Overlooked factor in the dominance of the Dodgers: The bullpen

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) /

As the Dodgers continue their unprecedented assault on baseball history, the offense and starting pitching receive accolades for their performance. However, there is still one overlooked factor in the Dodgers’ dominance – the bullpen.

Analysts, pundits, and fans deservedly celebrate the team’s candidates for MVP (Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger), Cy Young (Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen), and Rookie of the Year (Bellinger).

Plaudits continue to arrive for a team that is setting the league afire, currently sitting on an eye-popping .712 winning percentage (79-32) while in the midst of a 44-7 streak (which last occurred in 1912). The team is receiving contributions from quite literally everybody on the roster. The offense is bludgeoning opponents (5.1 runs per game) while the pitching is holding opposition to a league-low 3.07 earned runs per game.

While the Dodgers’ successful merry-go-round of starting pitchers has been ballyhooed, the bullpen has stealthily been compiling some amazing numbers.

Kenley Jansen receives the majority of the attention – and deservedly, due to his very real Cy Young candidacy – due to has 28 saves in 29 opportunities, 1.30 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 75 strikeouts in 48 1/3 innings. Overlooked, however, are the rest of his bullpen mates.

With a Major League Baseball-leading 2.92 ERA as a committee, the bullpen has combined for an astounding 23-9 record.

With a cumulative 369 2/3 innings pitched, the relievers have combined for 415 strikeouts and only 111 walks. That ratio is 3.74:1, best in baseball. The batting average against is .211, second in MLB. Perhaps more impressive is the .626 OPS allowed, also second in the league.

To put the coda on the bullpen dominance, the combined WHIP of this core is 1.08, also the best in baseball. How about holding on the baserunners that actually do reach base? They have only allowed 17 stolen bases (in 25 attempts).

So who are these pitchers that continue to bask in anonymity? The formerly maligned Pedro Baez is having a spectacular season as the primary set-up man. In 47 games, he is pitching to a 1.74 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He’s also working at a faster pace, which was a major qualm with his prior to this year.

That said, he may be sharing the set-up role as reclamation project Brandon Morrow has rekindled the form that led to him being drafted two slots ahead of Clayton Kershaw in the 2006 MLB Draft. Morrow, who struck out 17 batters in a 2010 game against the Rays, has struck out 31 batters in 24 2/3 innings, while walking only four.

His WHIP is 0.73 and he’s only allowed 14 hits to burnish his 1.82 ERA.

Josh Fields has appeared in 39 games, striking out 44 batters in 39 1/3 innings behind his triple digit fastball. Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart form somewhat of a swingman duo, with 51 and 20 2/3 innings, respectively.

The burly right-handers are both capable of throwing multiple innings at a time, providing reliable weapons for manager Dave Roberts. Stripling has a 3.53 ERA in 51 innings while Stewart is pitching to a 0.87 ERA.

From the left side, the Dodgers have relied primarily on Luis Avilan, who has appeared in 47 games, accumulating 12 holds with a 3.09 ERA. The call-up of 30-year old lefty Edward Paredes was a success, as he earned a win in his first big league appearance and has yet to be scored upon.

More intriguing are the dual acquisitions of southpaws Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani; both have seen success thus far in their careers. Though Cingrani had a tough season, the Dodgers front office is reviewing pitch sequencing and frequency with him and expect that their analytics will help him achieve his early-career dominance (2.92 ERA, 10.3 K/9 in 2013).

Watson is a former All-Star who had back-to-back seasons with a sub-2.00 ERA.

Josh Ravin and Adam Libertore were previously key pieces for Dodgers bullpens and may see action in September. And the recent appearances by phenom Walker Buehler indicate that the dominant righty may be primed for a feature role in this spectacular bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs as well. Buehler struck out 108 batters in 76 2/3 innings in the minor leagues this year and has a lively fastball that registers north of 100 miles per hour.

With a historic season in the offing, the Dodgers bullpen deserves the recognition afforded to the rest of the ball club.

Next: Appreciating Mike Trout

And if this performance continues in September and October, it will be theirs for the taking.