With 20 pitchers (and counting) on September roster, Dodger staff is both ridiculous and sublime
By Jon Weisman
When Brett Anderson is activated from the disabled list today, he will become the 20th pitcher on the Dodgers’ active roster. On Friday, Scott Kazmir will give them blackjack. (I know, it’s not really blackjack if you need more than two cards, but Clayton Kershaw’s still an ace — so there.)
Counting Casey Fien and Bud Norris, who are no longer on the 40-man squad, the Dodgers this month will have used 23 pitchers by September 23.
On the surface, this seems the height of ridiculousness. How could any team need so many arms in so short a time?
But integral to the story of the 2016 Dodgers is the undeniable fact that their quality has been defined in large part by their quantity.
We knew it during the season, when the Dodgers were rotating pitchers up and down from the minors, along with on and off the disabled list. The difference in September that they don’t need a transaction every other day to navigate.
Either way, nearly every arm has been contributing to the Dodgers’ title drive. To show it, let’s divide them into categories.
Starting pitchers (8): The San Francisco Giants have used seven starting pitchers all season. Anderson and Kazmir will give the Dodgers seven starting pitchers in the past seven days.
But that’s the Dodgers, whose unique combination of periodically injured veterans and innings-limited rookies has necessitated a free-flowing rotation. So far, so good: Of the eight pitchers who have been primarily starters this month, only Jose De León has an ERA above 2.70. (Is it any wonder we’re still not sure who would be the Dodgers’ No. 4 starter in the playoffs?)
Swingman (1): Ross Stripling, who is fifth on the team in innings this month despite making only one start, falls into this category. No one should question that his 11 2/3 September innings have been useful.
Lefty relievers (5): In the recent past, there were times that J.P. Howell was the only southpaw in the Dodger bullpen. Not any more. Grant Dayton (1.35 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings) has emerged as the leader of a quintet of lefties that has allowed a combined 15 baserunners in 16 2/3 innings with 26 strikeouts.
Do they need so many? Consider it another issue of sorting and transitioning. In an earlier month, Adam Liberatore (2 2/3 innings) might have been on the disabled list. Avilan (no runs in four innings) might be in the minors. Howell (2 1/3 innings) probably would have picked up more slack, but the Dodgers’ relief might not have been as effective had that been the case.
Then there’s the return of Alex Wood, who threw a perfect inning Wednesday after nearly four months on the disabled list. The Dodgers are eager to see if he’s a potential postseason weapon. Same with Julio Urías, who has just moved from starting to become a sixth southpaw reliever.
While the Dodgers might not have needed a baker’s hand of left-handed relievers in September, they do need to win in October. And having the opportunity to rotate and evaluate this many of them increases their chances of that happening.
Righty relievers (7): No one watching the Dodgers this year would debate the value of Kenley Jansen or Joe Blanton. The oft-maligned Pedro Baez might be a different story in the public arena, but he has a 1.04 WHIP, 0.00 ERA and no homers allowed since returning from a quick regroup in the minors, and is essentially the primary seventh-inning righty.
Josh Ravin, who is ineligible for the postseason, has retired 15 of 16 batters he has faced this month. Josh Fields can match Ravin’s 0.00 ERA, with an extra inning to spare. They, along with Jesse Chavez and Louis Coleman, have kept the work from piling up on the front-line guys — a potential concern with Blanton, whose 77 innings lead the bullpen — as well as the starting pitchers whom the Dodgers are looking to preserve. Basically, all of them.
Coleman, who spent most of August on the disabled list, made 11 appearances from July 22 to September 14 without allowing a run or earned run. He has since allowed runs in two of his past four appearances, but thanks to the alternatives, the Dodgers don’t need to panic. While there’s an arm here or there they might have done without, the overall depth mattered.
Is it ridiculous that if Brandon McCarthy is activated before the season ends, the Dodgers will have used two dozen pitchers in September? If you say so.
Again, though: What the Dodgers are doing this month isn’t different from what they’ve done most of the year — except they don’t have to file as much paperwork. And if the Dodgers thrive in October, they can thank those “ridiculous” pitchers for it.