Dodgers’ bullpen needs saving, but don’t expect Pedro Baez to do it

We all know the Dodgers missed a chance at the non-waiver trade deadline to add a relief pitcher (Joaquin Benoit). They also lost a chance to add one at the waiver trade deadline (Jonathan Papelbon, though, that isn’t on Ned Colletti). Now, they’re set to go into the playoffs with one of the shakier bullpens in recent memory.

Jesse Spector of The Sporting News opined in March that the Dodgers could have the best bullpen ever, but that obviously hasn’t been the case. It wasn’t that outlandish a statement, either. Kenley Jansen was awesome (still is), Brian Wilson looked like he was back, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez might have been two of the top left-handed relievers in baseball, Jamey Wright was a nice veteran presents, Chris Perez was a decent gamble with great pure stuff and Chris Withrow was set to improve on last year’s surprisingly good performance.

“With Wilson handling the eighth inning, and then a middle relief and setup group of Perez, left-handers J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, and right-handers League, Chris Withrow, and Jamey Wright, it is worth speculating about whether the Dodgers may have the best bullpen in history.”

Here we are in September, and Wilson doesn’t have an out pitch, Rodriguez has been hurt and/or in the minors most of the season, Wright is a “lefty specialist” who isn’t that good, Perez has been atrocious and Withrow had Tommy John surgery. Hell, Brandon League was — at one time — one of the more effective arms the Dodgers had in the ‘pen.

Enter Pedro Baez. The 26-year-old converted third base prospect has drawn numerous (and lazy/illogical) comparisons to Jansen because Jansen is a converted catcher. Kenley Jansen Pedro Baez is not, but he’s been a little better than (I) expected. *Small sample size alert* In 16 innings, Baez owns a great 1.69 ERA. But when that is examined further, it brings back horrible memories of Mike MacDougal (I’m sorry). Baez has a 3.50 FIP and a 4.41(!) xFIP. While his control has been decent (2.8 BB/9), he isn’t getting ground balls (36.4 percent rate). If he were striking out more hitters, it wouldn’t be as big an issue, but he only has a 6.2 K/9 on the season (8.1 in the minors this season). He isn’t missing many bats, despite his velocity.

I saw Baez at spring training 2013 and a few times during the season. Not once did he throw harder than 95 MPH, and he was in the 91-93 MPH range. That’s partially why I haven’t been that high on him as a pitching prospect (No. 47 on my preseason Top 50). Since his promotion to the majors this year, he’s averaging 95.9 MPH on his fastball — a pitch he’s throwing 78.5 percent of the time. There isn’t a ton of movement on the pitch, so if hitters see it coming, they’ll (eventually) be able to square it up. He also has a slider (87.7 MPH, 11.3 percent) and changeup (88.2 MPH, 10.3 percent). It’s a nice repertoire, but it isn’t of the swing-and-miss variety. He’s basically scrapped the curveball that Sandy Koufax was impressed with at spring training 2013.

I generally agree with J.P. Hoornstra, but I couldn’t be more on the other side with this Aug. 21 article on Baez.

“Mixing a fastball in the high-90 mph range with an occasional slider or changeup in the high 80s, Baez has the hard repertoire to match Jansen. It might be safe to resume the comparisons now.

They both throw ‘pretty much one pitch for the most part,’ Mattingly said. ‘(Baez) has actually got a pretty good changeup and he’s working on the breaking ball. Different body styles. He’s kind of like a bull and Kenley’s taller, but a lot of similarities as far as the one pitch and the conversion.’

‘He’s got a chance to be a big part of what we do, if not this year then moving forward.'”

I just don’t see what others apparently do. (#notascout)

Baez has been thrust into a more prominent role in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but he won’t be the guy to solve the bullpen woes. It’s unrealistic to expect that in many ways: his inexperience as a pitcher, his pitches that need developing and just the fact he’s not that good. The minimal amount of success he’s had so far is encouraging, but he hasn’t been dominant.

For the Dodgers come October, the starters will need to go as long as is humanly possible to minimize the bullpen use (a bottom-third unit in baseball). Jansen is reliable, as is Howell. After that, it’s breath-holding time. If Rodriguez can come back and be the Paco he was for most of the 2013 season, then the bullpen might be OK. If not, well, let’s just hope Don Mattingly doesn’t continue to use Wilson in high-leverage situations (even though we all know he will).

While the offense and overall health of the team could prevent the team from advancing far in the postseason, the lack of a quality bullpen could be the Achilles’ heel for the Dodgers.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. 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.