Walker, Dodger reliever? Promotion seems inevitable for Buehler

(Via)

Walker Buehler‘s last three outings have been out of the Oklahoma City Dodgers’ bullpen. The front office has all but confirmed Buehler will get a look in the LA bullpen before season’s end.

I’m slowly coming around on the idea, but I’m still hesitant to go all-in.

It’s no secret the Dodgers’ bullpen has struggled a bit of late. In the last two weeks, the numbers marred thanks to a rash of home runs allowed. The ‘pen has allowed nine home runs in its last 37 2/3 innings. That has led to some ugly numbers:

  • 4.78 ERA
  • 5.02 FIP
  • 22.0 HR/FB%
  • 36.2 GB%
  • 36.1 Hard%

Luckily, the bullpen is still getting plenty of strikeouts and swinging strikes — 28.4 K% and 15.4%, both the best in baseball. While allowing home runs is bad, it isn’t all doom and gloom for one of baseball’s best ‘pens.

But if you infuse a young, hard-throwing Buehler into the mix, the chance the bullpen improves is minimal, and there’s more probability of it not going well. On some level, though, it’s a risk worth taking.

——

There’s no telling how Buehler will handle an MLB bullpen workload. In my opinion, he won’t throw on back-to-back days and probably won’t throw more than two innings at a time. With his three double-plus offerings, he could be a big weapon for the season’s last 2-3 weeks. If he does well enough, the Dodgers might consider putting him on the postseason roster.

On the down side, Buehler’s command still isn’t where it needs to be as a starter. It could play up out of the bullpen, but that’s not guaranteed. The thing I worry about most is the extra stress that will be put on his young frame. Young in the sense, yes, he’s 22, but he also has just 85 2/3 innings in his professional career — and one Tommy John surgery.

If he succeeds, the Dodgers might have another version of Francisco Rodriguez, circa 2002, on their hands. Rodriguez was instrumental in the Angels’ World Series run back then — 18 2/3 IP, 1.93 ERA, 40 K%, 7.1 BB%. When you look back on it, it was an incredible performance by the then-rookie. However, Buehler isn’t accustomed to pitching in relief, and he would be hard pressed to even come close to those numbers. He had made 19 starts this season before shifting to the bullpen earlier this month. The results have been mixed — all three of his runs were given up in his first outing and he has struck out eight of the 22 hitters he has faced.

Primarily, I’m concerned about his long-term well-being. He’s not the most physical pitcher and it isn’t clear what giving him meaningful stressful innings would do to his elbow. It could be something; it could be nothing (the “no shit” statement of the century, I know). I tend to play it slower with prospects. Buehler is the Dodgers’ best pitching prospect by a mile and could be an incredible starter at some point. But the Dodgers’ front office might think his short-term outlook and value to the team could be out of the ‘pen. Seeing as Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling and Josh Fields are far from sure-things from the right side — especially as part of a World Series-contending bullpen — giving Buehler a chance to win a postseason start might not be the worst thing.

Let’s review:

Pros

  • Boom potential
  • Elite velocity
  • Premium stuff
  • Limited scouting reports

Cons

  • Injury past
  • Stressful innings
  • Little experience
  • Little bullpen experience
  • No guarantee

——

We’ll see what happens. A 40-man roster spot will be needed to add Buehler, which shouldn’t be too difficult. If I had to choose, I’d probably give him a look during the last two weeks of the season but not expect much from him. That might be what the Dodgers do, but expectations must be tempered. Buehler might not be the “savior” of the bullpen (not that one is necessarily needed) that folks are envisioning. The odds are much more against him than in his favor.

It can’t hurt to try, right? God I hope not.

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.