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Dodgers Bullpen: Los Angeles Should Rethink and Adjust The Role Of Closer

Nobody should own the ninth inning.

Dodgers
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - APRIL 18: Julio Urias #7 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws a pitch during the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 18, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

I had some questions around Tuesday night’s Dodgers loss in Philadelphia.

One characteristic of both the Astros and Red Sox in the last two World Series was that they were willing to use other pitchers in the closing role despite having established closers. Their management basically said, “Mr. Closer, you are not doing your job and your ego is not as important as taking this opportunity to win.”

The times that a team has a a chance to win a World Series are not often. The Dodgers blew the 2017 World Series for various reasons and seem to have a great chance again in 2019. It seems the management of the Dodgers have a certain rigidity about the “closer” role, which could be contrary to actually winning.

The Way The Dodgers Seem To View The Closer Role

It seems to me, based on game evidence, that the Dodgers will win or lose with Kenley Jansen in the closer role no matter how he’s doing. He can clearly not have his best stuff and they rarely even get another reliever up in the bullpen. After the Dodgers lost to the Phillies on Tuesday night, Dave Roberts was asked by Alanna Rizzo what he saw of Kenley and this was the response (and my response to him):

He, literally said that Kenley didn’t have his best stuff. Now, why didn’t they get someone else warming up? I think it is obvious that the closer role on the Dodgers is based on total faith in one person. No other pitcher on the Dodgers is given that much trust. Now, Jansen used to be one of the most elite closers in the game and that trust was warranted. Is it now?

I do believe that it does take a special mentality to close out a baseball game, especially the post-season. However, it also takes the right pitches to get the desired results.

What I’d Like To See

The closer role needs to be not so rigid. Why should it be automatic that Jansen is used for the final three outs of the ninth inning? What if a different pitcher has better numbers against the next three batters? Or what if Jansen has better numbers against someone in the 8th inning? Or what happens when Jansen doesn’t have it? In the post-season, every out matters. I don’t want to hear anyone in Dodgers’ management saying that Kenley will get the last 6 outs. That type of blind faith in a pitcher who isn’t “automatic” is a recipe for losing.

In the current bullpen, I don’t blame Roberts for not trusting some members of the bullpen. I believe the bullpen needs two extra arms to go with Jansen, Julio Urías, Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling. This assumes that Rich Hill is the 4th starter. Pitchers like Dylan Floro and Yimi Garcia have also had some big moments so they could factor in also. The inconsistency of many of the relievers has been frustrating and Doc must not have easy decisions sometimes.

The bottom line is, nobody in this bullpen has earned the right to be the unquestionable closer. This means that nobody should be exempt from being pulled from a game. It also means that the 9th inning save situation isn’t for just one pitcher. The Dodgers use matchups for the whole game on offense and defense so why does that stop with who pitches in the 9th inning? Why not use every reliever in a matchup that give the team the best chance to succeed? For such an advanced management team, it is mind-boggling that they are so rigid about the closer role. The reality is that Julio Urías should close some games in the playoffs, especially since Jansen struggles when he throws in too many games.

The “Sum Of All Fears”

Many Dodger fans have those flashbacks of the second game of the 2017 World Series. In my opinion the Dodgers blew through their bullpen in that game and then expected Kenley to get six outs without any real backup. He’d thrown 14 pitches the day before. In my opinion, he was over used and over exposed.

This game is one that changed the World Series for the worse and the fans are afraid of a repeat. Now that Kenley is not as dominant as he once was it is not fair to anybody to automatically put him in spots just because he so-called earned it or is paid a lot of money. Again, in some cases Julio Urías is probably better in some cases for closing a game.

Final Thoughts

Articles like this are tough to write, as I have such great respect for Jansen and Dave Roberts. However, I do not want to see a continued repeat of history where we see the bullpen blow a huge World Series game again. The bullpen failures of the 2017 and 2018 World Series teams are staring us right in the face and we easily can envision it happening again in 2019. The starting rotation and the offense are in very good shape but the bullpen is not close to being World Series worthy. Along with getting two more pieces, an adjustment to the roles of the closer is needed.

There is no reason to not have a game plan that includes Jansen as the 9th inning pitcher. However, there is also no rational reason to not adjust that role as the game plays out. Put every pitcher into the best matchup possible. There should be no more automatic roles. Winning the World Series is more important than having a designated closer. It’s tough to imaging the Dodgers winning the World Series if they continue using the same bullpen formula that has failed in the last two years.

I just ask this one last question: is it more important to have an undisputed closer who has their undisputed role or is it making the bullpen work in the most optimal way? Kenley Jansen holding that World Series trophy in 2019 could depend on how the Dodgers answer that question.

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

61 Comments

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  1. Heartbreak ! Long-time Dodger fan here ! That’s it for me, enough already this bullpen will not succeed against the big boys ( Yanks, Astros, etc. ) for sure. Even if the Dodgers get to the WS and loose again, what a horrible mark on our history. C’mon Dodgers get it together!

    • But as Tim Rogers points out Jansen does not need to be the ‘undisputed ‘ closer when certain games in the PS and WS matters the most. The FO and Roberts along with everyone of us here do not want to see any repeats of the 2017 and 2018 WS losses. If the past 2 WS losses are not enough to change some of their thinking about how this BP is used, then I don’t know what will.

  2. Just commented on this very issue on another post. I cannot believe that this is even open for contemplation by the front office. It is a no-brainer. Andrew et al needs to make some serious changes by July 31st. Watching the mediocre Phillies be able to wildly celebrate on the field bottom 9th (when our Rookie Beaty put us ahead by hitting a 3 run home run top of the 9th) is indefensible. Enough with the excuses and minimizing OR our amazing team will not successfully compete through the play offs. I love the Dodgers. And this Front office needs to do right by our boys in blue (and dedicated fans) by taking an objective (might I suggest with glasses) LOOK and making necessary changes.

  3. Problem is not only do the Dodgers have a poor bullpen but Roberts use of it. He goes thru it like he has all elite pitchers, wasting a pitcher for just 1 batter. Might work if he waits till the 8th of 9th inning but he starts sometimes in the 6th and by the time he gets to the 9th he is out of options as he did in the WS. He is more worried about hurting feelings than managing a ML baseball team and wants all the players to like him more than winning!!! That shows with some of his lineups.

    • Boy oh boy, I’ve been saying this all along. He goes thru that bullpen to often and to much. Your right he doesn’t know how to manage his bullpen.

      • Excellent points Ed. Feelings and egos should not get in the way of winning a championship.Why is Barnes still on the 25 man roster?

        • Andy F. Interestingly enough, before what happened to Jansen and the Dodgers in the 9th inning last night I was asking that very same question. Barnes is coming up and basically striking out continuously in key situations and honestly it is my belief that the Dodgers cannot really afford to ‘carry’ Barnes offensively much longer.

  4. Perfect article. Jansen didn’t have it and Robert’s let the Dodgers lose. It was clear his pitches were trash after the first batter. This is a Robert’s thing. He doesn’t get it with pitchers. Darvish didn’t have in the WS in 17 and when Hill was humming he pulled him out in the18 WS. He is a good manager until critical decisions are needed and too much of a players manager.

  5. I actually cringe every time I see Jansen come in. Regardless of what his career numbers say, there have just been too many instances where he’s given up the lead or lost the game, frequently by a homer. The Dodgers need to go out and get another closer-type guy for the bullpen or open up their thinking about who else they can use. If it hurts Jansen’s feelings, so be it. We have position players who have bought into the fact that they won’t play every day, so should Jansen.

  6. After the first batter he faced, I knew Kenley didn’t have it and was pleading for DR to pull him. When he was limping I thought, “Oh perfect, now he can exit with grace, and allow time for someone to warm up.” DR should have insisted he exit when he had the chance to get him out of there with respect. And KJ, as he has admitted, should have excused himself to the dugout.

  7. Also, completely concur with Rogers that having your gold glove first baseman actually playing first base would really help seal outs that should be outs at first, and salvaged off throws. Rogers also makes strong case for Verdugo in CF defensively.

  8. Agree with everone’s comments to this point. Bring up the best in the minors. It IS a Roberts issue! Why pitch Darvish when Houston was So familiar with him? Put Honeycutt in charge of bullpen guys too!

  9. Couldn’t agree more with Ed. Just my opinion, but Roberts needs to “man up” and use the bullpen as a weapon and not a favor.
    Also, in my opinion more than one player should have been written off as solid relievers a long time ago, including Jansen. None can be relied on to successfully complete their assigned job. Players that can and do perform as professionals at an expected percentage degree of perfection should not be trumped by those who can’t and force a team such as the Dodgers to end up the loser because of it.

  10. Roberts has stats on almost everything. Who hits where what they hit and who they hit. He should have been on the ball about Kenley. Did he have the stuff to get these guys out? I don’t know what his fastest pitch was but one was at 95mph. I thought he threw faster than that. And I have noticed that he hasn’t been hitting the location the catcher wants him to hit. You have to know that some of these players and managers know what he’s throwing, some have seen him before some have just studied him. I myself think there is something physical or mental going on, which reminds me he got hit on the foot last night and said he was ok. I guess he wasn’t. I have mentioned this before and no one does anything about it. Players play hurt. Sometimes it works out and many times it doesn’t. Someone in the coaching staff should be looking out for this kind of stuff. Really looking and asking.

  11. As a long time Dodger fan, I too agree with the article and everyone’s comments so far. For a 2019 WS win, Robert’s needs to shake off the predictability when it comes to his use of the closer and bullpen, and start thinking outside his/FO’s box. The sooner the better.

  12. About time someone said what has needed to be said for 2 years. Kelly is good example of using a non-closer in right spots by Boston against us

  13. Did anyone notice that Jansen’s cutter just doesn’t move much at all. His velocity is down but I think movement, or lack of is the bigger problem. Loved the article.

    • The big problem with Janen is his inability to consistently place the pitch in the hitter’s no-hit zone. That’s a polite way of stating he lacks control. When his pitches are flairing erratically across the plate, it is time to get him off the mound. It doesn’t take a big bag of commin sense and to let the mind think he will work this out is a flaw in thinking. Why couldn’t Maeda been used in the bull pen today. After all, he only tissed 50 some pitches in the rain-delayed game the night before. Secindly, we have no idea as to the attitude of the bull pen pitchers. Maybe they just don’t pay attention and could care less.

  14. Welcome to Mr. Rogers neighborhood!!!!! I totally agree with his views about the Dodger FO and how they view the role of BP closer. I also agree with everyone who has posted above. I watched the bottom of the 9th in disbelief as our BP lost another. Jansen should not have been pitching, and Polock was eaten alive by Bryce’s laser. This is not smart baseball : our offense regains the lead, and our BP surrenders it. Roberts is also complicit in this ongoing fiasco. How do we resolve his enigma? Obtain 2 quality relievers, and eliminate the role of closer in most cases. If KJ takes umbrage, I would remind him that other pitchers can also surrender games without the attitude issues. Go Blue!!!!!

  15. Yes roberts has some blame on this he uses what he has to work with, however I feel most of the blame should go to friedman, quit picking up relief pitchers of the scrape pile, invest in someone who we can trust for a few years. If we make the world series and lose because of relief pitching its all on him!

  16. The thing with Jansen’s velocity though is there doesn’t appear to be much movement. And without movement, big league hitters will hit no matter the velocity. That’s what Broxton’s problem was and Jansen is looking similar and who also doesn’t throw as hard as Broxton did.

  17. Total Dodgers fan here. I agree with the other views on this. The game is quickly changing and the old ways become very predictable. To be unpredictable can be an asset. Doing the obvious is imo…a flaw in big game situations. The solution is to surprise them with a totally different late game or closer strategy. Like others are saying, maybe other CPs. Or why even refer to them as closing pitchers, they are just the best pitcher at the time to win the game. Understanding how to make that happen will likely do the trick!

    • The only thing I’m tried more then watching the Dodger BP blow games is reading comments from Dodgers fans on this site that complain about nothing being done about the BP and also complain at the thought of the FO trading top prospects to get top BP help. You know who you are! It’s time the Dodgers have their version of Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman trade and go get that at ring!

  18. Jansen stinks. I would designate his butt for assignment. He will cost us another World Series if the manager we have has his way.

  19. I agree with the article – play smart baseball for every inning. How would the other team respond if they saw two pitchers warming up and weren’t sure who would be pitching next or even if there would be a pitching change at all. Sometimes it seems like a releiver just gets in the zone and is pulled. If they’re effective, let them pitch. It still breaks my heart thinking about Rich Hill being pulled during the 2017 and 2018 WS.

    • It breaks my heart, too. If Roberts just left a filthy Rich Hill in both Game 2 of the 2017 WS and Game 4 of the 2018 WS, the Dodgers might be back-to-back champs right now and looking for a threepeat. Simple managerial logic suggested Hill be kept in both games. Nobody else in the world would have taken him out in either situation. Arrgghh!!!

  20. Another lifelong Dodger fan here as well. Agree 100% with the article and the comments. Kenley has almost a 4.00 era! NOT GONNA CUT IT FOR A CLOSER. Give the ball to Urias, h’s been great! Even Kelly is looking like he is finding his groove of late. Kenley just doesn’t have the cutter he use to have, and he leave it right over the plate.. He needs to change eye levels and work corners if that’s all he is going to throw. If we keep doing what were doing we are going to keep getting the same results….. AHEM…. another world series lose. Change it up Dave and FO!

  21. Tim says it right on the money here:

    The starting rotation and the offense are in very good shape but the bullpen is not close to being World Series worthy. Along with getting two more pieces, an adjustment to the roles of the closer is needed.”
    Enough said.

  22. Let’s talk about the real issue. Roberts might be a great players manager but he is an awful in game manager. He hasn’t a clue as to how and when to use his bullpen. He blew the 2017 WS when he removed Hill after 4 innings of the second game. And Darvish. How many times did he use Madsen in the 2018 WS. OMG! The way he is using Urias is absurd. He seems to be the most reliable reliever. The Dodgers have won every year that Roberts has managed because they have a stacked lineup which we are all thrilled about and the best starting rotation quality and quantity wise. You and I could get this team to the WS. And we would probably do a better job winning it.

  23. Imagine if this pen hadn’t blown saves in the double digits? Yet here we are on probably the best Dodger team in their history aside from the aforementioned pen. I’d hate if they parted with a Will Smith, but if they want rings, they’ll have to get very creative or offer up one of their prized prospects. So, they get Diekman as a tier 2 reliever. That’s a start. They still need to add a legit high-leverage type or two. They released Zac Rosscup for not doing his job. We’re all holding our breath, the blood pressure goes bonkers when the bp gate opens up. Chick used to call it “nervous time.” Will they reconsider another role for Kenley? Like many of you, I don’t understand the reluctance to do so. All of his metrics are trending south. As Orel said last night, his velocity was in the 89-90 range. Last night he clearly didn’t have it from the get go, but did Doc recognize this or just go with the “this is our guy” philosophy?

  24. The team has lost all faith in this bullpen. You can start to see the body language of the players. It’s like if they’re not up by 4 runs in the ninth, everyone’s up tight-even the folks in the bullpen. Thanks for the memories Kenley, but time to move on. It’s ALL IN to win the WS THIS year and Roberts has got to get over the past. Front office better get busy!!!!

  25. Also agree with all comments and article. My question is directed to Front Office; why are we not trading top prospects and getting top back end relievers?Friedman loves the reclamation projects and bargain basement deals, some work but most are just not cutting it, (Morrow, Fields,)
    Yankees build their bullpen by sending top prospects, Cubs get Chapman and a Series title, and so on.
    What are we saving our prospects for at this point? Our window is NOW, the team needs to win now not in 5 years. It’s been over 30 years for Christ sake. We have 2 top 5 catcher prospects. Why do we need 2? Comon Friedman get us Hand or Yates! Let’s do this!!!

    • Absolutely agree. It seems like they’re always trying to win World Series in the future and when the future becomes the present they are still in the future. At some point you gotta decide that the future is here and go all in. This is that time in my opinion, this is the team they should go all in for they’ve got the best offense and rotation in years the only flaw is the bullpen just fix it and we’re flawless. It would be a crime to waste this team but I honestly believe they will

  26. Janson has poor balance on the mound. His glove flies open, his arm slot moves out, and he falls towards first base which throws off his control. He’s always fell a little that way, but since 2018 he’s almost tripping about half the time. He needs to keep his head and body moving towards the plate and pull his glove straight back. Kenley also can’t hold the runner at all, which is now a huge problem since he can’t keep guys off base. He’s selfish, in that he shakes off Barnes way too much, and hasn’t done anything to improve, yet still feels entitled to be the closer. I get tired of his post-game interviews where he denies that there is a problem and goes on business-as-usual. I also wonder if the smaller seams in the new ball have reduced ball movement causing his cutter to flatten out.

  27. This is from a text I sent to a fellow Dodger lover and friend just before I read the article….
    Yeah, a trade like that would shake things up. They’ve been doing very well but a loss like that out of the blue is exceptionally painful. We’ll see if Kenley is called in tonight if there is a save situation. He should be brought in early in games for awhile to get his confidence back, or get shelled early and get it over with while there’s time to salvage the game. I think he’s done as a closer.

  28. Strong Dodger Fan here since 1958. Excellent article & remarks. Unless we have a 3 run lead I get very nervous when Kenley is called in to save a game. He NEVER has a 1-2-3 inning in a close game. I can tell right away when he’s off because his throws don’t go anywhere near the catcher’s mitt. If anyone questions him he quickly dismisses the fans as being ignorant. Yes, he has a real attitude. I also agree that the batters are mostly set up based on analytics, so why not use the BP pitchers the same way. It should be about matchups & the hell with Kenley’s feelings. It should be all about the TEAM. F/O needs to pay the price THIS YEAR to get the BP help we need. The Dodgers are making a ton of money. We are loyal fans & deserve a WS Championship!

  29. Thanks Tim, for article on closer role. I agree 100% I get frustrated with Roberts when he keeps pitchers in that don’t have there stuff. Urias in my book should be pitching more games. I believe he can pitch well in closing spot. Dodgers should have won the philly game. Jansen should have been taken out. Don’t want a repeat of 2018
    Thanks n keep up the awesome articles!!

  30. Totally agree. The right pitcher for the right situation is a must. The goal is to win, not worry about hurting someone’s feelings. Winning is a TEAM effort!

  31. The Dodgers have 34 losses at this point. Of those, 23 are against the bullpen, which I think is outrageous, and 3 of those are against Jansen. The problem is more than Kenley.

  32. It is time to get rid of Jansen. He stinks. And to hell with his feelings. What about the feelings of the rest of the team and all the fans that have been for the Dodgers for years and years. If changes aren’t made NOW you can see a repeat coming of the last 2 years

  33. Great article, it’s about time somebody spoke up but probably F/O or Roberts won’t read it. Jansen stinks and forget about hurting his feelings. Time to get rid of him or use him in a different capacity. If Bullpen changes aren’t made NOW you can expect a repeat of 17 and 18, if they even make it to the
    WS.

  34. Roberts blew both World Series
    With the way he uses his pitching.
    He’ll
    Blow it again this year IF the Dodgers
    Play in this years WS.
    Kershaw had. Big lead and blew it!
    Why was he still in there?
    Roberts can’t handle pitchers
    Their biggest mistake was not taking verlander. Dodgers took Darvish!

  35. It breaks my heart, too. If Roberts just left a filthy Rich Hill in both Game 2 of the 2017 WS and Game 4 of the 2018 WS, the Dodgers might be back-to-back champs right now and looking for a threepeat. Simple managerial logic suggested Hill be kept in both games. Nobody else in the world would have taken him out in either situation. Arrgghh!!!

  36. A bunch of stupid comments here that reveal why Dodgers fans are considered among the most unsophisticated fan bases in the game. Are you geniuses also going to blame Robert’s for leading the Dodgers to the best record in the game? If the players stink like some of you claim, then Doc must be doing a fantastic job. Dodger fans: nothing going on upstairs.

    • Give them a break they’ve been mindf’kd by haters, trolls, and media for years that they now believe nonsense and are now programmed to come up with their own nonsense

  37. This wouldn’t go over well with Jansen. He’s an ego type unfortunately. They could try to do it anyway but his performance might get even worse if he’s used as just another interchangeable reliever. Also he can’t be trusted he might lie about having good stuff just to get in and we find out he wasn’t actually at his best that night and Roberts could’ve gone with someone else to close

  38. Great article. A lot of people are blaming Roberts. I have heard a lot of people saying management calls most of the field management shots and they are to blame for pitching decisions. A few people even said when they are hiring a manager, they tell him, we the management are calling the shots you must be willing to take the blame if it does not work out for a win. I may be naïve, but I find that hard to believe and don’t know what to believe is true. Some of the people are just fans and others may have more insight.

    With that said, I do agree we need to shore up our bullpen; in the playoffs and world series you are facing the crème de la crème.

  39. Jansen’s ego will be a road block to the Dodgers winning a World Series in 2019 unless the
    FO addresses the issue.His velocity is down,his cutter is not cutting as it has in the past ,and he is not effective unless he has multiple days off between appearances.Mr Friedman has to address this in the next 13 days..It will be a shame for this magical season to go to waste without bringing home the ultimate prize.

  40. Well, it happened again. Dodgers have a lead against Philly in game 4 and Doc puts in Caleb who was just recalled from AAA. He was no good before rehab and no reason to think he would be good now. But sure enough Roberts goes to him and bingo two hit batsmen and the game takes a nose dive. Just like the 2nd game Tuesday when they had a lead late and the pen blew it. They should have won all 4 games. Roberts is fine with the line up but a mess with the bull pen. Let Honeycut run it and the entire pitching staff. He just seems to be a brick head and what about upper management not going the extra mile or taming Roberts down. I am afraid it is going to be dejavu again.

  41. I get antsy when the bullpen comes in and don’t really have much faith in anyone. Two unpopular thoughts come to mind – designate Urias as the closer and least for this year, make Jansen the 7th or 8th inning man along with Baez. Then get rid of Ferguson, Alexander and Chargois and bring up May. Hill will be gone and Urias can go back to starting. Idea 2 is to just trade Jansen and one other reliever for an elite reliever.

  42. The Dodgers will not win the WS with this bullpen, period.Their relievers have accounted for over half (18) of the team’s losses (35) and that is ridiculous. KJ with 4 blown saves and an ERA of well over 3.00 is also ridiculous. Time for the FO to pony up and go get the guys they need to put us on top. Jansen is no longer an elite closer and it’s 50/50 at best every time he goes in that he’ll manage to record a save. I have zero faith in him and it’s time the FO considers the rest of the team as opposed to placating Jansen’s ego.

  43. Such a well written article. It is such a pleasure to read conclusions backed up by facts. Almost like a flawless legal brief. Thank you! I grew up on the East Coast with the New York City press and they were tough, not like the pansies out here who tiptoe around bad baseball. There never is any analysis like the third base coach coach sending someone home with one out who get a tagged 6 feet from home plate. Keep writing please.

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