2014 Spring Training Preview: Relief Pitchers

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Age   IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Kenley Jansen 26 2013 (Dodgers) 76.2 13.03 2.11 1.88 1.99 2.06 2.2
’14 ZiPS 70.2 13.82 2.72 1.91 1.96 1.7
’14 Steamer 65.0 12.21 3.11 2.18 2.65 0.8
 Brian Wilson 32 2013 (Dodgers) 13.2 8.56 2.63 0.66 2.02 2.82 0.4
’14 ZiPS 38.1 9.24 3.37 3.05 3.02 0.4
’14 Steamer 65.0 8.87 3.72 3.29 3.46 0.4
J.P. Howell 31 2013 (Dodgers) 62.0 7.84 3.34 2.18 2.89 3.48 0.7
’14 ZiPS 50.2 8.14 3.68 3.37 3.56 0.3
’14 Steamer 55.0 7.95 3.77 3.51 3.63 0.0
Chris Perez 28 2013 (Indians) 54.0 9.00 3.50 4.33 5.08 3.83 -0.9
’14 ZiPS 59.1 8.65 3.04 3.95 4.04 -0.3
’14 Steamer 40.0 8.74 3.29 3.30 3.60 0.0
Jamey Wright 39 2013 (Rays) 70.0 8.36 2.96 3.09 3.13 3.48 0.5
’14 ZiPS 59.0 7.78 3.36 3.51 3.52 0.4
’14 Steamer 55.0 8.36 2.96 3.26 3.36 0.1
Paul Maholm 32 2013 (Braves) 153.0 6.18 2.76 4.41 4.24 3.89 0.7
’14 ZiPS 147.1 6.11 2.51 3.97 4.12 2.0
’14 Steamer 77.0 6.22 2.74 4.01 3.76 0.6
Paco Rodriguez 23 2013 (Dodgers) 54.1 10.44 3.15 2.32 3.08 2.92 0.7
’14 ZiPS 41.2 10.17 3.38 3.02 2.93 0.4
’14 Steamer 45.0 10.18 3.83 2.92 3.22 0.4
Brandon League 31 2013 (Dodgers) 54.1 4.64 2.48 5.30 4.93 4.07 -1.0
’14 ZiPS 60.1 6.03 2.79 4.03 3.72 -0.1
’14 Steamer 6.59 6.59 3.14 3.59 3.62 0.0
Chris Withrow 25 2013 (Dodgers) 34.2 11.16 3.38 2.60 3.57 3.03 0.1
’14 ZiPS 54.1 9.20 4.35 3.48 3.77 0.3
’14 Steamer 30.0 10.44 4.70 3.35 3.55 0.0
Seth Rosin 25 2013 (Reading, AA) 126.2 6.82 2.49 4.33 3.92 N/A
Javy Guerra 28 2013 (Dodgers) 10.2 10.13 5.06 6.75 3.99 4.05 -0.1
Jose Dominguez 23 2013 (Dodgers) 8.1 4.32 3.24 2.16 3.53 5.33 0.0
Onelki Garcia 24 2013 (Dodgers) 1.1 6.75 27.00 13.50 20.30 11.57 -0.2
Yimi Garcia 23 2013 (Chattanooga) 60.1 12.68 2.09 2.54 3.12 N/A
Jarret Martin 24 2013 (Chattanooga) 10.2 9.28 10.13 1.69 5.08 N/A
Pedro Baez 26 2013 (Chattanooga) 23.1 8.87 3.09 4.24 3.93 N/A

It’s time to continue our spring training preview series with the relief pitchers, and the table above tells the whole story. The Dodgers have A LOT of relievers. Every player on the above list is on the 40-man roster. This doesn’t even count Scott Elbert, who should be back at some point this season. In order to carry a “standard” roster, they’ll need to shave the list of 16 down to 7.

Some of the cuts/demotions are easy. Pedro Baez and Jarret Martin are 47th and 46th on Dustin’s top prospect list, respectively, and were both optioned to minor league camp earlier today. Neither pitched above AA last season, and were added to the roster to protect them from the rule 5 draft. Both pitchers have interesting upside, but will start the season in Chattanooga or Albuquerque and are long shots to see any major league service time this season.

Yimi Garcia was also added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the rule 5 draft, and was also optioned to minor league camp this morning. He has a bit more potential than Baez or Martin, and is a bit closer to being major-league ready. He was 16th on Dustin’s prospect list. Garcia has been dealing with a knee injury during camp, so it is possible that he will start the season on the disabled list.

Both Jose Dominguez and Onelki Garcia were briefly with the big league club last season. Dominguez has been a rapid riser in the Dodgers’ system (between drug suspensions), but didn’t miss many bats in the majors. During his time in the minors last season, he walked about 5 batters per nine innings. He could probably use more time in the minors to work on his control. Garcia is Dustin’s No. 9 9 prospect in the system. His “heavy” fastball might work well in the late innings, though he his control is also an issue; he walked 5.5 batters per nine in AA last season. Garcia is recovering from both knee and elbow surgeries, and might be added to the 60 day disabled list if the Dodgers need to clear room for another player on the 40 man roster.

Javy Guerra is out of options, so if he doesn’t make the roster out of spring training he’ll probably be playing for another organization. The Dodgers don’t appear to be very fond of him anymore, as he spent most of 2013 in Albuquerque. Given the depth in front of him, it’s nearly impossible to imagine him making the team.

This is where the easy roster decisions stop. That leaves 10 relievers for 7 roster spots. At this point, it makes more sense to run through the list of relievers in an order from most likely to make the roster to least likely (barring injury).

Kenley Jansen is awesome. It seems that his role as the closer is finally secure. The role doesn’t matter much as long as he pitches in the highest leverage situations, but those situations occur most frequently in the ninth inning. Mattingly isn’t one to break from the closer role tradition, so this is the best result that we can hope for.

Brian Wilson was re-signed to an expensive deal during the offseason. He pitched well in his short return, though he was supported by an unsustainably high rate of looking strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched for an extended period of time since returning from surgery, so next season has a large range of potential outcomes.

The Dodgers signed J.P. Howell to a multi-year deal, so he isn’t going anywhere. Howell’s HR/FB ratio is a statistic to watch closely in 2014. In 2012, his HR/FB ratio was 17.1%, and it was 4.3% last year. When I analyzed Howell’s contract, I found numbers that supported a reduction in ratio, though he could always revert to his pre-2013 pitching style. Howell was an above average pitcher by xFIP and SIERA, so the potential for HR/FB regression isn’t particularly concerning.

I didn’t really like the Chris Perez signing when it happened, and it still doesn’t make much sense now. Adding one of the worst pitchers in baseball (by FIP) to an incredibly deep bullpen doesn’t make much sense. I’d rather have any of the relievers that don’t fit onto the major league roster than Perez, but he’s a roster lock unless he’s injured. Earlier this year, I looked into Perez’ chances to improve next season. There’s reasons to be optimistic, but he’ll need to lower his HR/FB ratio and batted ball distance in order for a positive regression to occur.

Jamey Wright was the Dodgers’ other free-agent reliever acquisition. His hidden platoon split is a fairly useful feature, especially since Paco Rodriguez was so questionable at the end of last season. Wright’s numbers were decent last season, though that was partially due to the fact that the Rays increased his usage against left-handed hitting. If the Dodgers don’t recognize the platoon advantage, Wright’s value will drop.

Paul Maholm has been a starting pitcher for all of his career, but he has incentives built into his contract that increase his salary, even while pitching in relief. He’s been dealing with a tender elbow, but looked good in his first spring training game. Between Maholm’s elbow, Josh Beckett‘s recovery from a tricky surgery, and Zack Greinke‘s calf, it seems likely that Maholm won’t be obstructing a bullpen slot at the start of the season.

The previous six pitchers are all more-or-less guaranteed to make the roster if they’re healthy. Depending on their health, the Dodgers will need to start making decisions about the four pitchers below. It’s likely that two or three of them won’t be on the major league roster at the start of the season.

Of this group, Brandon League is the most likely to stay. League is still owed $15MM over the next two seasons. He probably deserves the last bullpen spot the least, but he isn’t likely to be released due to the financial commitment. He has been dealing with a lat strain this spring, so the team might place him on the disabled list to delay their decision. They could also trade him as Mike discussed here, but we’re probably stuck with him for now.

It’s a complete shame to see Paco Rodriguez this far down the list, but here we are. Paco has options remaining, so he wouldn’t be lost if he started the season in Albuquerque. Even though Paco was a bit shaky to end the season, the hiccup was only a small portion of an otherwise great season. If his issues were caused by fatigue, then that shouldn’t be an issue right now. He’s definitely worth monitoring closely, but it would be a big mistake to start him in the minors.

Seth Rosin has shown promise so far, but he has to make the majors (or be placed on the disabled list) for the Dodgers to be able to keep him. If they can’t find a spot on the crowded roster, he’ll have to be placed on waivers. If he clears waivers, he’d then be sent to the Phillies. It seems pretty unlikely that he’ll stick with the organization given the big stack of names in front of him, and a trade to get him back after that chain of events is unlikely as well.

And at the bottom of the list, we have Chris Withrow. He should absolutely remain with the major league team, but he seems like the odd man out at the moment. He has options remaining and didn’t work himself up to the top of the bullpen last season like Rodriguez did. He’d be the first in line for a major league call-up, but there really isn’t a lot that he would gain from pitching in the minors.

This offseason, the Dodgers have prioritized bullpen depth over almost everything else. As a result, they won’t have the “ideal” bullpen at the start of the season, but rather one of convenience to keep as many relievers in the organization as possible. It’s hard to analyze the full impact of this decision. If all players remain healthy, this might cost the team a win or two, but the odds of that happening are pretty slim.

As a result, there will probably be some annoying roster decisions in the next three weeks. At least we’ll have something interesting to write about.

Next up: Starting pitchers

In other (sadder) news, the Dodgers have announced that pitching prospect Ross Stripling will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow morning. We saw this coming, but it’s still sad to see a promising young prospect be shut down for over a year. The recovery rate from Tommy John is pretty high (but not a given), so hopefully Stripling will bounce back. At least Stripling and the Dodgers didn’t extend the period before surgery, so if all goes well Stripling will be able to get some work in next year.

About Daniel Brim

Daniel Brim
Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.