The Almost-Amazing Dodger Pitching Staff

Just a quick weekend post.

The Dodgers are currently 7-3, tied for the lead in the NL west. They’ve won five games in a row and have been hitting like expected. Still, the pitching staff, particularly the starters, have seemed uneven. Brandon McCarthy survived a four homer start, and Clayton Kershaw gave up two last night. By ERA-, the Dodgers have been 6% worse than the league average. The Dodger starters, as a whole, have a 124 ERA-, 19th in MLB.

Digging deeper reveals a different story, though. The biggest issue the Dodgers pitchers have had so far is the long-ball. The Dodger pitching staff have allowed 13 homers, tied for the most in baseball. Once you look beyond those, things get a whole lot better. The Dodger staff as a whole has an 18.6% HR/FB rate, by far the highest in baseball. The good news is that this won’t continue; the worst team HR/FB rate since these data have been recorded (2002) is 14.1%, by the Blue Jays in 2012. There isn’t anywhere to go but down.

Dodger pitchers have a team K% of 29.2%, the highest in baseball, 2.8% in front of the second-place Indians. Dodger pitchers have a 5.3% walk rate, which is the fifth-lowest in baseball. Combine the two, and the pitching staff has a K%-BB% of 23.9%, which is over 6% ahead of the second place Mets. Dodger pitchers are also inducing ground balls; their 49.4% rate is tied for seventh in all of baseball.

Put the pieces together with xFIP and it paints an incredible picture. The Dodger pitching staff, as a whole, have an xFIP- of 65. The next best is the Mets, at 82. Rephrasing: the Dodgers’ xFIP is 35% better than the league average, and is twice as far from league average as the second place team. The Dodgers’ xFIP predicts an adjusted ERA one percent better than Clayton Kershaw’s career numbers. xFIP has flaws, but the Dodgers have been very good at striking out batters, not walking them, and keeping the ball on the ground. That’s awesome.

The “qualified” awesome of the staff as a whole does not extend to the bullpen, because they need no qualification. The Dodger bullpen has not allowed a home run this year. As a whole, the bullpen has struck out over a third of the batters they have faced, and have a K%-BB% of 27.7%. This is without Kenley Jansen. The bullpen’s ERA- of 75 is only 13th in baseball, but their FIP- of 30 (!) is best, by a lot. Craig Kimbrel‘s career FIP- is 10% higher than what the Dodger relievers have done so far this year. The next-best bullpen by FIP- are the Tigers, at 57. The Dodger bullpen is over 25% better than that. The bullpen’s HR/FB% of 0% will not continue, much like the starters’ HR/FB% of a billion percent won’t continue. However, the bullpen’s xFIP- is 57, again the best in baseball by a lot. Jansen’s career 58 xFIP- is almost identical.

So the Dodgers have been great as a staff… almost. Or, to sum up the numbers in the above post in table form:

Starters

Stat Value MLB rank
K% 26.3% 2
BB% 4.5% 4
K%-BB% 21.9% 2
GB% 49.7% 8
ERA- 124 19
FIP- 122 24
xFIP- 70 2

Bullpen

Stat Value MLB rank
K% 34.6% 1
BB% 6.9% 10
K%-BB% 27.7% 1
GB% 48.6% 10
ERA- 75 13
FIP- 30 1
xFIP- 57 1

Full staff

Stat Value MLB rank
K% 29.2% 1
BB% 5.3% 5
K%-BB% 23.9% 1
GB% 49.4% T7
ERA- 106 17
FIP- 89 7
xFIP- 65 1

The staff HR/FB won’t continue. Most likely, their dominance on strikeouts on walks will regress a bit. Samples are still really small. But there are causes for optimism here. The starters will improve, and the relievers have basically been Kenley Jansen as a collective while Kenley Jansen has been gone. Pretty amazing, really.

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.