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Can The Dodgers Build The Bridge to Kenley Jansen?

Yimi Garcia

The dictionary defines a bridge as something that is intended to reconcile or form a connection between two things. The Dodgers are looking to build one of those things inside their own bullpen in 2016. How do the Dodgers build a bridge to closer Kenley Jansen? Dodger’s fans have been asking that question for several years now. So far the construction has not been completed. Maybe the builders are on union time.

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The Dodgers have been looking for that seventh and eighth inning guy for seemingly forever. Unfortunately the bridge keeps collapsing. Again possibly shoddy construction has been the culprit. The Dodger bullpen ranked 19th in MLB last season with a 3.91 ERA and 21 blown saves. Dodger’s relievers posted a .249 batting average against and a 1.28 WHIP. There is definitely room for improvement.

How do the Dodgers build that bridge that we keep hearing about?

There should be a lot of competition this spring for the bullpen roster spots and that coveted setup role. Fortunately the Dodgers have a lot of options to choose from and the depth is very good. Today I’ll take a look at the top three pitchers that could provide the bridge to Kenley and alleviate a lot of our agita in the late innings. First let’s take a look back at the Dodger’s late inning bullpen performance from last season.

The Dodger relievers ranked 20th in MLB from the seventh inning on. They posted a 3.77 ERA and a .238 batting average against in 472.2 innings pitched. Although if you look closer you can see that some of the numbers were possibly skewed. Things might not have been as bad as they looked. Dodger relievers allowed just 428 hits and whiffed 517 batters. That comes out to a 9.8 K/9 rate and an 8.1 hits per nine innings rate. The Dodger relievers actually ranked second overall in strikeouts per nine (9.9) and seventh in walks per nine (2.89). FIP registers the Dodgers bullpen with a 3.43 mark.

The one thing that stood out at me was the Dodgers bullpen posted a .317 BABIP (batting average of balls in play) which was one of the highest in MLB. I normally don’t like quoting the luck stat, but it could point to the relief corp pitching into bad luck. That number is bound to come down to normal in 2016.

Looking at the relievers assembling this spring I think the top three relievers would be left hander J.P. Howell, right hander Chris Hatcher, and right hander Yimi Garcia. The rest of the guys can fight for the remaining spots.

J.P. Howell

Strengths – Durability, dominant against left handers

Weaknesses – susceptible to right handed bats, late season slumps

Howell has been with the Dodgers since 2013 and has been considered one of the most consistent performers since coming over from Tampa Bay. Indeed over the last three seasons Howell has posted a 2.03 ERA across 155 innings pitched for the Dodgers. He’s averaged 66 games per season proving he’s always been very durable.

J.P. Howell

Last year Howell had a massive split between left handers and right handers. This is why the Dodges probably view him more as a lefty specialist than a true setup man. However in 2014 he held right handers to a .197 average against and a .268 wOBA. In 2013 he held right handers to a .218 average against. So 2015’s struggles against right handers may have just been an anomaly.

The problem with Howell seems to be his late inning slumps. He seems to get tired when the season reaches its final month. More specifically people always cite his .360 BAA in September of 2014. Last year he had a rough August (.412 BAA) but recovered to have a good September (.238 BAA). He had some trouble with runners in scoring position (.314 BAA) and high leverage situations (.345 BAA)

Overall his body of work is solid. Howell’s numbers indicate he pitched into some poor luck. I wouldn’t be upset at all if he’s used to form that bridge to Kenley.

Chris Hatcher

Strengths – high ground ball and strikeout rates

Weaknesses – pitching with runners in scoring position, low strand rates

Hatcher would be another good choice to bridge to Kenley. Unfortunately he had a rocky start to his Dodger career. The first four months of the season he was horrible. His release point was all off and eventually he landed on the disabled list with an oblique injury. After being out for several weeks he returned to pitch very well.

His worst performance came in the early months of the season. However he saved his best work for the last two months of the year. In August Hatcher limited opponents to a .167 batting average against, and a .186 batting average against in September.

Hatcher’s problems also came with runners on base and in scoring position. With RISP Hatcher allowed a .351 BAA and .274 BAA with 24 earned runs allowed in each category. Hatcher throws hard averaging 95 on his fastballs and 87 on his slider and changeup.

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A good strength about Hatcher is his ability to keep the ball in the park. He allowed just four home runs all season. Hatcher’s ground ball percentage was 43.1% last year. Overall Hatcher posted a 3.69 ERA in 39 innings pitched while posting 45 whiffs against just 16 walks. Hatcher has a good arsenal of pitches and is able to display good command. The converted catcher should be able to provide a more solid season presuming he remains healthy.

Yimi Garcia

Strengths – very good strikeout to walk ratios, limits base runners, high swing and miss percentage.

Weaknesses – too many home runs and fly balls, inexperienced.

The third option would be second year hurler Yimi Garcia. The Dominican youngster enjoyed a good start to the season before falling victim to a league adjustment and mid season lull. The league seemed to figure him out and Garcia was unable to make the proper adjustments.

Overall his body of work was good. Garcia posted a 3.34 ERA with 68 strikeouts and 10 walks across 56.2 innings pitched. His strikeout numbers were great. Garcia whiffed 10.8 batters per nine and had a 7-1 strikeout to walk ratio. He allowed just 7.0 hits per nine as well doing a great job of limiting base runners.

Garcia was very good down the stretch as he posted a 1.23 ERA and 2.50 ERA in August and September with a .160 and .195 batting averages against respectfully. Garcia was just as good with runners in scoring position and high leverage situations. With runners in scoring position Garcia allowed a .150 batting average against and a .250 BAA in high leverage spots. Garcia’s strand rate was 85.2% against right handers and 73.7% overall. If Garcia has one chink in the armor it’s the home run.

Garcia allowed eight home runs last season with the Dodgers and posted a 1.3 home run per nine rate. His fly ball percentage was 54.2% compared to his 28.5% ground ball rate. He strikes out a lot of guys but can be homer prone.

I recently read an article stating that Garcia’s spin rate (measurement of movement on a pitch) was one of the highest for any reliever in all of baseball. That comes as no surprise as he’s always had that killer movement on his fastball and cutter. Garcia mainly throws a fastball/slider/cutter combo. He also has a changeup that he doesn’t throw very often.

If I had to make a choice, I would probably pick Garcia. He’s only 25-years old and his ability to miss bats is through the roof. Howell and Hatcher are good too. The Dodgers are going to be relying very heavily on these three guys to build the bridge to Jansen. If these three relievers can stay healthy the Dodgers may finally have that bridge instead of a rickety rope walkway. Somebody have the contractors on speed dial just in case.

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Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

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Scott Andes
Scott Andes: Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

39 thoughts on “Can The Dodgers Build The Bridge to Kenley Jansen?

  1. I agree – I would use Yimi as the 8th inning guy. I love his stuff. Hatcher’s control isn’t too good and I’m often uneasy watching him pitch. Howell doesn’t throw hard enough and tires down the stretch. Baez can only throw the fastball and we all remember what happens if you don’t have another pitch to throw from last year’s post-season.

    1. That’s what Maddux can do. Teach those hard throwers one off speed pitch with some spin that they can throw for strikes. Heck, the thing about that pitch is you can start it right over the heart of the plate. If it’s spinning it will move 8″ down and out or in – right to the corner at the knees. And if if it don’t spin the change in grip it will take at least a foot to eighteen inches taken off it. Hitting requires timing. Change it up

  2. You want to build a bridge to Jansen? Allow your starter to go 8 innings and let Jansen pitch the 9th. Or allow your starter to pitch 7 innings and let Jansen pitch the 8th and 9th. I know it’s unrealistic, but the more you specialize the bullpen (the fewer pitches thrown by any one relief pitcher) the more luck you put into the situation. The more luck involved the harder it a to build that bridge, right?

    1. Go to a 6 man rotation like the Mets and let the starters go longer. I agree with you. They keep saying we have possibly 7 or 8 starters, so use them.

    1. I second that Watford! Why hasn’t the Dodgers taken care of this? This has been a major problem, the last couple of years, and you saw how many blown saves that this bullpen gave up last year. I know everyone wants to believe that another year of experience will take care of it, but will it really fix this problem? Most of the good teams in baseball now, either have two great starting pitchers, and a decent rotaton, or a bullpen that shortens the game down, with at least a great set up guy, and a great closer. The Dodgers front office obviously thinks that the bullpen needs more help, or they would have never went after Chapman. I know they brought Montas over, to try to fix the set up role, but is he going to be a starter or a bullpen guy? And if he is going to be a starter, the bullpen still needs another dominate arm.

  3. On the leadoff story: If we were deep at 3,4,5,6, leadoff isn’t that important. We aren’t. So we will again take one of those and put him leadoff and weaken the middle of the order. For this team it seems to be one or the other. Puig SHOULD be a run producer, not leadoff. His value is knocking in runs, not necessarily scoring from the #1 hole. If he is a singles hitter now, he should lead off. I think that is a waste of his potential, which so far is all he has shown. On the bridge story: Going 7 with the starter is the best bet, but that will only happen with Kershaw, so we do need a 6-8 set of pitchers. We should rotate that, with the hot hand taking the ball when the game is at risk in those innings. Mattingly tried to locate the hot hand, which is tough to do with the guys we have, but I think that is still the way to go. It doesn’t make any difference who it is. The guy who is most effective at that time. So a bridge by committee is my choice.

  4. Based on what Scott said, I would only let Hatcher pitch in the 8th if he started the inning. With runners on base in the 8th I would bring in Garcia or Howell.

    That takes care of the 8th. If Hatcher can start the 7th I would use him for the 7th. I only use Hatcher to start an inning and that inning could be either the 7th or 8th.

    1. Bum I agree they shouldn’t bring in Hatcher, unless he is starting a inning, if that can be done. I really don’t have that much faith in JP like I used to. He always has a good ERA, but his ERA doesn’t really reflect how well he has, or has not pitched, but his WHIP does. It seemed like to me, that JP would constantly get behind on the count, and lose the hitter, and Mattingly had to bring in another pitcher, with another runner on base.

      1. MJ, New Hampshire has had a very mild winter so far. I don’t need it warmer this year, just need baseball.

        I heard that the Donald might host The Biggest Loser show next year. He got away from reality TV this year and apparently wants to get back into it.

  5. Scott Dodger Digest must have read your article yesterday on the lead off hitter, because that is there subject manner today! Keep up the good work, and I hope it is more fun, then work for you.

    1. I repeat what I said before about the Saber approach to leadoff hitters: here is what Dodgers’ Digest had to say on the subject:
      “The only reason Crawford is even considered as a leadoff option by traditionalists is because he’s fast. Getting away from the definition of “traditional” leadoff hitter is best for all teams. On-base skills are much more important compared to speed from the leadoff spot. Now, that doesn’t mean I want Yasmani Grandal or A.J. Ellis hitting leadoff, but they’d be better options ahead of Crawford…”

      They’d rather have slothlike AJ Ellis leading off instead of Carl Crawford?

      1. Yes. Speed doesn’t matter in moneyball. Lou Brock never won a pennant because he didn’t walk enough. Oh, damn! Wrong again.

  6. My post is kind of off topic, but…
    I’m baaaack. I’ve been kind of lurking since Mark shut down LADT. I love the new site Scott. I bet Mark’s blood pressure has dropped substantially since then. Sometimes a labor of love can turn into the kiss of death. Thank you Mark for all you put into it.
    Okay, now time for some baseball talk. Over the last few seasons and going into this off season I had 5 major bitches with this team and organization. My off season wish was for all of them to be addressed. Not necessarily to my satisfaction, but to at least address them. So here we go in order of importance, and my take on if and how they have been addressed.

    1. Local TV access. Not addressed. Complete and utter failure by Guggs, Period. Their disregard for the local fan base is beyond reproach in my opinion. If we can’t see them on TV, all of the following accomplishments mean absolutely nothing to local fans.
    2. Donnie Mattingly. Gone. Wish granted. Problem solved, period. I was a huge Dave Roberts fan during his time with the Dodgers. I will definitely give him a clean slate and my 100% backing.
    3. The training and medical staff. Gone. Wish granted. Problem solved, I hope. I only know from what I have read about these new people, but anything is better than Conte and his buffoons.*
    4. The coaches and instructors. Gone. Wish granted. Problem solved. Now they just need to teach frikkin fundamentals in the minors and “execute” those fundamentals in the “Bigs”.
    5. Transparency. Somewhat addressed. Yes Stanley and a few others did do some lip service interviews last month. However it would still be nice for them to at least let the fans know what the overall direction of the team is. No I don’t want to know their secret battle plans, but geez these guys are all over the map.

    As far as all of the moves made in the offseason, it’s still pretty much the same damn team we saw last year. Minus Grienke, which I am okay with, money grubbing ding dong. No loyalty, he has enough money for his next 5 generations to live very nicely. Show some loyalty to those who have supported you. Just my opinion.

    With that said, I am truly optimistic that items 2 through 3 will address the deficiencies that this team displayed last year, even though I couldn’t see them. And the boatload of projects we accumulated in the last 3 months has created depth, I guess. I still see a revolving door at OK City though.

    There is still time before the season starts, so hopefully item #1 can be addressed. If not I will continue to live vicariously through all of you and I will rail on them and show no mercy.

    I am soooo looking forward to attending spring training in a month. Golf every morning, baseball the rest of the day, and some beers along the way. Okay, lots of beers, I can’t lie to you all. I am going March 6-10, if any others are going during that time email me please. [email protected].

    Once again thank you Scott for this site. The best in Dodgers Blogosphere. And now back to your regularly scheduled blog topic.

    *P.S. I still find it hilarious this idiot is opening a sports medicine consulting business.

    1. Hey Tim. Good to see you.

      Lead off. While it’s true the leadoff guy only starts the game once, who would rather see an AJ there rather than a Dee Gordon? The answer is of course nobody other than AJ’s family. Find the guy that can get on at .400 and score easily from first on a double.

      Bullpen. We have the arms down there. Teach them another out pitch and insist they throw strikes. Hatcher, Baez and Garcia all need a change, or that two seamer that Maddux and Hershiser threw with perfection. It’s not that difficult. Really it isn’t. I was throwing that pitch, and a circle change, for strikes as a 50 year MABL pitcher. Give them the grip and make them throw it everyday all spring. That won’t take anything away from the letter high 98 mph fastball all those guys love so much. They can still throw that whenever they want, but an off speed pitch IN THE STRIKE ZONE is a must! Make it so!

      1. I don’t know if there’s time to teach them this year, but I expect big things in the minor league development. I read somewhere that a MLB scouting director once said most 19-year old pitchers who can throw over 90+ mph are pretty similar, and that it’s the instruction they get in the minors that makes the biggest difference. If that’s true having Maddux back should be great news.

      2. I don’t think A.J. or anybody else would want to replace the batter Gordon has become. The goal is putting who’s less likely to make an out more at bats and and of coarse speed and base running skills are extremely helpful married to such player. Address accordingly with what ya got. There’s only one inning where who’s batting leadoff is certain and the final inning is a guess unless there’s there’s an better option still on the bench. No perfect solution exists but the Dodgers hadn’t fielded the team able to fallow the cookie cut format in recent years. Gordon IS the best leadoff in all of baseball.

        1. I sure hope Gordon knows he’s been missed by some of us as soon as we heard he’d been traded and that he’d be most welcome back.

      1. No but I have lived here for 32 years and my wife is Cal Poly alumni and my retirement fund is paying for my daughter to go there now.

        1. I the Mustang Lounge still going? I spent quite a bit of time in Cambria in the 80’s. Great weather there and around.

          1. The Mustang Tavern has been gone for almost 20 years. You wouldn’t recognize town these days. It’s becoming like a cross between Orange County and Santa Barbara.
            Cambria is pretty much still the same though. They have a very strict building moratorium.
            I love it here most of the time.

  7. Two weeks ago, I would have said — the Dodgers will be iffy in the pen.

    Now, after Maddux was signed — that changes the whole question and answer. Greg just might (will) get these guys and the ones in the minors — in shape. I expect big things from the Pen.

  8. They can, they won’t, they don’t care. That bridge interferes with the bridge to 2018. 🙂

    Make Maddox the bullpen coach and you might have a good pen in 2016.

      1. Badger it sounds more of a physiological thing, then the different type of woods used, to make a bat. Did you see that Ethier was the only Dodger, to have a OPS over 800 in the second half of the season, this last year?

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