Dodgers @ Nationals May 6, 2014: Forget Last Night, Clayton Kershaw Is Back

nationals_parkAfter a dreary few days, the Dodgers can start today’s game with pretty much the best news possible: Clayton Kershaw is back! And, of course, not a moment too soon. Kershaw is amazing in so many ways, but there is one problem that his return might be able to solve quickly, as you’ve probably seen elsewhere.

We all know that the bullpen has piched a lot so far. They’ve thrown the most innings of any bullpen in baseball (119.0) and the highest number of innings per game (3.61). The bullpen is throwing about half an inning more per game than the average major league squad, which translates to 16-1/3 more innings than an average bullpen over the Dodgers’ 33 games.

Dodgers
Nationals
4:05 pm PT
Washington, DC
2B
Gordon
CF
Span
LF
Crawford
3B
Rendon
SS
Ramirez
RF
Werth
CF
Kemp
1B
LaRoche
RF
Ethier
LF
Hairston
3B
Uribe
SS
Desmond
1B
Van Slyke
2B
Espinosa
C
Butera
C
Lobaton
P
Kershaw (L)
P
Treinen (R)

However, the problem cannot be fully explained by how far the starters are going into games. So far, Dodgers starters are averaging 5.74 innings per start. That’s 19th in the league and only 0.17 innings per start less than the league-average staff (5.91 innings per start). Over the same 33 game span, that translates to only 5-2/3 extra innings required by the bullpen due to the starters not pitching deep into games.

There’s a disconnect between “expected” bullpen innings pitched and “actual” bullpen innings pitched of 10-2/3 innings. A large portion of this is simply due to the fact that the Dodgers have played in a lot of extra-inning games. The bullpen being mediocre (0.1 wins above replacement for the season per Fangraphs) has caused games to be closer, which creates more extra-inning games, which causes the bullpen to pitch more, which (partially) causes the bullpen to get worse. It has been a cyclical problem, at least partially. The bullpen itself isn’t the only cause; sequencing, the offense, and luck all have impacts too. If you take away those additional 10-2/3 innings away from the bullpen, they’d be 12th-highest in innings per game. The problem wouldn’t be fully solved, but it would make things better.

Kershaw can’t solve this entirely, but he certainly can help. Last year, 79 starters qualified for the ERA title. Kershaw had the second-highest innings pitched per start rate of 7.15 (Cliff Lee had 7.18). That’s almost an inning and a half more than what the starting staff has managed so far this season. Being able to go that deep into games is a boost to the bullpen which often goes unnoticed, and can potentially break the cycle.

We can’t really expect Kershaw to pitch deep into this game, though. He probably isn’t ready to throw 120 pitches yet. While it was reported on last night’s broadcast that Kershaw will have “no limits” tonight, the expectation is that Kershaw will throw about 100 pitches. There’s also some concern about his fastball velocity, which was down a bit during his last rehab outing. However, Jeff Zimmermann has a good write-up on Kershaw’s performance at lower velocities over at RotoGraphs. In summary, we probably don’t need to worry very much.

Tonight’s starter for the Nationals is Blake Treinen. Treinen made his major league debut earlier this season and has made three relief appearances so far. This will be his first career start. He was drafted by the Athletics in the seventh round of the 2011 draft and was ranked as the Nationals’ 23rd best prospect after the 2013 season by Baseball America.

As expected, Pedro Baez was optioned to AA to make room for Kershaw, bringing the bullpen back to seven pitchers. Yasiel Puig is out of tonight’s lineup, sitting out a second straight game after his collision with the wall in Miami. He told reporters before the game that he is available to play if needed, but there’s no reason to fault the team for being cautious. Adrian Gonzalez has the night off (Scott Van Slyke starts in his place), presumably because he was playing until 1AM (local time) yesterday.

ThrowsRelieverSat 10/15Sun 10/16Mon 10/17Tue 10/18Wed 10/19Thur 10/20Fri 10/21
LAvilan--OFF-2421OFF
RBaez34-OFF-2727OFF
RBlanton28-OFF13-19OFF
LDayton3-OFF16-12OFF
RFields--OFF-910OFF
RJansen-18OFF21--OFF
RStripling10-OFF-2018OFF
LWood--OFF-32-OFF

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.