IS KENLEY JANSEN OUR “CLOSER”?
One of the Dodgers’ biggest strengths this season is their bullpen. I don’t know why but MLB.com put them sixth instead of first in their top ten bullpen ranking heading into the 2021 season. Maybe it’s because the Brewers and White Sox have some stellar relievers, but, in my opinion, the collective that is the Dodgers’ bullpen reigns supreme. Just one question: Do we trusT Kenley Jansen as a closer to get the last three outs of a close game?
The Bullpen in 2020
Last year, the Dodgers’ bullpen ERA was the best in the majors. Victor González and Brusdar Graterol emerged as dependable relievers, and Blake Treinen’s sinker was an unhittable weapon.
Kenley Jansen in the regular season was pretty dominant. He did have some hiccups, which happens to every pitcher not named Jacob deGrom, but he was able to get eleven saves in 24.1 innings with a 3.33 ERA. Then came the playoffs and an ugly NLDS Game 2 win against the Padres.
Jansen entered the game with a three-run lead but was promptly pulled after allowing two runs score and letting the tying run get on base. Joe Kelly walked two but got the final out of the game, and the Dodgers went on to sweep the Padres in three games.
Bringing in Kelly, though, signified the Dodgers’ reluctance to trust Jansen in high-leverage situations. He pitched well and earned a key save in the NLCS against the Braves, but Julio Urías ultimately closed out the series. Then against the Rays, Jansen set a World Series record for blown saves with his disastrous game four performance. So the Dodgers used Treinen to save game five and Urías to close out the series at the end of game six.
But with Urías starting now in 2021, Dave Roberts named Jansen as the Dodgers’ closer.
Kenley in 2021
On Saturday against the Rockies, the Dodgers asked Jansen to get a five-out save and got it. There was a rocket flyout in the eighth inning and a walk in the ninth, but he got the job done. The next night, Corey Knebel was tasked with the ninth inning in a save situation and got the job done as well. (He looks like the Corey Knebel of old so far.)
So is Kenley Jansen our “closer”? Are the Dodgers actually going with a closer by committee? This is when teams don’t have a clear-cut pitcher they use for save situations but rather play matchups and utilize which pitcher is best suited to get outs.
Jansen has 313 career saves, good for first in Dodgers history and 24th all-time. The more saves he gets, the more Hall of Fame votes he gets. For this reason, I don’t expect Dave Roberts to demote Jansen from the closer role publicly.
With his 5-out save, Jansen proved he’s still a competent major league reliever and will probably be called upon often when the Dodgers are up three runs in the ninth inning.
However, when only up one or two runs (and depending on the team), I think the Dodgers will pick pitchers based on matchups. Treinen, Knebel, and Jansen all have closing experience. If David Price shakes off the rust, the Dodgers may use him to face lefty dominant lineups.
Other Closer Options
I’m really intrigued, though, to see how González, Graterol, Dennis Santana, and Tony Gonsolin develop. I think all are viable options out of the bullpen this year, but maybe one can emerge as the clear-cut alpha and dominate in high leverage situations.
González had a great 2020 and is looking to build off his strong playoff performance. Santana pitched really well in spring training and narrowly missed out on making the Opening Day roster. He’s looking to establish himself as a major league pitcher.
Gonsolin and Graterol are on the IL right now, hopefully not for the whole season. When they’re on the mound, they get outs.
And that’s all we want our closer to do. Get outs. By any means. Do we care who is getting the outs? Is Kenley Jansen as a closer important to the team?
I think that’s the question the Dodgers’ front office and coaching staff ask themselves every day regarding relief pitching. I can’t say Kenley Jansen is our best reliever. But I can’t say any of our other relievers are better than him. I can say I trust him to get outs. Not all the time, though.
P.S. Who needs a closer when you’re getting 10 runs a game?