The Dodgers don’t have many areas of concern as they get ready to begin a new season. And why would there be? They have a top-two player in baseball locked up for the next decade. The rotation has three former Cy-Young winners along with Walker Buehler. Did I mention that they finally checked the elusive World Series title off of the to-do list? Life is good if you’re the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As they kick off spring training, things will have a different feel, and not just because of the limited crowds. There’s no bitter feeling after coming short the year before. No one will be asking Clayton Kershaw if he thinks this team can get him a ring before Father Time catches up to him. Overall, this should be a pretty relaxed month of preparation before the regular season begins.
One player that may not have this luxury, however, is long-time closer Kenley Jansen. Jansen is coming off of a 2020 season that had some mixed results. It was also the first time that Dave Roberts would not commit to him as the team’s sole closer in the postseason. In what will be Jansen’s 12th season, the Dodgers will be forced to ask themselves if they can hand him the closer role or if they should look in a different direction this time around.
There are plenty of arguments that can be made for both cases. For starters, Kenley’s velocity never bounced back after dipping for the 4th year in a row. His cutter sat around 90-91 MPH, and it looked like a vulnerable pitch to throw when the stakes were so high. On the other hand, he found a feel for his slider and had a 40% whiff rate when using it on the season.
One other notable stat from 2020 is that Kenley managed to keep the homers to a minimum. After two particularly bad years, Jansen brought his HR per 9 innings down to 0.7, the lowest it’s been since his Cy-Young worthy 2017 season. This number was no fluke either, as he held hitters to a hard-hit percentage of 14%, his lowest in the past 6 years.
So where does this leave the Dodgers in regards to finding an answer for the 9th inning this season? This very question was brought up on a recent episode of Access Sportsnet: Dodgers, and the crew had some interesting thoughts on the matter.
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“The biggest storyline,” Pedro Moura of The Athletic explained, “is in the bullpen — and specifically who closes. And will it be Kenley Jansen? And will it be sorted out early or will this be something that in April people are still asking Dave Roberts about it on a daily, weekly, nightly basis. It’s a great question. It’s something the Dodgers never quite sorted out to their liking last year, but as you know, they made it work just fine. That said, I think they’d like to have a closer, to have a hierarchy in the bullpen.”
All eyes will be on Kenley Jansen once spring games begin, but by all accounts, he still deserves a chance to be the team’s closer. His 2020 season was not as bad as it appeared, even if fans held their collective breaths every time he took the mound. And given that he’ll be able to return to a (mostly) normal routine now that there will be a normal spring training and a full season, he’s as good a candidate as any to have a bounceback year.
The Dodgers have some tremendous young talent that they can turn to in the 9th, should they so choose. From Brusdar Graterol to playoff hero Julio Urías, there will be plenty of insurance policies should Kenley not meet expectations. But until Dave Roberts announces his decision one way or another, all we can do is watch and wait.