The Dodgers’ bullpen vs. the past and the present
By Cary Osborne
This will be the Dodgers’ 11th trip to the postseason since 1988. Of those 11 teams, six have had a bullpen ranked in MLB’s top five in ERA. This year’s Dodger bullpen is No. 1.
If the Dodger bullpen finishes the season where it’s at today, it will be the third time that they’ve been the No. 1 relief crew in the game.
Only two teams since 1988 have held that distinction and won the World Series — the ’88 Dodgers and the ’89 Oakland A’s. The Dodgers were tops in 2009, but lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the National League Championship Series. That Dodger bullpen allowed 14 earned runs in 21 NLCS innings.
Here’s how Dodger bullpens have performed in the regular season vs. the smaller sample size and higher stakes of the postseason:
The ’88 pen had a combined 2.35 ERA. The average Major League bullpen that year had a 3.54 ERA. The MLB average this year is 3.91.
This Dodger bullpen is probably the most unique of any Dodger playoff team since 1988 in one aspect. Usually, bullpens that pitch as many innings as this year’s Dodger relievers are not good. This one is.
The 2016 Dodger bullpen has pitched 575 1/3 innings, 20th most by a relief crew in Major League history, according to Stats LLC. Of the other 19 teams in that top 20, 11 have lost at least 90 games and only one — the 2003 Houston Astros, who didn’t make the postseason — finished above .500. The 2016 Pirates also rank in that top 20 and would have to win their last four games to finish above .500.
Of the top 10 bullpens in innings pitched this year, the Dodgers and Astros are the only teams currently above .500.
The division winners rank as follows in innings pitched:
- Rangers: 18th
- Indians: 21st
- Nationals: 25th
- Cubs: 28th
- Red Sox: 29th
The Rangers are the only team out of that group that doesn’t have a top-10 ERA bullpen.
So that leads us to how this Dodger bullpen compares to the division winners and teams still in the playoff mix. Here’s a breakdown using ERA, inherited runners scored, save percentage and opponents’ OPS. The latter three stats were chosen to show how a team’s relievers prevent runs from scoring, hold late leads and prevent/limit baserunners and power.
The Dodgers are the only team that ranks No. 1 in two categories (ERA and opponents’ OPS). But it’s clear that the Nationals and Indians could argue that they have the best relief corps in the big leagues. There are some unsurprising ranks in here as well: The Orioles (with Zach Britton) and Mets (with Jeurys Familia) rank at the top of save percentage and the Giants, with their back-end issues, are toward the bottom.
But the Dodgers have be comfortable going into the postseason with their ability to prevent scoring and Kenley Jansen’s ability to dominate — even with six blown saves this season. The Dodger bullpen this year hasn’t just been outstanding, it’s been outstanding with a higher degree of difficulty.