About That Dodger Bullpen Usage

The Dodgers didn’t lose Game 7 specifically or the World Series generally due to a failure of their bullpen. That doesn’t mean the way Dave Roberts deployed his relievers won’t cost both the club and those pitchers down the line, though. There are indications that fatigue might be an issue. It’s not a product of how many total pitches the Dodgers pen threw. It’s about how those pitches were spaced out.

By simple measures, the Dodgers were fine. A few standout performances by starters saved some of the pen. Many of the clubs relievers recorded relatively short appearances, as well. As such, by pitches per reliever per postseason game, the bullpen didn’t look taxed.

Fewest Pitches Per Postseason Relief Appearance
Team Season Pitches Pitches/ App.
Braves 2012 32 8.0
Dodgers 2014 131 10.1
Phillies 2011 146 11.2
Braves 2003 228 12.0
Cardinals 2013 721 12.0
Twins 2006 136 12.4
Braves 2010 223 12.4
Orioles 2016 77 12.8
Yankees 2012 429 13.0
Dodgers 2017 859 13.0

By this measure, however, it’s easy to overlook that only few relievers were getting the bulk of LA’s bullpen work. While their appearances might have been short, the frequency of those appearances was high. A different approach might help us understand reliever workload in a different way. Here, for example, is a leaderboard of the most pitches thrown in a World Series since we were able to track this sort of thing.

Most Relief Pitches in a World Series
Player Season G IP Pitches
Aroldis Chapman 2016 5 7.2 137
Andrew Miller 2016 4 7.2 133
Kelvin Herrera 2014 4 6.2 116
Jose Contreras 2003 4 6.1 114
Kenley Jansen 2017 5 7.2 109
Kenta Maeda 2017 4 5.2 106
Bryan Shaw 2016 4 4.2 105
Scott Feldman 2011 5 5.0 105
Brad Peacock 2017 3 5.1 103
Lance Lynn 2011 5 5.2 102

In a related matter, Kenley Jansen is now tied for fifth all time in postseason strikeouts by a reliever.

Most Postseason Strikeouts by a Reliever
Reliever Postseason Ks
Mariano Rivera 110
Brad Lidge 62
Jeff Nelson 62
Ryan Madson 62
Wade Davis 54
Kenley Jansen 54
Francisco Rodriguez 49
Tug McGraw 48
Andrew Miller 48
Mike Stanton 47
SOURCE: Play Index
Since 1913.

Kenley Jansen is great. Also, these games were of the utmost importance. As a result, the Dodgers used Kenley Jansen as much as possible. In the second game of a back-to-back appearance this past World Series, Jansen threw as many pitches as Brian Wilson threw in the entire 2010 World Series combined.

Brandon Morrow is clearing his throat, too. He tied the record for most appearances in a row in the postseason with one or fewer days of rest. Of course, that has an upper limit near six or seven, given how postseason schedules work. But it’s not like it’s happened often.

Consecutive Postseason Games With One or Fewer Days of Rest
Name Strk Start End GF IP BB SO ERA Games
Brandon Morrow 10/25/17 11/1/17 0 4.1 1 4 10.38 6
Jeurys Familia 10/13/15 10/21/15 6 7.1 2 5 0 6
Darold Knowles 10/14/73 10/21/73 1 5.2 5 5 0 6
Tony Sipp 10/8/15 10/14/15 0 4.1 1 4 0 5
Al Alburquerque 10/13/13 10/19/13 3 3.0 2 5 3.00 5
Brian Matusz 10/7/12 10/12/12 2 4.1 2 5 2.08 5
Scot Shields 10/5/05 10/12/05 0 6.0 3 7 3.00 5
Scott Williamson 10/2/03 10/8/03 4 5.0 2 8 0 5
Felix Rodriguez 10/20/02 10/26/02 0 4.1 1 2 6.23 5
John Rocker 10/13/99 10/19/99 2 5.1 2 7 0 5
SOURCE: Play Index
since 1913

Darold Knowles, back in 1973, is the only other pitcher besides Morrow to have appeared in every game of a World Series, but it’s interesting to see Jeurys Familia on this list, too — especially because he’s had some major injuries since.

Almost 20 years ago, Rany Jazayerli introduced a stat called Pitcher Abuse Points to improve upon simple pitch counts when trying to judge a pitcher’s workload. Our Dr. Mike Sonne made some adjustments — by looking a the length of rest between appearances, mostly — and developed a metric called Fatigue Points this year. He’s found a tentative link between those units and injury in the numbers and in more theoretical research, as well.

Through the lens of Fatigue Units, you might notice that the Dodgers did push the envelope this past offseason. Here are the Fatigue Units leaders for 2017.

Fatigue Units Leaders, 2017 Postseason
Name Starts Games 4+ Rest 1-3 of Rest Back to Back Pitches Fatigue Units
Kenley Jansen 0 13 5 5 3 209 4.65
Brandon Morrow 0 14 6 5 3 173 4.44
Justin Verlander 5 6 0 0 6 534 3.30
Chris Devenski 0 10 3 3 4 137 3.12
Clayton Kershaw 5 6 0 1 5 453 3.02
David Robertson 0 8 1 6 1 190 2.69
Tony Watson 0 11 5 3 3 84 2.57
Dallas Keuchel 5 5 0 0 5 461 2.57
Brad Peacock 1 7 0 4 3 201 2.10
Kenta Maeda 0 9 1 4 4 151 1.98
SOURCE: Mike Sonne

Jansen and Morrow just recorded the second- and third-toughest postseasons since 2008 by this measure. Maeda appears within the top 100. So, while the Dodgers may not leaned heavily on their relievers in any single appearance, they may have used them heavily overall.

To some extent, you could shrug and say that everyone’s doing it, so why shouldn’t the Dodgers? And it’s true: bullpens are being used harder every year.

Because each body is unique and not all players will get injured even if they’re used more often than the general population, we may not see the ramifications of the Dodgers’ pen usage next season, or even ever. But with baseball allotting more and more innings to the bullpen, especially during the postseason, and especially to Kenley Jansen and Brandon Morrow, it makes sense to wonder what unintended consequences are going to be revealed in the coming years.

We hoped you liked reading About That Dodger Bullpen Usage by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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