TopicCody Bellinger

  • Sun 27th Sep 2020 - 2:21am

    The Dodgers' Game 5 collapse against the Nationals in last fall's National League Division Series still probably feels like yesterday to many L.A. fans. Leading the eventual World Series champions Mike Piazza Dodgers Jersey, 3-1, after an outstanding 6 2/3-inning start by Walker Buehler, manager Dave Roberts turned to his old reliable, Clayton Kershaw, instead of a reliever to attack the heart of the Nationals' order. But Kershaw gave up back-to-back homers to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, and then Joe Kelly -- with another Dodgers staple, Kenley Jansen, still in the bullpen -- surrendered the backbreaking grand slam to Howie Kendrick in the 10th. Los Angeles' historic 106-win season was suddenly over. Roberts received plenty of criticism for how he sequenced that night. Kershaw, while certainly an icon Sandy Koufax Jersey, was not the same pitcher who shut the door on the Nationals in 2016. But Roberts also may have felt limited by all the relievers he couldn't trust, including Jansen. Ten months later, Kershaw has seemingly found a second wind, and the Dodgers' bullpen -- which entered play Monday with the best ERA in baseball -- looks like a budding powerhouse Roberts could turn to in October. We've seen Dodger bullpens thrive before; their relievers also ranked among the top 10 units by WAR last year and in 2017, before falling short in the postseason. But there are a few really encouraging signs from this year's ‘pen. They bring as much heat as anyone With the exception of holdovers Pedro Báez and Kelly (both on the injured list), the Dodgers have gotten a major velocity shot in the arm from new faces. Los Angeles relievers entered Monday tied for the MLB lead with an average 94.7 mph velocity on fastballs (four-seamers, two-seamers and sinkers), and they have also thrown the most pitches that clocked 96 mph or faster. The fastest-throwing pitcher in baseball this year is a Dodger: That would be Brusdar Graterol, the centerpiece prospect of the mutually beneficial Kenta Maeda trade with the Twins. Graterol's sinker is averaging 98.9 mph, and he's pairing that with an 88 mph slider. Graterol hasn't allowed a barrel (the most dangerous air contact for hitters) in the first 31 balls put in play against him, and nearly 65% of those balls have been hit on the ground. Kelly was averaging 97 mph on fastballs before going on the IL. Free-agent signee Blake Treinen is still ramping it up at 96.8 mph. Rookie Victor González and veteran lefty Jake McGee are each averaging 95 mph, and southpaw Caleb Ferguson is up nearly two mph compared to two years ago at 95.6 mph. Velocity isn't everything Cody Bellinger Youth Jersey, but it's definitely an excellent base skill, allowing pitchers more margin for error. For what it's worth, the Dodgers' bullpen heat has stifled opponents to only 0.51 home runs per nine innings -- by far the lowest of all 30 teams. The reclamation projects are dealing Treinen called it “entertaining” that so many people had written him off after a disastrous 2019 season with Oakland, and right now baseball's best reliever from two years ago is having the last laugh. Treinen is healthier, and he's ditched an ineffective four-seamer and returned to a sinker-slider attack. When your sinker challenges 99 mph and moves as much as his “witch” pitch does (roughly 23 inches of drop and 18 inches of horizontal run), you don't need to throw much else. Treinen also hasn't allowed a barrel Jackie Robinson Dodgers Jersey, and he has smothered opponents to an expected slugging percentage (based on quality of contact) of just .230, putting him within the top 3% of pitchers this year. But Treinen isn't the Dodgers' only developmental success story. After struggling to a 5.54 ERA from 2018-19 and getting released by the Rockies, McGee has put up a 0.90 ERA and 0.60 WHIP through his first 11 outings in blue and white. McGee was already an extreme fastball pitcher in Denver, but he's leaned even harder that way in L.A., bringing heat on all but seven of his pitches. McGee's fastball not only comes in 1.5 mph harder than it did last year, it's also riding and running with more movement thanks to hand-positioning suggestions by the Dodgers. The result: An essentially one-pitch pitcher with a 40.5% strikeout rate. One of the only pitchers throwing more fastballs than McGee is Ferguson, the same pitcher whose curveball drew comparisons to Kershaw's and earned him lessons from Sandy Koufax. Well, Ferguson's curveball is gone after an inconsistent 2019, replaced by a hybrid cutter/slider -- a project he took on, in part, because of a conversation with Kershaw himself. The cutter pairs well with Ferguson's top-of-the-zone, four-seam heater, and all 160 of Ferguson's 2020 pitches have been one of those two pitches. His 0.79 ERA and 40% K-rate says that's working. The Dodgers' lefty quartet of Ferguson, McGee, Scott Alexander and Adam Kolarek have combined for a 0.89 ERA, and that means something when you remember last October, when Roberts didn't trust any of his lefties to come in and face Soto in Game 5. None of those improvements matter if Jansen can't hold down the ninth, but the Dodgers' closer could hardly be off to a better start. Coming off the worst season of his career, Jansen is 7-for-7 in save opportunities and has allowed one run in his first 13 appearances. But here's something even more encouraging: Hitters aren't squaring Jansen up, just like the old times. Out of nearly 400 qualified pitchers, no one has allowed a lower percentage of hard-hit contact per swing than old No. 74. Opponents have swung 102 times against Jansen in 2020, and Padres outfielder Trent Grisham is the only one to produce a hard-hit ball once the bat left his shoulder. Twenty of the 43 Jansen has faced have either struck out or popped up (the next best thing), and Jansen is racking up outs with the slowest cutter he's ever thrown. Both Jansen and Roberts have said that the movement on Jansen's cutter is a better barometer than its velocity, and last year his signature pitch suffered in both regards. Jansen's cutter is still down a few ticks (he's still recovering from a positive case of COVID-19), but it's zipping through the zone in other ways. The magic in Jansen's cutter has always been how it keeps on the same vertical plane as the four-seam fastballs that hitters saw from the pitchers they faced before him, only to veer off the barrel of the bat. The same was largely true with Mariano Rivera's famous cutter. Well, the secret sauce in Jansen's cutter is back; the only other cutter featuring both vertical and horizontal movement at least 1.5 inches better than average (based on cutters thrown at similar velocities and release points) belongs to Jansen's teammate, Buehler, who throws his cut fastball less than 15% of the time. Jansen has said repeatedly this year that he just wants to turn off all the velocity worries and simply “let it happen.” But in 2020, more than any other year, Jansen is putting much more thought into his sequencing. Even the best cutter artist since Rivera had to adapt eventually Cody Bellinger Dodgers Jersey, and Jansen is keeping hitters much more off balance by mixing in more running four-seamers and sliders. “If I've developed two pitches and I feel like they're pretty good, why not use them?” Jansen told The Athletic this month. “If I feel like I can throw down in any counts and hitters don't know where they're going, that's gonna make my cutter even better. That's the reason I want to continue to build my other pitches to have other strengths.”Jansen would certainly benefit from more options come October, and so would Roberts. The Dodgers' bullpen is rolling right now, but with so much depth (remember, Dustin May's magnet sinker, Julio Urías' mid-90s, left-side heat, Tony Gonsolin's bowling-ball splitter and/or Alex Wood's southpaw funk could all join the postseason ‘pen), perhaps this is the year that success maintains in October.

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