How the NL West was (possibly) won by the Dodgers

The hand-wringing over the state of the Dodger bullpen this season and (season’s past) has been extremely present. While I’ve chimed in multiple times about my dislike of Pedro Baez, he and the rest of the ‘pen is nothing like the disaster that is the Giants’ bullpen. While the numbers aren’t overly bad for the Giants, the results — especially late in the game — have been irrefutably terrible. Last night’s game is a prime example.

There was mismanagement by Bruce Bochy — letting right-hander Derek Law (without his best stuff) face Andrew Toles, lifting Javier Lopez before facing Justin Turner (who had a 73 wRC+ against lefties coming into the game) and not having a lefty ready for Adrian Gonzalez (despite the fact Hunter Strickland is the Giants’ defacto closer, if the Giants can have such a thing). The biggest surprise was Santiago Casilla wasn’t around to light a fire on the mound with his gas can.

Of course, managing a bullpen is one of the most difficult things a manager has to do. Dave Roberts has done OK in his first season, as while there have been some head-scratching moves, on the whole he’s been … fine.

Let’s examine and compare the bullpen numbers between the Dodgers and Giants.

Stat Dodgers Giants
ERA 3.29 3.66
FIP 3.56 3.90
K% 26.1 20.6
BB% 8.6 8.6
Z-Contact% 82.7 87.1
F-Strike% 62.5 57.5
SwStr% 12.6 10.5
BABIP .267 .288
WPA 3.31 -0.45
Blown Saves 21 29
Meltdowns 66 88
fWAR 5.9 1.1

Admittedly, these were stats specifically chosen by yours truly, but they really tell the story. The Dodgers lead the majors in ERA from their relievers, while the Giants are more than a third of a run worse. They get more strikeouts than ‘Frisco, much, much less zone contact, many more first strikes and swinging strikes and benefit from a better BABIP. Then comes the win probability added … yikes. The Giants are 20th in baseball, while the Dodgers are eighth, and that difference is significant.

While blown saves is a garbage statistic, the Giants have 29. Twenty nine. That’s incredible in itself, but the real difference is in the significant gap in Meltdowns, which is where the Dodgers superiority in WPA really comes through. But even putting that aside, the difference in fWAR is startling. Granted, most of it comes from Kenley Jansen at 3.2, but the rest of the Dodger relievers still are out-producing the Giants’ bullpen. WAR is a counting stat, but if you take out Jansen’s 64 2/3 innings, the Dodgers still have a 2.7 WAR in 474 1/3 innings, which is still better than the Giants’ mark in 442 1/3 innings.

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If nothing else, this should show just how incredible important and valuable Jansen is to the Dodgers. He’s a lock-down closer, something the Giants don’t have. He’s an elite reliever, something the Giants don’t have. He’s reliable, something the Giants don’t have. There’s no doubt ‘Frisco will throw a ton of money at a closer in the offseason (Jansen, Aroldis Chapman, Mark Melancon), and the Dodgers should do likewise by prioritizing Jansen.

The Giants’ offense is merely league-average (as is the Dodgers’), and the rotations have produced similarly (some numbers favor SF, some LA) as well, so the difference and the main reason why the NL West might be won by the Dodgers is the ‘pen. If you had told me in April that the Dodger bullpen would be a main reason they would win the division, I’d be surprised. But here we are with 12 games remaining, a lead of six games and a Magic Number of seven — and it’s thanks in large part to a good (whether you want to believe it or not) Dodger bullpen.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.