The decline of the Dodgers closer
The Los Angeles Dodgers are arguably the best team in baseball right now. Cody Bellinger is having an MVP-caliber season and they have tremendous depth and talent all around the diamond. Their starting pitching staff, led by Walker Buehler (4-0) has an average ERA of 3.63, according to Baseball Reference. The team is leading the NL West with a 23-14 record, which is also the best record in the National League.
However, it appears that their only Achilles heel is the back end of their bullpen. They have a 4.73 bullpen ERA which ranks 23rd in MLB, according to CBS Sports. The Dodgers main concern is their closer, Kenley Jansen who has been steadily declining over the past year.
It’s been a particularly rough start for Jansen in 2019. He currently has a 10.13 ERA through 13 1/3 innings pitched. He gave up the lead in three of his first five outings. Jansen was an all-star in 2016-2018, but since his velocity started to dip in the second half of last season, his performance has significantly regressed. One of his biggest issues has been giving up the long ball. He’s allowed 17 home runs in his last 89 innings. He cannot seem to keep the ball in the ballpark.
— FOX Sports San Diego (@FOXSportsSD) May 5, 2019
His decline started to become apparent in the World Series last year when gave up two save opportunities on home runs, courtesy of Red Sox Jackie Bradley Jr. and Steve Pearce. His health and age could be contributing to his lack of velocity. Jansen is 31 years-old and just had major heart surgery last year to repair his left atrium. DRA, which stands for deserved runs average, isolates the performance of the pitcher and removes outside factors like ballpark, defense and quality of opponent. Jansen had a 2.56 DRA last year and has a 3.19 DRA so far in 2019. His best and only pitch seemed to be his signature cutter. Unfortunately, it’s becoming less effective as his average velocity has declined to 92.09 mph (2019) from 93.59 mph (2017), according to Brooksbaseball.net.
Kenleys Jansen cutter velo – career pic.twitter.com/t7kRdIFG6X
— Clint (@DiamondHoggers) May 6, 2019
If Jansen is looking for his 96 mph fastball again, he won’t find it. He may be at a crossroads between what he used to be and where he is now. At some point, he’s going to have to reinvent himself, similar to how Clayton Kershaw has been mixing in more sliders into his repertoire due to his declining velocity. If a pitcher only throws one pitch and that pitch suddenly becomes less effective, there’s a serious problem. He’s gradually been incorporating a breaking ball to compliment his cutter, but he’s still trying to find consistent success.
Jansen is also finding more barrels. According to Dodgers Nation, Jansen’s barrel percentage, which means giving up hard contact, spiked to 10.3 percent this year from 7.4 percent in 2018.
Is it time for the Dodgers to get Craig Kimbrel? Pretty soon, we’re going to see a race between the Dodgers and Brewers to see who signs him first. Pedro Báez has been steady in the back end of the bullpen posting a 3.32 ERA, but the Dodgers might need more help especially in October if they want to reach the World Series for the 3rd straight season. Kimbrel is reportedly looking for a multi-year deal worth around $40 million. If Jansen can’t find the zip and movement on his cutter, President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman might have to spend some money if he wants to close on another NL pennant.