The Dodgers will be taking a closer approach for the remainder of the regular season, manager Dave Roberts told reporters (including Fabian Student of athletics). Craig Kimbrel will pitch in a variety of roles, while the club takes a variable approach to the ninth inning based on matchups.
Roberts couldn’t guarantee he’d stick with the commission approach through the playoffs, though it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers removing Kimbrel from the last 12 games in the regular season before reinstalling him in the ninth at the top. beginning of the postseason. The decision comes in the wake of a production slump for the eight-time All-Star, who has lost runs in three of his last four appearances. That includes a game-binding homer to Christian Walker to ruin a save chance against the Diamondbacks yesterday. The Dodgers took off in the bottom of the ninth anyway, but the discarded lead made the team’s decision a more flexible approach with the playoffs ahead.
Kimbrel is in his first season as a Dodger. Acquired from the White Sox in a surprise one-to-one trade with AJ Pollock just before Opening Day he made 57 appearances. Kimbrel certainly hasn’t been disastrous. He has a 4.14 ERA in 54 1/3 innings, striking out 27.2% of opponents above average. His running speed of 9.6% is slightly higher than the league, but not an untenable figure. He has successfully completed 22 of his 27 rescue attempts. The overall production of the right-hander was fine, but not spectacular.
Still, Kimbrel has clearly not performed at the level the Dodgers hoped. The 34-year old was arguably the best reliever in the game through the top of last season with the Cubs. Though disappointed after a deadline trade to the White Sox – largely due to home run issues – he still racked up hits on an excellent 17.2% of his offering with the South Siders. That sparked some hope that Kimbrel could continue to pitch at the elite level in a new environment, but this season’s 12.1% swinging strike rate is only slightly better than average.
By taking Kimbrel out of the ninth inning, Roberts should be more sensible with his use once the postseason starts. Maximizing his work against right-handed batters is a priority. Kimbrel has held a .208/.296,307 line over 115 at bats this season with the same batters; left-handers, on the other hand, managed to show a much more robust .266/.355/.431 in 124 trips.
The White Sox bought a $16MM option on Kimbrel this season before trading him to LA. In the meantime, he continues to be part of one of the best auxiliary corps in the game.
That the Dodgers feel equipped to get closer to their career long out of the ninth inning is a testament to the strength of the rest of their bullpen. Los Angeles enters the game on Friday with the second-lowest bullpen ERA (2.94) and the fourth-best strikeout percentage (26.5%). Evan Phillips, a waiver claim from the Rays last August, almost immediately emerged as one of the best relievers in the game. The slider specialist has a 1.24 ERA with a strikeout ratio of 31.8% over 58 innings during his breakout campaign. Flaming Sinker Baller Brusdar Graterol drove a massive 63.5% ground ball percentage to a 2.96 ERA. Deadline acquisition Chris Martin has a score of 1.71 with a laughable 26:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio since landing in Los Angeles. Southpaw Alex Vesia has the bullpen’s best strikeout rate (34.6%) and a 2.24 ERA in 51 2/3 frames.
That quartet seems most likely to take on the highest-leveraged job in the playoffs. Roberts can also call on Kimbrel, Phil Bickford and Tommy Kahnlea from the right, while Caleb Ferguson and the rehabilitation David Price are left-handed options. Yency Almonte has had a great season himself and has a rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City, and there is still an opportunity to Blake Trains making a playoff return (although Trains is currently on the injured list and continues to battle shoulder discomfort).