The Dodgers have, in recent years, seen a bit of a shift when it comes to bullpen philosophy. Instead of cobbling together guys who can strikeout 40% of the hitters they face, they’ve attempted to bring in guys who can get ground balls.
It started with the acquisition of Scott Alexander three offseasons ago. Dylan Floro followed, as did the likes of Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly, Adam Kolarek, Blake Treinen and so on. It’s a good idea in theory. If you’re going to have players who don’t miss a lot of bats, it’s best that those guys keep the ball on the ground.
The philosophy was, in my eyes, contingent on having high-strikeout guys in high-leverage situations. Mainly, Kenley Jansen. While he still misses bats, his effectiveness has waned in recent years. While guys like Graterol, Kelly and Treinen have strikeout stuff, they don’t always get whiffs.
This is a long-winded way of saying the Dodgers should be all-in on Liam Hendriks this winter.
Hendriks, 32 in February, is coming off a strong, 2020 season (1.78 ERA, 1.14 FIP, 37.0 K-BB%). Not a fan of the small sample? How about this: Since 2016, he has been one of the game’s top relief pitchers. He has a 3.07 ERA, 2.57 FIP and a 25.0 K-BB% in that time. He was the best reliever in the game in 2019.
His ground ball rate has dipped from the low 40% range to the low 30% range the last two seasons. But with that has come an increase in strikeout rate. He topped 40% in strikeouts this season and was at 37.2 last season. He also doesn’t walk many hitters (5.7% from ’19-20) and doesn’t allow a lot of base runners in general. He’s quite good.
Hendriks does his damage with a 4-seam fastball that sits at 96 MPH. It isn’t the typical high-spin fastball the Dodgers covet, but it had a .216 wOBA against in 2020. It was the second-best reliever fastball in MLB, according to FanGraphs pitch value metric. His slider didn’t grade out as well in that metric, but it was more of a StatCast darling. Hitters got one hit off it in 2020, but from 10 the year before. His slider had a .058 wOBA in 2019 and .151wOBA in 2020. His slider had a 54.2% and 51.3% whiff rate, respectively, in those years as well. For shiggles, he also has a curveball that, while thrown more sparingly, still has held hitters to a 2-for-38 line over the last two years.
Above all, the Dodgers don’t have that lockdown reliever. We saw Julio Urias step into that role in the postseason, but his future is in the rotation. Graterol could be that guy, but he has trouble missing bats. Tony Gonsolin could be that guy someday, but probably not in 2021. Hendriks would give them that guy for the end of the game in the regular season and to be deployed when necessary in the postseason — much like Jansen was throughout his career.
The Dodgers signed Kelly to a 3-year deal two winters ago, and he was far from the best reliever available. Jansen’s contract expires after this season. Pedro Baez and Treinen are free agents. Unless the Dodgers are expecting someone to step up from within, Hendriks seems like the logical and perfect signing for a team coming off a World Series title. And he’d make more sense than trading prospects for someone like Josh Hader (a rumor you’re sure to hear this offseason).
He’ll likely command a 3-year deal worth $10-$13 million annually. At that price, he’d be a bargain.