The Dodgers have always been the front runners when it come to using analytics to better their baseball team. Using the shift and platooning are just a few of the ways the teams has tried to use statistics to their advantage.
While the Dodgers are not the first to use a starter, essentially a pitcher starting for only one to two innings, it’s now something they are exploring for possible use in the postseason. In addition, the last two games were both bullpen games – trying to see what reliever might be used when, who matched up better against right or left-handers, who could be a starter or who is better to come in in the middle of the game. The Dodgers have a huge lead, so all of this in theory is a great time to try these things out.
A bullpen game is all well and good if two aspects of it hold true. One, that you don’t need a lot of bullpen usage in the previous games. And two, that your bullpen is dependable. Dennis discussed a lot of the ins and outs of this possibility on Tuesday . As fans of the Dodgers know, the bullpen has been hit and miss all season. A mix of Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Julio Urias, who all can provide some length of innings, might be enough to match up against another team’s fourth starter. All have been dominate in their own ways, yet differently from each other, and the mix of pitchers could be enough to keep another team on their toes.
But the biggest problem remains with Kenley Jansen, and his inability to remain consistently good. In his three previous outings before Wednesday, he had it all working. The cutter was cutting, and he was hitting his spot. But last night, he was back to his worrisome ways.
In some ways, it’s worse that Kenley is inconsistent. If he were pitching badly all the time, it’d be an easy thing to replace him as primary closer. But the question remains, which Kenley is going to show up in October? And maybe more pressing, what is Dave Roberts going to do if Kenley happens to not be on that day? Who does he turn to, if he hasn’t already used them in innings before?
As we’ve talked about many times here, Roberts is loyal to his players to a fault. He always gives them plenty of time to work out whatever issues they may be having, whether it’s at the plate or in the mechanics of pitching. Time is running short for Kenley to do so, however. And more likely, he won’t ever be the dominate force out of the bullpen he once was.
While not ideal, it’s ok that Jansen isn’t what he once was – so long as everyone is on the same page about it, and plans accordingly. The Dodgers have other options for the closer role. Joe Kelly has held opponents to a .179 batting average since the beginning of June. Pedro Baez has bested that, holding opponents to a .159 BA against in his last 25 appearances. And while Yimi Garcia is home run prone, since the start of August, he has a tidy 1.81 ERA.
None of these are perfect, leaving the Dodgers with a great conundrum of what to do in the final innings of playoff games. Kelly would personally be my choice, with his ability to hit 100 MPH and recent experience closing out World Series games.
But I also think one of the biggest hindrances is Kenley himself not wanting to relinquish the closer role. In one way, you want your closer to have the confidence and ego to want the ball the close out the game. But you also want him not taking the ball when he knows he doesn’t have his stuff that day, and additionally, a manager that won’t have a problem taking the ball before the situation gets out of hand, and not when it’s already too late. Dodger fans have been down that road one too many times before. Here to hoping this is the season the Dodgers finally get it right, even with an imperfect bullpen. Dodger fans, and players, deserve to get it right.