The Dodgers bullpen confidence rankings

October 24th, 2020

The Dodgers have 13 relievers on their World Series roster, or perhaps more accurately, "13 pitchers who aren't Clayton Kershaw or Walker Buehler and could potentially be used in various roles in a game, including relief, as the Dodgers attempt to win with two starters." And if you think you know how trusted any of them are at any given time, well, your guess is as good as ours.

Some of them are long-time stars who have seen those reputations fade. Two of them were signed by the Dodgers as position players more than a decade ago. One couldn't make the pitching-starved Rockies just three months ago. Two of them, somehow, throw triple-digits and struggle to get any strikeouts. Three of them seem to form some sort of unholy maybe-we're-starters-but-also-we're-sometimes-openers trio. One of them really loves cats.

For nearly all of them, opinions seem to change on a daily basis. So with that in mind, here are the unofficial Dodgers bullpen confidence rankings, attempting to channel how the coaching staff views them based on usage. (Please direct any disagreements to Dave Roberts.)

1. Julio Urías, LHP
It's somehow been five years -- and one major shoulder surgery -- since Urías debuted at 19 years old, and while he's nominally one of the Dodgers' regular starters, he hasn't been used like that this October. Instead, he's filled any role he's been asked to fill and pitched several excellent innings at a time doing it. Urías has allowed a mere one run in 16 innings this postseason, serving as a starter (five innings in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series), bulk man (eight combined innings over Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series and Game 3 of the NL Division Series) and pseudo-closer (three scoreless to finish off the Braves in NLCS Game 7). He'll start Game 4. Or open. He'll throw the first pitch. Probably.

OK, that was easy. Now, it gets hard. We're only through one pitcher.

2. Kenley Jansen, RHP
For the record, we feel extremely uncomfortable about this ranking, given that Jansen basically lost his closer's job all of two weeks ago, after struggling against the Padres. He didn't appear again for a week, then appeared in Games 3, 5, and 6 of the NLCS, and he looked ... good. Not great, mind you; he didn't strike out a batter in two of those three games, though he did strike out the side in Game 5 of the NLCS. The velocity was back. The movement seemed better. If he gets in on Friday night, he'll have had another week off. Given his track record and Los Angeles' lack of obvious other options, there's little doubt Roberts will turn to him in a big spot.

3. Brusdar Graterol, RHP
Graterol routinely throws 100 mph, yet he's faced 128 regular-season batters in his career and struck out only 23 of them. That's 17 percent, which is well below league average (23.4 percent); so far in this postseason, he's struck out 4 of 18, which is 18 percent. That's counterintuitive to his stuff, but -- save for Game 2 of the NLCS, in which he relieved Kershaw and immediately made things worse -- he's generally been effective, not allowing a run to score in any of his other five appearances. Like Jansen, he hasn't appeared in the first two games of the World Series and should be expected to see high-leverage time in Game 3.

4. Dustin May, RHP
The Dodgers clearly have shown a great deal of confidence in May, and likely still will, but he hasn't exactly repaid that faith yet. He's started -- well, "been the first pitcher in" -- three postseason games after getting two big outs in the NLDS opener. They want to love him. But May allowed five baserunners and two runs in Game 5 of the NLCS, then three more baserunners as the opener in Game 7, then allowed nothing but rockets on his way to giving up three runs in Game 2 of the World Series. Like Graterol, he doesn't miss bats the way you'd expect given his stuff (19.6 percent K rate during the year), and his issues have been more about that than toying with his role. They can't avoid him; he and/or Tony Gonsolin are going to have to piece together Game 6.

We're not saying he should be this high, just that it seems like he is.

5. Pedro Báez, RHP
Báez has been shockingly consistent for seven years now; his ERA+ has been between 132 and 140 (the league average is 100) six times, and he's been pitching in Dodgers postseason games -- 29 of them -- since 2014. He's not allowed more than a single earned run in a playoff game since back in '15. His role here is pretty clear: Enter in the 7th or 8th inning with a lead, pitch one inning and keep that lead. As a perfect example of that, see Game 6 of the NLCS, in which he entered in the eighth in order to hold a 3-1 lead, facing just three batters. It's not a glamorous role, perhaps, but an important one.

6. Victor González, LHP
González's rookie season was quietly spectacular, as the rookie had a 23/2 K/BB ratio, as well as posting the highest ground-ball rate of anyone who threw at least 20 innings. It's not like he's been limited to facing only lefties, either, as he's throw to righties in three-quarters of his postseason appearances. Because he had a good season and was useful earlier in the playoffs, his low-leverage entry into Game 1 of the World Series was somewhat confusing; Roberts brought him into the 7th inning with an 8-1 lead, which might not be what you do with a highly valued reliever. (Of course, González then allowed two run-scoring singles and caught a scorched line drive, so...) However, his appearance in Game 2, trying to hold a 1-0 deficit in the 4th inning against the meat of the Tampa Bay lineup, was more important.

7. Tony Gonsolin, RHP
You'd think a pitcher with a 2.60 ERA in his first 86 2/3 innings would be a little more highly regarded. You'd think maybe that they'd just let him start, rather than use him in tandem with May in various ways, though some of this goes back to how the season ended. After Gonsolin threw 87 pitches in his final start on Sept. 26, he wasn't needed in the first two rounds of the playoffs, as the Dodgers swept through the Brewers in two and the Padres in three. That meant he'd had more than two weeks off before his just-OK start in Game 2 of the NLCS, and he was not terribly effective backing up May in Game 7 of the NLCS. While using him as an opener in Game 2 of the World Series was unpopular, he was also on two days' rest and allowed a walk and a homer among his six batters faced. Similar to May, he'll see high-leverage innings again, and he'll need to do better.

“I think that I still trust them, I still believe in them and they've just got to make pitches,” Roberts said of Gonsolin and May. “I know that they want to make pitches, execute pitches. We'll kind of look at the video and see what we can do better at, but they're still going to need to get big outs for us.”

8. Blake Treinen, RHP
Treinen never did recapture the magic of his incredible 2018 season, but he was a perfectly competent setup man this year, at least until he stumbled down the stretch (nine runs allowed in his final 10 games). Still, he didn't allow a run in his first four postseason appearances, right up until he turned a 1-1 ninth inning in Game 1 of the NLCS into what would be a 5-1 loss. He then threw five innings with just one run allowed over the final three games of the NLCS; he also will not have pitched in nearly a week by Friday. So why does it feel like he's not high on the pecking order anymore? Perhaps it's because he was in the game in the 4th inning in both Games 5 and 7 of the NLCS.

9. Alex Wood, LHP
Slowly climbing up the charts! Wood has mostly been an afterthought this season, and he wasn't even on the NLDS roster. He entered Game 2 of the NLCS with the Dodgers down, 6-0; he entered Game 3 with the team up by 14 runs. But in Game 2 of the World Series, in what seemed like a mop-up role at the time, Wood pitched two scoreless innings, showing surprising velocity north of 93 mph and getting swings or called strikes on 24 of 26 pitches. Now, he might actually be in the mix for an (almost assuredly limited) start later in the series.

10. Dylan Floro, RHP
Floro has been your typical journeyman righty reliever -- originally drafted by Tampa Bay in 2012, he bounced from the Rays to the Cubs to the Dodgers to the Reds back to the Dodgers -- and he's been perfectly competent, though he didn't make Los Angeles' NL Wild Card Series roster. Floro was mostly used in low-leverage situations in the NLDS and NLCS, then went into Game 1 of the World Series with the Dodgers up, 8-1, and allowed two runners to reach. Those are mostly the right ways to use him, though he was surprisingly the first pitcher out of the bullpen in Game 2, retiring each of the three batters he faced. Floro is about exactly where he should be: Not expected to take high-leverage moments, not expected to make low-leverage situations worse. He's done that job.

11. Joe Kelly, RHP
Kelly was sent in to get the save in Game 2 of the NLDS when Jansen could not, and while he got the job done, it wasn't without trepidation; he walked Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado to load the bases, then finally got a groundout to end it. Since then, he's been in mostly low-leverage situations, facing one batter in Game 2 of the NLCS, pitching the absolute ugliest scoreless inning you've ever seen in Game 5 of the NLCS and finishing off the last inning of an 8-3 win in Game 1 of the World Series. When he entered in the sixth inning of Game 2 vs. the Rays, he immediately allowed two singles, then a sacrifice fly to that turned out to be a valuable insurance run for the Rays. It's hard to imagine him in a big spot any time soon.

12. Jake McGee, LHP
The Rockies released McGee just before the season began, and he landed in Los Angeles, where he was a revelation -- his velocity ticked up by 1.6 mph, and he struck out 33 against just three walks. He was at his best in September, when he whiffed 16 of the 32 batters he faced (that's 50 percent) and didn't walk anyone. You'd think someone like that would be a real weapon in the playoffs, yet McGee has been, mostly, buried. He didn't pitch in the NL Wild Card Series against the Brewers or in the NLDS against the Padres, and when he finally appeared in the NLCS, it was in the ninth inning of Game 1, after Treinen had turned a 1-1 tie into a 3-1 deficit. He's been in four October games, and each time he's entered, the Dodgers have been down, in order: two runs, six runs, six runs, and two runs. We're not entirely sure what McGee did to lose all confidence, but it's clear he's not trusted.

13. Adam Kolarek, LHP
We had to double-check that he was actually on the roster, and then we pondered whether it would be correct to bump him below a position player like Kiké Hernández or Max Muncy, because he has been some kind of buried. A year after being infamously bypassed in favor of Kershaw against Juan Soto -- and we remember how well that went -- Kolarek has appeared all of three times in the postseason, twice finishing out losses for the Dodgers. He's allowed three hits in each of his three appearances. He's allowed more earned runs (five) this postseason than he has in 30 2/3 regular-season innings as a Dodger in 2019-20 (three). Don't expect to see him in a tight game.