Despite being far and away the best team in the National League, their bullpen has plagued them for all of 2019. There have been stretches where guys like Pedro Baez and Joe Kelly have been straight-up dominant, but the pen never seems to be in sync, resulting in an unreliable bullpen.
Dodger relievers have combined for 18 blown saves. That’s tied for third-most in the entire league. With 46 total save opportunities, that’s a 60.87% success rate, which is 19th in the bigs.
One key issue has been with closer Kenley Jansen. The three-time All-Star has been good, but not great this year. He owns a WHIP of 0.98 and an impressive 12.25 K/9. He also had a nice stretch where he converted eight straight saves without allowing a run from May 14 to June 14.
However, his ERA currently sits at a career-high 3.63. This wouldn’t be too much of a concern if Jansen didn’t exhibit similar struggles in 2018 as well. Before that year, the most home runs he had allowed in any season was six. In 2018, he gave up 13 long balls. This year he has already allowed six, as he has given up home runs at a similar pace as last season.
The Dodgers, in search of their first World Series title since 1988, have very little room for error. They cannot wait to see if Jansen figures things out. They also can’t worry about hurting his ego.
Is Kenley Jansen and his Pride Hurting the Team?
When the Dodgers were interested in signing Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen said he was excited to welcome Kimbrel as a teammate. However, he also insisted that the closer role should remain his no matter who the Dodgers acquire.
This tenacity is what made Jansen one of the best closers in baseball from 2012 to 2017. However, it is this same pride that could end up hurting his team, and apparently, it already has.
There have been several incidents this year where has refused to throw his breaking ball, despite catchers Austin Barnes and Russel Martin calling for it. By adamantly sticking with his fastball, Jansen has been burned.
At a certain point, the Dodgers and Jansen need to realize that keeping Kenley as the closer isn’t the best move for the team. Obviously, demoting a player to less important role stings, especially when that player has been so vital to your team in years’ past.
But making Jansen the team’s setup man isn’t ripping away his value as a player. Some of the best relievers in the game are setup men. And perhaps a change of pace for Jansen could result in improved performance.
But if Jansen takes over the eighth inning, who gets the ninth?
Trading for a Closer
The Dodgers have been linked to almost every significant reliever on the trading block. Most recently, it was reported that they have an interest in the Tigers’ closer Shane Greene. Greene is the definition of a reliable closer, converting 22 of 24 saves. He also owns a ridiculous 1.03 ERA. Perhaps most impressive, is he has only allowed four earned runs all year – all on home runs.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 19, 2019
Of course, the biggest prize of the trading season would undoubtedly be Felipe Vázquez of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The 28-year-old flamethrower has 21 saves on the year and 2.01 ERA. He’s also controllable through 2023. With not many left-handed options in the pen, Vázquez would be the best fit for the Dodgers.
The only player who could perhaps stand as a bigger acquisition than Vázquez would be Kirby Yates. The Padres recently fell into last place in the NL West. They are fading out of a competitive wild card race. San Diego figures to be competitive very soon, and could likely hang on to Yates to be their lockdown closer for years to come.
However, if they decide to move him now, they could get a huge haul, similar to what they got last year for Brad Hand. They may be reluctant to trade with the Dodgers, though, just as the Giants with closer Will Smith. The Giants, now just two games out of the second wild-card spot, could also hold onto Smith.
Despite his struggles, it doesn’t seem likely that the Dodgers will move Jansen from the closer role without first trading for a big-time reliever. After a devastating blown save against the Philadelphia Phillies this past week, he rebounded to collect a save against the lowly Miami Marlins. Add to that a 15 game divisional lead, and there’s not a ton of urgency for the team to make immediate changes.
Jansen is still capable of being a closer, though not an elite one. For that, he should hold onto the job unless the Dodgers make a big acquisition.
However, if the team does want to make an immediate change, they have limited options. Right now, the Dodgers’ best reliever is Joe Kelly. He has been on an absolute tear the past two months, and seems to have figured things out after a terrible start to his Dodger career.
Julio Urías could be another interesting option. He has an incredible 2.25 ERA on the year, and hasn’t given up an earned run since June 1. However, Dave Roberts seems to like using Urías as a multi-inning guy, similar to how the Brewers use Josh Hader.
He also wouldn’t be a permanent replacement, as the team also figures to use Urías as a starter down the line. With Scott Alexander on the IL, the Dodgers have no other quality left-handed relievers. Urías needs to be available to come in to face left-handed hitters, 9th inning or not.
Another interesting option could be Kenta Maeda. Maeda recently pitched an inning in relief against the Marlins, where he retired the side in order while striking out two. Roberts used Maeda out of the pen to get him some work due to his shortened outing in Philadelphia.
However, in previous postseasons Maeda has proven to be a valuable reliever. If the Dodgers choose to acquire a starting pitcher as opposed to a big time reliever, Maeda could be an option to slide into the closer role if Kenley Jansen continues to struggle.
If the Dodgers want to end their postseason woes, they need to make a change. They cannot afford to have ambiguity in their bullpen, especially when it comes to their closer’s ability to lock down games. Kenley Jansen is still an important part of the team, but it’s time to reevaluate just how he fits in.
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