Ok, ok, so technically, this is Two2Watch4. But given the fact that Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario are used to sharing the spotlight, appearing in the same game 35 times last season. Most would credit the Dodgers success last season to the emergence of young hitters like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in combination with a patchwork pitching staff and a dominating setup/closer combination in George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton. All of those players do deserve a lot of credit, but we shouldn’t look past the importance of the Dodgers middle relievers, especially Troncoso and Belisario.
Los Angeles led all of baseball with a 3.14 bullpen ERA last season, and it wasn’t even close. The San Francisco Giants were second at 3.49. The strength of the bullpen was all the more impressive considering the demand that was placed on it. Dodgers starters averaged fewer than 6 innings per outing last season, forcing the bullpen to provide 553 innings of work, the third-highest total in the league. A huge chunk of that work was provided by Troncoso and Belisario.
Troncoso’s 82 2/3 innings of relief work not only led the Dodgers in 2009, it was the third-most relief innings in the league. In his second year of major league work he lowered his ERA from 4.26 to 2.72, the second-best ERA by a reliever with at least 80 innings. This despite the fact that his K/BB ratio dropped from 3.17 to 1.62 and his WHIP rose from 1.29 to 1.42. What was the difference? Not giving up the long ball was a big part of it. Although he only allowed two HR as a rookie, he threw 44 2/3 more innings in 2009 but allowed just one more homer. In fact, his 0.33 HR/9 IP ratio led all of baseball for pitchers with at least 80 innings.
Belisario didn’t get quite as much work as Troncoso, pitching only 70 2/3 innings thanks to being on the disabled list from July 6 to August 8 with a strained right elbow, but he did the most with his appearances. Among relievers with at least 70 innings of work, Belisario’s 2.04 ERA was second-best in baseball and his .201 opponents BA was seventh-best. He also limited right-handed batters to a .157 BA.
With a combination of Sherrill and Broxton, the Dodgers hope to win games by turning them into 7-inning affairs. The fact that the Dodgers staff is again headlined by Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley, two pitchers that ring up high pitch counts and early exits, Los Angeles will likely come to depend on the bridge that Troncoso and Belisario provide. Their performances this season will likely have a much greater impact on the success or failure of the Dodgers than most realize, just like it did a year ago. With neither pitcher having more than two years of MLB experience, the Dodgers need to hope their breakout 2009 seasons were not just flashes in the pan.