There’s one thing we know for sure: The Dodgers will have a bullpen in 2023. In fact, we can even be pretty confident that it will be a good one. They lost some key members of the 2022 bullpen, including Tommy Kahnle and Chris Martin, but they also lost Craig Kimbrel, so it’s kind of a wash, ya know?
In the interest of looking at where things stand as we cruise into the calendar year of 2023, let’s try to figure out who would be in L.A.’s eight-man bullpen if the season started today. We’ll separate them into groups, and we’ll just list the pitchers within each group in alphabetical order.
Group 1: The Sure Things
Almonte was crazy good when he was healthy in 2022, posting a 1.02 ERA in 35.1 innings. He might not actually be that good, but he definitely figured something out when he came to Los Angeles.
Graterol’s overall season numbers from 2022 aren’t mind-boggling, but he definitely started to figure things out, posting a 1.78 ERA over his last 25.1 innings of the season. His strikeout rate was still much lower than you’d expect from a guy who throws a zillion miles an hour, but he induces very weak contact and gets the job done.
Hudson’s 2022 season ended early because of a torn ACL, but he was very good before the knee injury and has a long track record of being a solid reliever. He also has experience as a closer, so he’s a likely candidate if L.A. manager Dave Roberts decides to go with a dedicated ninth-inning reliever.
The Dodgers signed Miller to be a reliever, and they’re going to give him a chance to show he can get the job done. There’s no way to guess how the experiment will go, but it’s essentially a sure thing that the experiment will happen.
Phillips was L.A.’s best reliever in 2022, and nothing about his performance suggested it was a fluke. He’s a bulldog dressed as a puppy dog, and Los Angeles will be counting on him to be awesome again in 2023.
Vesia was very good all year in 2022, but especially the last three months or so, when he posted a 0.36 ERA over his final 25 innings pitched. He was much tougher on lefties than righties, unsurprisingly, but he was serviceable against righties, too, allowing just a .623 OPS against them.
Group 2: The Other Lefties
Nothing about Bruihl is very exciting, especially his anemic 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings. But he posted a solid 3.80 ERA in 23.2 innings in 2022, and he’s not a terrible option for the last guy in the bullpen under certain circumstances.
Ferguson was very good in 2022 (1.82 ERA in 34.2 innings) and has a history of success, but he’s just one year back from Tommy John surgery, so there will remain questions about his health and stamina, especially after posting a 3.94 ERA in his final 16 innings.
Gonzalez was a key part of the Dodgers bullpen when they won the World Series in 2020, but he took a big step back in 2021, posting a 3.57 ERA before being sent to the minors and then missing all of 2022 with a shoulder injury. Gonzalez is theoretically healthy, but there’s really no way to guess whether he’s going to be any good.
Group 3: Who Knows With These Guys?
Bickford somehow lasted the whole season in 2022, pitching more innings than any reliever other than Phillips and posting a higher ERA than any reliever who pitched at least five innings (including Hanser Alberto). Bickford’s 4.72 ERA in 61 innings was a far cry from the 2.50 ERA he had in 50.1 2021 innings. Maybe he’ll figure it out again, but he’ll have to earn a spot in the pen.
Jackson has been almost exclusively a starter in the minors, but all seven of his big-league appearances the last two seasons have come in relief. And he’s been pretty good, posting a 2.11 ERA in 21.1 innings. Scouts say Jackson’s repertoire — he’s essentially a two-pitch pitcher, and his changeup is his only excellent offering — might play better as a multi-inning reliever than as a starter, so he could find himself in the big leagues in that role.
Reed has pitched for the Dodgers in each of the past two seasons. Since his first game with L.A., he’s also pitched for the Mets and Orioles and has spent a few days in both the Tampa Bay and Boston systems. He’s currently back with Los Angeles after being claimed off waivers in November, but he’s also probably the first man up if they need to waive someone to make room on the 40-man roster later this offseason. But if he makes it to Opening Day on the 40-man, he could see some time in the L.A. bullpen.
Our Best Guess:
If we had to guess the Opening Day bullpen today, we’d go with the six sure things (Almonte, Graterol, Hudson, Miller, Phillips, and Vesia) along with Ferguson and Jackson. But it also wouldn’t surprise us if someone who isn’t even currently in the organization is in the bullpen when the season starts.
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