Dodgers Turnaround Part 2: Pitching
The other day, I kicked off this mini-series about the Dodgers by diving into the offense with regards to what has made them one of the best teams in the game this season.
Today, we move onto pitching.
The first part of the LA pitching season was ugly.
The starters were so-so
One would think that a Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke fronted rotation shouldn't have any problems performing well. And to a point, the starting rotation has not been overly bad. Kershaw will find himself in the middle of the Cy Young Award voting again this season. Greinke got off to a slow start, but also missed time with a broken collarbone thanks to Carlos Quentin.
The contribution that helped the most in the rotation at the beginning of the season, was that of Hyun-jin Ryu.
Through the 21st of June, the Korean import's ERA of 2.96 trailed only Kershaw among Dodger starters. With a 21.2% K-rate and K/BB of 2.92, Ryu was making the Dodgers front office look brilliant for investing $61-plus million (Posting fee, $25+ million. Contract, $36 million) in the 26 year old left hander.
The starting rotation was around the middle of the pack in the NL in most categories.
But the bullpen, well...
Through June 21st, the bullpen's ERA was 13th in the National League. It's WHIP was 14th. It's OPS against was 13th. Slugging against, 12th. Do you catch my drift?
Of course, when any bullpen is doing terrible, all eyes look to the closer.
And as the closer, Brandon League was all kinds of not good during the first three months of the season.
League was 14/18 in save chances through late June, and got tuned up by opposing offenses who posted a slash line of .300/.352/.455 against him. Or roughly, Allen Craig-like. League's unsightly 5.14 ERA and 1.464 WHIP eventually got him demoted from the closer role. But as a team, the relief pitching blew 15 save opportunities through June 21st. It's easy to point and laugh at League's non-production, but the late innings were a mess for the Dodgers, and it nearly cost manager Don Mattingly his job.
But then came Kenley Jansen.
Yup, Kenley Jansen. Just your typical, run-of-the-mill, completely dominant closer. I would list the stats for Jansen, but I'd rather just stare at the stat table embedded below with you. We can clean each other's drool off of the table.
The Curacao native has been nearly untouchable for the Dodgers throughout July and August, allowing only four earned runs and blowing one save in that time span.
He may not have Mariano Rivera's cutter, But when you are using it 83.7% of the time, and the results above are what you are getting, it must be something special.
Along with Jansen anchoring the back end of the bullpen, the rest of the Dodgers relievers have stepped in line to make sure that he gets the ball in the ninth inning. Well, except for League, his ERA since the team became ridiculous good is 4.96. Thanks for nothing, Brandon.
Ronald Belisario has appeared in 25 games since June 21st. His ERA over that span is 0.90. His WHIP is 1.000. Chris Withrow has appeared in 11 games and has an ERA of 1.59 with a WHIP of 0.765. J.P. Howell has an ERA of 0.52 and a WHIP of 0.981. In 24 games, Paco Rodriguez has an ERA of 0.47 and a WHIP of 0.569.
That's five relievers if you include Jansen who have a sub-2.00 ERA and WHIP's at 1.000 or below.
The game is over after four
As a unit the relief corp since June 22nd ranks first in the NL in ERA (2.67), first in WHIP (1.041), third in OPS against (.663) and their K/BB of 3.61 is pacing the NL as well. In theory, that means that every game where the Dodgers have a lead after four innings, should be nearly automatic, and starters could be used less.
But that would mean a lot less Kershaw and his 7-2 record. What's that? You think pitchers wins are silly too? How about an ERA of 1.40, a WHIP of 0.649 and a K-Rate of 25.5% to go along with his 7-2 record over his 10 starts since June 21st? I may have said it before, but just in case I haven't, Clayton Kershaw is good. Like, really really good. I could probably write about him everyday.
And his number two, Zack Greinke, has been a legitimate number one. He's 8-1 over his last 11 starts to go along with a 2.25 ERA and 1.092 WHIP. A big money offseason signing that worked. I wish my team had one of those.
The Dodgers are on a run where they are 42-9 since June 21st. 42-9! The Tampa Bay Rays were recently called the "hottest team in baseball." Their record since June 21st is 31-16. The Atlanta Braves just rattled off 14 consecutive wins. Their record? 32-16.
No team can touch what the Dodgers have been doing for the last eight weeks.