Dodgers Pen: It Costs More Than the Astros Roster

Talk about a bullpen with a lot of money tied up in it. While many teams supplement high-paid closers or setup men with some cheaper, pre-arb talent, the Dodgers eschew the “don’t spend too much on relievers” strategy (obviously not reading my fantasy draft strategy columns) and boast a $30+ million bullpen. To put that in context, it’s more than the entire Houston Astros squad will make in 2014. Holy macaroni. Guess Magic and Co.’s bottomless spending isn’t limited to buying half of Bobby Valentine’s Red Sox roster.

The closer
Kenley Jansen

Barring the Dodgers purchasing Craig Kimbrel for the princely sum of $824 million, Jansen will head into spring training with a firm grasp on the closer gig for the first time in his career. The catcher-turned-pitcher has established himself as one of baseball’s elite relievers, joining the aforementioned Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman as the only three with 40+% K% over the past three seasons. The only concern with Jansen may be health, although he seemed to make it through 2013 fine after a scary heart problem (and subsequent surgery) in 2012. Some of the closer experience behind him in the Dodger pen keeps him from being the safest ninth inning man out there, but he’d have to really blow up for Los Angeles to pull the plug.

The setup guys
Brian Wilson
Chris Perez

After joining the Dodgers in August, Wilson looked close to his old self. More than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, his fastball velocity was where it was before he went down (although still a couple mph off his career average) and his 9.2% SwStr% (admittedly, only given 207 pitches) was the highest it had been since 2010. “The Bearded One” was unable to find a suitable closing gig elsewhere so he returns to Tinseltown on a one-year pact (with a player option in 2015) to try and keep building value before re-entering the open market. He’s historically posted near-average strikeout rates, making him less appealing in fantasy leagues as a non-closer, but he’s kept the ball on the ground and in the yard which makes him useful for rates. He’ll likely enter March second-in-line behind Jansen and would get first dibs if someone where to happen to him.

Chris Perez has finally been deposed of a closing gig, but it took longer than most people thought. While many wrote him off after his K% plummeted in 2011, he bounced back with decent seasons (peripherally) in 2012 and 2013. He probably could have sniffed around open ninth innings in places like Baltimore, Houston, or Tampa Bay, but, like Wilson, he settled for some cash and a chance to hit the market against next winter. He could be an enticing option in holds leagues, but he lacks elite skills in any one particular category. He might only be worth rostering if he’s pitching well and one of the two guys ahead of him falls victim to the injury bug.

Middle relief

J.P. Howell
Jamey Wright
Brandon League
Paco Rodriguez
Chris Withrow

Operating as the Dodgers’ primary lefty middle reliever in 2013, Howell’s 11 holds were somewhat of a disappointment. Doubly disappointing when you realize he posted the best ERA of his career. His season didn’t go completely unnoticed, as the team brought him back on a 2-year deal. He should garner most of the high-leverage situations versus lefties, so there remains hope for him in holds leagues again in 2013, although the fact he lacks elite strikeout and walk rates keeps him somewhat uninteresting from a rate perspective.

Jamey Wright is yet another veteran arm Dodgers brass are adding to their squad for 2014. Fangraphs’ very own Mike Petriello had a fantastic writeup about him earlier in the offseason. While Wright is right-handed (har!), he is actually better against lefties, so he’s likely to be used in more of a straight relief role. While his K% has trended the right direction the last few years, he’s heading into his age 39 season so there’s reason to think that trend won’t continue. That said, he should still be effective.

League opened last season as closer but bad pitching combined with bad luck conspired to take that role from him. The Dodgers owe him a lot of money, so he’ll almost certainly break camp with the club, but declining K% and velocity make him someone you don’t want to touch, regardless of league format. He’s a candidate to be traded or outright cut during the season if he doesn’t find a way to make pre-2013 Brandon League show up again.

Rodriguez and Withrow are the two young hurlers who came up to the big club and made an immediate impact last season. While Rodriguez might now be better known in baseball circles as “the guy who convinced Mark Mulder to unretire,” he posted fantastic numbers as a 22-year-old getting his second taste of big league action. His funky delivery and low arm slot play up well against lefties (.188 wOBA against), but he hasn’t been completely inept against righties either (.273 wOBA against). While he was curiously left off the playoff roster, he has the potential to operate side-by-side with Howell in lefty shutdown situations, so he makes a nice late-round flyer if you want sneaky holds. Withrow brought his 96+ mph fastball to the bigs last year and didn’t disappoint, putting up a 2.59 SIERA. He easily has the most upside of this middle relief crew (30%+ K% potential!), but annoyingly, the fact Wright, League, Wilson, and Perez are all righties with big guaranteed contacts might mean he’s destined to open the season in Triple-A and wait for a disabled list stint to happen.

Looking up the totem pole
Yimi Garcia
Jose Dominguez
Javy Guerra
Scott Elbert (INJ)

The hard-throwing Garcia whiffed 37% of the batters he faced in Double-A in 2013. He’s tremendously blocked by right-handed relievers now, so he’ll likely spend most of 2014 in the minors, but he’s an interesting name to file away for when all those one-year deals expire next offseason. Jose Dominguez spent some time in the pen last season but a strained quad ended his season early. He flirts with 100 mph on the gun but has posted Carlos Marmol-esque walk rates in the minors the last few years. Another name to file away, though. Former closer Javy Guerra has certainly fallen from grace. He improved some in the strikeout department last year, but his command regressed. Scott Elbert is working his way back from Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready until mid-season at the earliest. When healthy, he could push Howell and Rodriguez for lefty innings in the pen, but that might not seriously happen until 2015.

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There are few things Colin loves more in life than a pitcher with a single-digit BB%. Find him on Twitter @soxczar.

17 Responses to “Dodgers Pen: It Costs More Than the Astros Roster”

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  1. xeifrank says:

    Re: Dodgers payroll.
    I don’t want to win this way. And more importantly, I don’t want to lose this way.

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    • Ryan says:

      The best bet for a guilt-free Dodgers WS win is to beat the Yankees. No need to feel bad about buying a series when you’re just beating your opponent at his own game.

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      • Dean Travers says:

        You mean the game of ownership reinvesting profits into the team to enhance its value? Like every rational business operating in a free market?

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Why should you feel bad for your team using their resources?

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  2. The Foils says:

    Dude, I couldn’t even make it through your first paragraph. Fangraphs is free and all but three missing words in your first, like, three sentences? Just give it a read out loud next time.

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  3. jdbolick says:

    That Brandon League contract is stunning.

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  4. MrKnowNothing says:

    Teams don’t spend money, they are greedy owners. Teams spend money, they’re just trying to buy a title and aren’t fair to the Rays.

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  5. court168627 says:

    Yes, this is an expensive bullpen. It also happens to be a very good one.

    It should also be mentioned that if the rotation gets too crowded guys like Beckett or Billingsley might see some relief innings.

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  6. rustydude says:

    I am really slow. It took me awhile to realize you were speaking of the Dodgers’ bullpen. I thought they might have had a contract signing platinum ballpoint pen that was covered with big huge diamonds or something.

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  7. Sean says:

    To be completely honest, your title is incorrect.

    Discounting Wandy Rodriguez’s $5.5MM that is still on the books, the Astros have $33MM tied up in the 8 players eligible for arbitration, just signed an extension, or were FA signings. And you can add the other 13 players on the roster with league minimum puts them to roughly $40MM.

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