The much-maligned Dodgers’ bullpen has had its struggles this season. But outside of Joe Kelly and Scott Alexander going out to the mound with literal cans of gas more often than not, the bullpen has a big problem — strikeouts.
The 2013 and ’14 Dodgers’ relievers ran a 22.7 and 22.3 percent (respectively) strikeout rate. This season, that rate is at 22.9 percent — 10th-lowest in baseball. This is a problem because since 2015, the Dodgers’ bullpen have been among the league’s best when it comes to strikeouts.
The biggest culprit is Alexander, who has seen his strikeout rate drop from 20.9 percent to 11.8 percent. Dylan Floro‘s rate has dipped from 21.4 percent last season to 16.3 percent this season. Caleb Ferguson had a rough start to the season that saw him spend a couple weeks in Triple-A. Even so, his rate has dropped dramatically (29.2 percent to 21.6 percent). Those are the three biggest reasons behind the Dodgers’ missing strikeouts. All three have the ability to get ground balls to make up for the lack of strikeouts, but all three of them have also seen their ground-ball rates fall significantly as well.
Even Pedro Baez has seen his K-rate drop from 26.2 percent to 22 percent, but it’s hard to be too upset about Baez because he’s been one of the best relievers in the Dodgers’ bullpen this season.
Meanwhile, Kelly has a high strikeout percentage (25.2 percent), but he’s not getting enough outs and allowing far too many runs. Same goes for Yimi Garcia (24.5 percent). Strikeouts don’t matter if they’re getting shelled in the process.
So, what’s the fix?
For the trio of Alexander, Ferguson and Floro, you have to hope for better results. I’m expecting Ferguson to pitch closer to the guy he was last season than the guy has been this season. Alexander has never been a big strikeout guy, but he has to regress and do better than the almost 12 percent, especially if he isn’t getting grounders at a 70-percent clip. Floro is the biggest mystery. He’s never been a big strikeout guy either, but he showed well last season when coming over from the Reds (27.7 K% with LA) and could fall anywhere.
Outside of hoping, the Dodgers will surely add a reliever or two (or three, hopefully) before the July 31 trade deadline, and you better believe they’ll be high-strikeout guys because those guys should be available. And if the Dodgers don’t want to bet on sinker-ballers like Alexander and Floro to find their missing strikeouts and want to not rely on the likes of Kelly and Garcia for high-leverage innings, then the team will need to add big-time relievers at the deadline. If not, it might be a shorter postseason than most are expecting.