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What is the Dodgers Backup Plan if Kenley Jansen Never Returns to His Pre-2018 Form?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 31: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the ninth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Dodger Stadium on May 31, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

The offseason following the 2016 season marked a turning point in Kenley Jansen’s career. Coming off a year in which he posted a 1.83 ERA and was a key piece in the team’s run to the NLCS, it was finally Jansen’s turn to get paid for his efforts.

That January Jansen signed a five year, $80 million dollar contract which was the second largest contract ever for a reliever, only trailing the five year, $86 million dollar contract signed by Aroldis Chapman with the Yankees that same offseason.

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 31: Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers enters the game during the eighth inning against the Houston Astros in game six of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

After years of dominance in Dodger blue, Jansen deserved that money. Since his rookie year in 2010, he was virtually unhittable late in games. Also, Jansen seemed to prove his contract’s worth in the 2017 season, posting a 1.32 ERA in 68.1 innings pitched. Once again, his presence was key to a late postseason run for the Dodgers as he helped them break a 29 year World Series appearance drought.

Struggles

Memorably, however, Jansen struggled during a few moments of that World Series, most notably in game two when he allowed the Houston Astros to tie the game and send it to extra innings. The Dodgers would lose that game, and eventually the series, but after such a stellar year from Jansen, with just a few postseason mishaps, it was easy to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Unfortunately, though, Jansen’s 2018 campaign seemed more reminiscent of those postseason mishaps than the 2017 season as a whole.

Jansen’s pitching was different and less effective in 2018. His velocity was down and his cutter, for the most part, stopped cutting. Sure his numbers could have been worse—he posted a 3.01 ERA and was a 2018 All-Star selection—but he was visibly less dominant than years before.

Heart issues also slowed him down late in the regular season, and while he worked his way back and was not completely awful in the postseason, his performance wasn’t necessarily one to remember either.

The same sentiment seems to have carried over to this season as well. While the year is still young, Jansen’s ERA currently sits at 2.61, a far cry from his stronger years.

So, what will the Dodgers do if Jansen never returns to his pre-2018 form?

In order to answer that, I’d first like to offer a message to all Dodgers fans: relax. It’s true, Jansen does not appear to be what he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he is completely useless to this team.

For most other relief pitchers, a 2.61 ERA would not be considered bad by any means. He’s definitely not where he used to be, but Dodgers fans can take comfort in the fact that Jansen does at least seem committed to returning to form.

Jansen showed up to spring training in February looking healthier than he did in years. He had lost weight and dropped jersey sizes from an XXL to an XL. This was the first step forward in order to have a more successful 2019 season.

And truthfully, while Jansen has looked shaky at times this season, he is pitching much better than he was at the beginning of last season. He’s already recorded seven saves in seven opportunities, so isn’t he pretty much doing his job?

Many Dodgers fans seem to have already written Jansen off and called for the front office to sign Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel would definitely be a welcomed face in this bullpen, but he isn’t absolutely necessary. And if the only motivation for signing Kimbrel is to replace Jansen, then he’s truly not needed.

Also, it’s important to remember that once the starting rotation is fully healthy, both Julio Urias and Ross Stripling will be headed to the bullpen. Both have looked good in the rotation, and will likely have a positive impact on the Dodgers bullpen going forward.

So, what should the Dodgers do if Jansen doesn’t return to form? Right now, nothing. If he doesn’t reach his pre-2018 form anytime soon, the Dodgers will probably be alright. Signing Kimbrel would be great, but the move is not vital for this team to succeed.

Jansen is still a valuable reliever, and he still has a lot to offer to the Dodgers. The front office does not need to panic just yet, and neither do the fans.

What do you think the Dodgers need to do in regards to Jansen? Let us know below!

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Written by Kellan Grant

15 Comments

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  1. If Jansen goes down this year, we’re screwed. I don’t think the Dodgers would want Urias to assume that workload, preferring to keep developing him as a Starting Pitcher and being sensitive to his future health. Santana and Allie could be the heir apparent in the next couple of years. But, you can’t think of that until they get some steady 8th inning experience.

      • MLB also thinks every 4.00 ERA pitcher on the trade market would be a fantastic pickup for playoff teams but yeah if the Dodgers think he could be a good closer I’ll give it more weight than mlb

  2. It’s not time to panic yet, but the idea that you can just move a pitcher successfully back and forth between the rotation and the pen and have similar results only works when the name is Schmoltz or Eckersley. When you add in that Dodgers appear to have signed regular season Kelly rather than playoff Kelly, once again the bullpen is a question mark on a team that shouldn’t have any weak spots by now.

  3. Running a pitching staff is the hardest thaing a Manager can do–Ask any manager from Casey Stengal-to Bruce Bochy–all of the greats say this–Ross is mentally set for this–a great and underated thing–Urias cant pitch 170 inns this year-so putting him in the bullpen until september is a good thing

    • Let’s not forget that Jansen can opt out of his contract at the end of the season. Signing Kimbrel now would be a significant upgrade to the bullpen, he could help close games this year and insure that the Dodgers are covered if Jansen leaves.

  4. IMO, the Dodgers FO does Not have a plan, they are “winging it!” They are hoping Kelly can be a 2nd-closer if Jansen has any problems. This has imploded in their faces!

  5. The Kenley situation is similar to that of Kershaw. He is not what he once was, but he can still be effective, albeit with lowered expectations. Hopefully one you young pitchers will step up as the lock down closer. Kelly may still get it together.

  6. They need to do nothing with #74. His velocity has returned and he is getting the job done as a reliever. He still had issues coming in during non save situations. That is not saying that the bullpen doesn’t need help. Let’s see what happens with Julio and Ross in the bullpen. The issue is Kelly has returned to his pre WS form. (Look up his stats) Garcia remains an accelerant in the pen. 7 for 7 is a good % don’t you think?

  7. “So, what will the Dodgers do if Jansen never returns to his pre-2018 form?” Well one possible answer may be that Freidman will remain cheap in whatever signings or acquisitions he makes as far as the BP is concerned, should Dodgers decide to seek outside help.

    • Yes sign kimbrel but not to directly replace kenley Jansen but to coexist as a one-two punch or alternate closing , that relieves a lot of pressure for kenley Jansen also I think kenley would welcome it , the ultimate goal is to win the world series !

  8. Let’s not forget that Jansen can opt out of his contract after this season. Signing Craig Kimbrel now, is not a bad thing, it would keep him from going elsewhere and would make an okay bullpen great. He would be an immediate asset, and if Jansen experiences any health issues this year, Roberts has an ace in the hole to go to. Kimbrel would also be insurance for several seasons to come if Jansen opts out.

  9. Great win today. After today this would be Kenley’s 2nd blown save instead of the 2 wins he got because the team bailed him out. I do agree Jansen looks better with the location of new spots he’s hitting. The strike out of Cain was a great pitch. HUGE PROBLEM HIS CUTTER IS BEING HOMERED OFF TOO OFTEN. PLEASE DODGERS SIGN KIMBREL FOR ONE OR TWO YEARS UNTIL SOME YOUNG GUYS ARE READY – Urias has to start not bullpen him. DO A URIAS/ Stripling game when Hill gets back. Try a 6 man rotation to minimize innings. CRAIG KIMBEL BEFORE ITS TOO LATE running out of patience.

  10. Despite Kenley’s struggles, he is looking better this year and can still be effective. But it will be to our benefit to sign Kimbrel as a safety net. And I agree, Urias should be a starter, not in the bull pen.

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