Dodgers Sign Jimmy Nelson: A Seemingly Low-Risk Buy

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Two days ago, the Dodgers announced that they have signed former Brewers RHP Jimmy Nelson to a one-year deal. Let’s take a look at Nelson, who missed most of the past two seasons due to injury.

Dodgers Sign Jimmy Nelson

The Dodgers have had a pretty quiet offseason thus far, despite all the rumors that have surrounded them over the past few months. Throughout the offseason, they’ve been linked to Francisco Lindor and Mookie Betts as the Dodgers look to bolster their squad after falling to the Nationals in the NLDS last season. In addition, the reigning NL West Champions did not retain Hyun-Jin Ryu, who signed a four-year deal with the Blue Jays last month after coming off a career year in 2019.

While the Dodgers haven’t made a big splash yet this offseason, they did sign Jimmy Nelson, a righty who has dealt with injury problems over the past two seasons. After sustaining shoulder damage in September of 2017 while sliding into first base, Nelson had right shoulder surgery that kept him out for all of 2018.

Nelson returned to the Majors last season, but struggled badly. The righty may have struck out 26 batters over 22 innings, but Nelson had a 6.95 ERA along with a 5.80 FIP and 1.91 WHIP last season. On top of that, Nelson’s hard hit rates went way up in 2019. So, what went wrong last season?

A Look at Nelson’s 2019

When first looking at Nelson’s numbers, one could make the inference that he wasn’t fully healthy when he came back. And that was exactly the case in June, as Nelson landed back on the IL after making four appearances with the Brewers in June. Another problem for Nelson was that he didn’t regain the velocity on his pitches, particularly his breaking balls, upon his return from the IL in June. Last season, Nelson’s average speed on his slider was 85.5 MPH, three MPH slower than it was in 2017 (88.5). Nelson’s knuckle-curve was also slower in 2019 (82.8 in 2019 compared to 84.3 in 2017). That may very well have been a reason for why Nelson’s hard hit rates went up in 2019.

Year Pitch Slugging Exit Velocity (Average)
 2017  Slider  .333  81.3
 2017  Curve  .288  84.3
 2019  Slider  .375  84.4
 2019  Curve  .500  86.2


The 30-year old returned for the stretch run in September, and he seemed to rebound in the bullpen after the rough start. Nelson had four scoreless outings out of the pen to end the season, including two scoreless innings and four strikeouts on September 29 vs. the Rockies. Not only did Nelson’s performances get better, his velocity rose in September as well. The righty’s average MPH during his final four outings was 86.4 MPH, an sign that he was finally getting back on track after two years on the mend.

What to Expect from Nelson in 2020

It’s tough to predict what Nelson may do in 2020, and a lot of that has to do with his track record. The Alabama native has had one true year of success, while having control issues for most of his career. Nelson led the Majors in HBP’s in 2015 and 2016, and had 86 walks across 179.1 innings in 2016, also a league high. Because of the lack of track record, it’s really tough to pinpoint how much of an impact he may really have with the Dodgers.

Nevertheless, this move is a low risk pickup for the reigning NL West Champions. The Dodgers have a pretty strong rotation already, meaning they don’t have to rely heavily on the 30-year old. Nelson will most likely have to compete for a starting rotation job, and even if he doesn’t make it, he could still be a interesting arm out of the pen. And considering the success he had late in the season out of the bullpen last season, it may be the better fit for a pitcher who has dealt with control and injury problems.

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