodgers should settle for nothing less than excellence in every facet of the game.

After a less than stellar first two months of the season from the Dodgers bullpen, that sported a 4.79 ERA, the relievers have really picked it up since June 1st, to the tune of a 2.86 ERA, good for second in all of baseball during that span.

However, and Dodgers fans know this, the bullpen is THE most volatile piece of a team’s roster. Elite closers like Kenley Jansen get lit up; conversely, inconsistent pitchers like Joe Kelly go from an ERA above 4.00 to lights out.

The Dodgers do not need to break the bank for Will Smith, nor do they need to overpay the Pirates for Felipe Vazquez. Without further ado, I present to you, five relievers the Dodgers should target in the coming weeks.

Jake Diekman, LHP, Kansas City Royals

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Jake Diekman is not one of the biggest names on the trade market right now, and for reasonable cause. His 5.20 ERA and 22 walks across 36.1 innings have kept him out of the spotlight and likely scared away rival GMs.

Diekman’s uncharacteristically high ERA is deceptive, however, and it fails to actually describe the talent this man possesses.

ERA, like batting average, is a statistic that many fans still view as the end all, be all to determine the value and talent of a player. Major League front offices have wised up to the foolish narrative, as have analytically minded fans, like myself.

A quick Google search of “Jake Diekman” will bring you to pages like FanGraphs, where one can view not only Jake’s standard statistics like ERA, wins and innings pitched, they also have categories for advanced metrics like wins above replacement (WAR), skill-interactive earned run average (SIERA) and fielding independent pitching (FIP). WAR determines a player’s individual value, and each full WAR that player earns, equates to how many wins that player is worth on their own, while the latter two essentially factor out tangibles a pitcher has no control over, such as defense and the ballpark they’re playing at.

Diekman’s 0.5 WAR indicates that he has been worth half a win for Kansas City across 36.1 innings. For context, Cardinal’s closer, Jordan Hicks, who is widely viewed as one of the top young relievers in the game, possessed a 0.5 WAR across 77.2 innings in 2018. It took Hicks, one of the premier young relievers in the league, over double the innings last season, to accomplish what Diekman has already accomplished. Why then, is Diekman not a coveted asset on the market?

This leads us back to our original point, many people are incapable of seeing beyond the box score, or the graphic on television. With a FIP of 3.75, roughly a run and a half lower than his ERA, we can conclude that if Jake Diekman had an elite defense behind him and his home games were at a pitcher-friendly park, his stat line would be much more appealing.

Enter the Dodgers, a team that plays phenomenal defense and plays its home games at a park friendly to pitchers. Jake Diekman, 32 and on an expiring contract with an average annual value of three million, certainly would not cost a top prospect, nor do I even think he would cost mid-level prospects. The Dodgers could bring in a reliever that nobody else sees value in for pennies on the dollar, and if we’ve learned anything from Andrew Friedman’s time as head honcho in Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, these are the exact type of relievers he’s had the most success with.

Sam Dyson, RHP, San Francisco Giants

(Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

Not the Giants reliever you were expecting to see, huh? Just because his name recognition isn’t that of teammates Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the elite arms in that staff.

After a disastrous start to the 2017 season with the Texas Ranger, Dyson got shipped out to San Francisco. After that trade, Dyson established himself as not only one of the best relievers in San Francisco’s bullpen but one of the best relievers in all of baseball.

Since the start of 2018, among all Major League relievers with at least 100 innings pitched, Sam Dyson owns the 8th lowest walk rate, 9th lowest home runs per nine and 5th best ground ball rate. Furthermore, Dyson is tied with Josh Hader, arguably the best reliever in baseball over the past season and a half, for 10th place in all of baseball in soft contact rate, at 21.6%.

Dyson throws strikes, doesn’t allow the long ball and induces soft contact. What more could a team possibly ask for?

The best part of it all, at 31 years old, with only one year, plus a final season of arbitration left on Dyson’s contract, he will cost a fraction of what his teammate Will Smith is going to cost.

Hansel Robles, RHP, Anaheim Angels

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

After spending the first three and a half seasons of his career, mired in mediocrity, in a Mets uniform, New York designated Hansel Robles for assignment and another little brother team, the Angels, picked him up. Like Dyson, all Robles needed was a change of scenery.

After going to the Angels in 2018, Robles was solid across 36.1 innings, with a respectable 2.97 ERA. This season, however, Robles has really taken a step forward, with an ERA- of 62. According to FanGraphs, ERA- is essentially a park-adjusted version of ERA and it is a way for fans and front offices to understand how well a pitcher performed in comparison to the rest of the league. 100 is league average, so every point below 100 is a point in the positive direction. 70 is considered excellent; Robles currently sits at 62.

That is remarkable and indicates that no matter what park Robles pitches at, he will excel. It is expected that if he were to play his home games in a pitcher-friendly park like… oh I don’t know, Dodger Stadium, he would be pitching even better than he currently is.

However, what will make GMs and front offices fall in love with Robles is peripherals. Robles places in the 96th percentile for fastball velocity, 88th percentile for fastball spin rate and 87th percentile for hard contact rate. Remarkable.

Brain trusts in the league move toward raw metrics like spin rate and contact rate (Hard contact rate, soft contact rate, exit velocity) to tell the true tale of how valuable a pitcher really is, for these raw tangibles are the only things that a pitcher truly possesses. Robles’s tangibles are off the charts, he would be a perfect fit on an intelligent team, with a great pitching coach; again, an ideal fit for Los Angeles.

Robles would surely come with a steeper price tag than Diekman or Dyson, for he is in the midst of his prime at 28, with another year of control beyond this season. He also plays for a team that may not opt to sell, as they’re only 6.5 games back of the final wild-card spot.

It may be worthwhile, however, for the Dodgers to entice the Angels with a strong offer for someone that will surely solidify their bullpen this October.

Aaron Bummer, LHP, Chicago White Sox

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

“Who? Aaron Bummer? Never heard of him.”

I’m sure some of your said that, and rightfully so. Bummer plays for one of the most irrelevant teams in the league and just this season, he began breaking out of his shell. But boy, has he ever broken out of his shell.

Across 33.1 innings this season, Bummer owns a stratospheric ERA- of 42 and a hard hit rate of 23.2% that puts him in the 89th percentile among all Major League pitchers. What else? Bummer induces a lot of ground balls, as evidenced by his 65% ground ball rate, he also keeps the ball in the ballpark, showcased by his sparkling 0.54 Home Runs per nine innings.

Of course, Bummer will not be cheap. He’s owed only $555 thousand this season and has four years of club control attached to his name beyond 2019. At only 25, the White Sox likely view Bummer as a building block for the future, however, if a team with an elite farm system, like… oh come on say it with me, the Dodgers, were to throw up a mid to upper-level starting pitching or position player prospect as the headline of a trade package, the White Sox may reconsider their stance on the young lefty.

Ken Giles, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

(Photo by Daveme Images)

Ah, Ken Giles. Or as you may remember him, from his days as Astros closer, “Hundred Miles Giles”. Yep, I’m pretty sure Joe Buck referred to him as that, right before he blew a save in Game two of the 2017 World Series.

To call Giles time in Houston a disappointment would be a massive understatement. After a brilliant first two years as Philadelphia’s closer, Houston traded for Giles in December of 2015 in exchange for a hefty package, headlined by former top prospect Vince Velasquez and failed number one overall pick, Mark Appel. A discouraging 2016 was followed up by a very nice 2017 regular season campaign, however, that nice regular season campaign was followed up by an even more discouraging 2017 postseason, in which the Houston Astros seemingly put Giles into witness protection after he allowed three earned runs in his game four appearances, all without recording a single out.

Things got flat out ugly in 2018, where Giles pitched to the tune of a 4.99 ERA across 30.2 innings before being shipped from Houston to Toronto in the Roberto Osuna deal last year at the trade deadline. He wasn’t much better for Toronto over the final months of 2018.

However, 2019 has been a completely different story for Giles. He once again looks like the untouchable, flame-throwing closer back in Philly, pitching to the tune of a 1.45 ERA and 1.49 FIP, with a 43.4% strikeout rate, which ranks second among all Major League relievers with at least 30 innings pitched.

Giles and teammate Marcus Stroman, both of whom are likely to be dealt this summer, are a pair of Blue Jays who should net more young talent to a team with an already promising future. Although Giles is unlikely to command the trade package Stroman will, Toronto’s asking price for Giles will likely be a nice little package of prospects, headlined by at least one mid to upper-level prospect, perhaps even a top 100 prospect.

Should the Dodgers meet Toronto’s asking price however, they would be bringing in an elite arm for the back of the pen, with another year of control beyond this season. At only 28, this may be a deal worthy of being completed by Los Angeles.

Featured Image Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Ian Nielson has served as a writer and contributor for @DodgersLowDown since 2018. Follow him on twitter @ianenielson