The Dodgers Don’t Need A Reliever

Everyone is up in arms about the Dodgers bullpen. And it’s not without reason. Their 2 relievers in the top 50 in fWAR, Kenley Jansen and Pedro Baez, have been productive but have taken their lumps. Even Urias, who holds the lowest ERA in the Dodgers BP (amongst those who’ve thrown for 10 innings) has had his share of bumps in the road as well. The rest have been wildly inconsistent. There are a couple that seemed to have turned a corner — Joe Kelly has gained confidence in adjusting his repertoire and Yimi Garcia’s weighted on-base average against, since late May, is one of the best in the group. But neither have provided elite level production consistently throughout the regular season at any point in their careers. Yet, this doesn’t prove getting a reliever by the deadline is the only or most worthwhile option.

Most haven’t had much confidence in the bullpen’s ability for last few seasons heading into the postseason. Nonetheless, they still have managed to go above and beyond everyone’s expectations once October rolls around. And as bad as they may seem this year, last year by the end of the first half, the BP was less productive than this year’s group at the half (in terms of fWAR) in a season that saw World Series hopes as somewhat dismal. The production level of a reliever, in general, is unstable. They could be elite and cheered at one moment and then terrible and booed the next. Then there are the few that keep producing consistently at a high level. Those few are extremely high-priced commodities. And the line to acquire them goes out the door and wraps around the corner but only a few teams have the assets to acquire such talent. The Dodgers are one of them. Yet again, this doesn’t prove getting a reliever of such type by the deadline is the only and worthwhile option.

Here’s a couple of facts most overlook. In the 8th and 9th innings collectively, the Dodgers bullpen has the 3rd lowest ERA and lowest weighted on-base average against in all of baseball. And as the ERA has had minor fluctuations, the wOBA against has been in the top 5 in every month this season. So, they have the late innings covered. The middle relief is another issue altogether. It’s as if innings 5-7 are in “The Upside Down” with their ERA and wOBA against in the bottom 10 of the league. Bringing in some middle relief help maybe necessary. Or not.

With the Dodgers set to win the division and make a deep run in the playoffs, the relievers likely to get the bulk of the innings is Urias, Baez, Kelly, Maeda, Stripling, and Jansen while plugging in who’s ever left for certain situations. That’s a good group of relievers with swing & miss stuff and moderately low hard contact rates. But I know what you’re thinking. Who else would start after Ryu, Buehler, and Kershaw if it isn’t Urias, Maeda or Stripling? Hill isn’t a certainty with him being out until sometime September with a flexor tendon strain. Can we trust anyone in the minors that has no MLB playoff experience? That leaves the trade market. Yup, The Dodgers need another quality starter, not a reliever.

Going back to 2015, the first season of the Friedman and Co regime, Andrew has traded for a player by every deadline that had at least a 2.0 fWAR in the first half of the season they were acquired by the Dodgers. Here’s a list of those players and their 1st half fWAR:

2015: Alex Wood 2.1

2016: Rich Hill 2.7

2017: Yu Darvish 2.6

2018: Manny Machado 3.8

So, this helped as a guideline to carve out a few names the Dodgers should target. And before I move forward, just FYI, Kirby Yates was the only reliever with an fWAR 2.0 or better at the break. One more thing, at times you’ll see stats that aren’t traditional, but they ARE statistics and they work well as a matter of fact. If you need help understanding them, just click or tap the stat for an explanation as to what they mean. Now, this first pitcher is a personal favorite and have been longing to see him in Dodger blue for the last couple of seasons.

RHP Marcus Stroman

Stroman was drafted in the 1st round by the Blue Jays and has been with them ever since. This has been a solid bounce-back year for Stroman. He has a 67 ERA-  which is tied for the 9th lowest in baseball amongst starting pitchers. He’s had a formidable career with only two subpar seasons that were marred by injuries. When healthy, he’s put up 3+ wins above replacement (via Fangraphs). To put that into perspective, having a 3+ fWAR would put a pitcher in the top 20 in the AL at the end of every season going back to 2015. At the moment he’s at 2.9 with just over 2 more months left in the season. His career-high is 3.4. This may be his best year yet. He’s not the type of pitcher that collects a lot of strikeouts or swings and misses. What he does best is induce a lot of ground balls (2nd highest rate in baseball) and weak contact (2nd lowest line drive rate). And for the spin rate enthusiasts, his 2-seam fastball sits in the 86th percentile and his slider in the 96th. And for a small sample of the ridiculous movement in those two pitches:

Stroman has one year of arbitration eligibility after this season. He’s considered a top trade chip. The Dodgers may have to give up a top prospect and some mid to lower levels to acquire him but not much more, but that all depends on who’s in the running for him. Either way, he’ll give close to ace-like production until the end of the 2020 season. That type of value won’t be cheap.

LHP Matthew Boyd

Boyd is a peculiar case. His previous 4 seasons don’t even come close to how well he’s done this year. His 89 ERA- and 3.3 fWAR are career bests by a long shot. His success can be attributed to the combination of his 4-seamer and slider that has helped rank him tied for 10th in swinging strike percentage and put him in the 95th percentile in whiff rate. Here’s an idea of how it looks:

The problem with Boyd is his 125 ERA- since June 2nd. He could be regressing to what he once was, but his peripheral and advanced statistics prove otherwise. And as most should know, ERA is an outdated determining factor of a pitcher’s total value.

He’ll be costly due to how high his stock is at the moment. Add his 3 more years of arbitration eligibility and good chance they’ll bring in a decent haul. It’s also been reported that Detroit is looking to package Boyd with players like Shane Greene (1 more year of arb eligibility), whom the Dodgers have rumored interest in, and/or soon to be free agent Nick Castellanos as well as the possibility of right-handed hurler Buck Farmer. It’s not the type of package resembling a king’s ransom, but it will likely cost giving up a top prospect or two.

Something else to consider is Boyd’s ability to get strikeouts at a high rate and keep men off base, making him a versatile swingman option. If Rich Hill were to come back and prove to be a 4th option in the rotation in a 7-game series, then Boyd fills a whole from the left side in the bullpen come the postseason. And if Greene is packaged in, well, just add him to the group I mentioned earlier, and you have yourself the best bullpen the Dodgers have seen in quite some time.

RHP Lance Lynn

Lynn is having a career year, in terms of fWAR. His previous high was 3.6. As of now, it’s 4.6. And if you’re looking up his ERA, don’t be fooled, the defense behind him is terrible. Instead, wonder your eyes toward his FIP- which is the lowest in his career and a truer indication of how well he’s pitched. Or, you can go to Baseball Prospectus and check out his DRA-. Yes, 55.6 is really good and probably the more accurate metric representing how well he’s pitched this season. Maybe it’s the minor change to his repertoire, where he’s drastically dropped the usage of his 2-seamer to mainly throw a 4-seam FB (80th percentile in wOBA against and 87th in spin rate) that he has complete command of and uses to pepper in a cutter, curveball and that 2FB he moderated use of, to keep hitters off balance leading to him sitting in the 87th percentile in exit velocity and 88th percentile in hard-hit percentage. Regardless of what it is, it’s working.

So, we’ve established he’s good. Very good. But is he available? According to Jon Daniels, the Rangers president of baseball operations, who recently appeared on a morning radio show in Dallas where he expressed being content in holding on to his starters that are “performing at a high level”. Lynn has 2 years left on his contract after 2019 with an average annual value of 10 million dollars. To continue performing anywhere near this year’s level in the next couple of seasons would be downright theft. This would make a trade highly unlikely, especially with his stock being at an all-time high. The amount and type of prospects it would take to acquire him could deter the Dodgers to go in another direction. But, like the idea with Detroit, if he’s packaged with Jose Leclerc (3 more seasons at +$3.6M AAV plus club options in ’23 & ’24), the steep price may turn out to be fair. Lynn is an ace this season. Add him to the Dodgers rotation and opponents might give up before they reach the field.

LHP Mike Minor

The last time Minor had a quality season as a starter was 2013. His fWAR that year was 3.3. So far this season it’s 2.7. His 61 ERA- and 88 FIP- are career lows as a starter. Like the previous pitchers mentioned, he’s headed towards the best season of his career. What’s most impressed me is his ability to lock down with runners on base, where opponents have a .271 on-base percentage, tied for 9th lowest in baseball. Whenever a runner moves into scoring position, opponents are hitting .181, 6th lowest in baseball. It seems as when the situation has most pitchers stressed, he isn’t. Another fact to point out is his experience coming out the bullpen. He was a reliever for the Royals for one full season where he put up a 57 ERA- and 61 FIP-. Both career bests as a pitcher. Opponents, collectively, didn’t even crack a .590 OPS against him. If there’s anything we know about the Dodgers, it’s their affinity to versatility and flexibility. This type of quality is difficult to obtain in a pitcher let alone one with a successful track record. He’s also a lefty which, at the moment, is something the Dodgers are thin on in the bullpen.

The odds the Rangers trade him are low. Along with Lynn, he’s one of the starters Jon Daniels mentioned as a high-level performer. Although wheedling him away shouldn’t be as difficult as it would with Lynn. First, he’s been solid but hasn’t produced the same type of results as Lynn. Second, he has only 1 year left on his contract after this season. Taking advantage of getting what would be the best package Texas could get for him would be a smart move, especially if in the return a major league ready arm with experience (Ross Stripling) is included to lessen the blow to the rotation. Last, he has a history of injuries. So, moving him now could save them from headaches of a failed opportunity to do so in the future. But, regardless of those reasons, the Rangers don’t need to budge. They hold the cards since the duo of Minor and Lynn heading into the 2020 season can be a worthy 1-2 punch. And if they add another arm from the bevy of free-agent starters hitting the market this off-season, they can give Houston fits and attempt to make a deep run into the postseason. Yeah, that’s a big if. They should seriously consider selling 1 of their 2 “high-level performers”.

RHP Sonny Gray

Gray is having his best season since 2015. His 60.3 DRA- is the lowest since his rookie season. He’s been as efficient as a pitcher can in a park that’s known to be a hitter’s haven, given his 2.94 FIP at Great American Ball Park. Just imagine how well he could do in the pitcher-friendly confines of Dodger Stadium. And speaking of FIP, it’s also the lowest it has been since his rookie season in 2013 where he threw for only 64 innings. After a couple of seasons of inconsistency with the Yankees, it looks like he’s found his mojo. The Dodgers were once in the hunt for Gray’s services back in ’17. His stuff was worthy enough then. It’s more so now. I guess there’s only one problem. He just signed with the Reds. So, why would they trade him?

Gray, 29, signed a 3 year, 30.5-million-dollar extension with the Reds that’s loaded with escalators and a club option for 2023. This is after the Reds sent Shed Long and a 2019 Competitive Balance Round A to the Yankees in exchange for Sonny. The Reds gave up peanuts for a potential ace. Shed Long wasn’t even in Cincinnati’s top 30 in 2018. But to be fair, neither was Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray and look how they’ve turned out for the Dodgers. Either way, in retrospect, Long for Gray was a steal. The Dodgers have a history in trading with the Reds which leads me to believe their business relationship is in good standing. The Reds have to be intrigued by how much they can cash in on Gray with his stock as high as it is and the number of teams buying, looking to improve their pitching staff. Who knows, they could get Downs and Gray back. Wouldn’t that be some galaxian (made up word) brain shit by Friedman? Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and Kyle Farmer (all = 0.5 fWAR) for Gray (2.8 fWAR). Ultimately, It will take more than the 2 previously mentioned prospects to make the deal happen, but the Reds could turn peanuts into precious metal within a matter of 8 months. In essence, the move would be a win-win all around. But then, it’s not a move Cincinnati needs to make. They traded for him to help ease the restless fans. Getting rid of him can be counterproductive.

All of these pitchers will provide more value than any reliever on the market. Hence, why you’ve never seen the Dodgers acquire a top-end reliever. Yes, they’ve attempted to but always came short. Why is that? Because what Friedman and Co put on the table wasn’t one of the top prospects you’re rooting for now or will be in the upcoming seasons. Unless, of course when at the bargaining table, the amount of wins they’re trading for is worth the prospect of wins they’re giving up. And that, in a nutshell, is how these deals go down. Well, at least that’s how I see it. But by this coming Wednesday, before 1 pm pacific standard time, I suspect eventually the Dodgers will acquire a reliever or two. I just don’t believe they’ll give up a top prospect to get one. Unless one comes in a packaged deal with a player/pitcher with more value.