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Dodgers Dugout: Should Kenley Jansen remain the closer?

Kenley Jansen walks off the mound after a rough outing.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and people are not happy with Kenley Jansen.

Let’s face it, Kenley Jansen is not the closer he once was.

From 2012 to 2017, Jansen was the best closer in baseball. In those six seasons, here is what he averaged per 162 games:

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W-L: 4-3
Saves: 38
Blown Saves: 5
ERA: 2.07
FIP: 1.85
IP: 68
H: 43
Hits per 9 IP: 5.6
BB: 15
BB per 9 IP: 1.9
SO: 104
SO per 9 IP: 13.7
HR: 6
HR per 9 IP: 0.7
IRS%: 26.7%
ERA+: 184

From 2018 until Saturday’s loss to the Astros though, we get this average per 162 games:

W-L: 5-5
Saves: 37
Blown saves: 7
ERA: 3.41
FIP: 3.76
IP: 69
H: 54
Hits per 9 IP: 7.1
BB: 19
BB per 9 IP: 2.4
SO: 84
SO per 9 IP: 11.0
HR: 11
HR per 9 IP: 1.4
IRS%: 23.5%
ERA+: 119

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Wow, those numbers are trending in the wrong direction in almost every category. What happened between 2017 and 2018 that caused Jansen to go from a super reliever who made you relax to a guy who makes you nervous?

Before we answer, let’s take a closer look at 2018. Yes, I know some of you hate numbers, but, stats can be a valuable tool of discovery. So let’s look.

From start of 2018 season through Aug. 7:

W-L: 0-3
Saves: 32
Blown saves: 3
ERA: 2.15
Hits per 9 IP: 5.80
BB per 9 IP: 2.32
SO per 9 IP: 10.1

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Hey, those are good numbers, in line with his normal career numbers up to that point.

2018 after Aug. 7:

W-L: 1-2
Saves: 6
Blown saves: 1
ERA: 5.71
Hits per 9 IP: 9.87
BB per 9 IP: 1.56
SO per 9 IP: 10.91

Wow, that’s a lot worse. What happened after Aug. 7? Checking the game logs, Jansen didn’t pitch again until Aug. 20. Here’s a report from the Times’ Mike DiGiovanna before that game:

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“There wasn’t a hint of fear or trepidation in Kenley Jansen’s voice as the burly closer discussed his return to the Dodgers after an 11-day absence because of symptoms related to an irregular heartbeat.

“I’m not thinking about my heart; I’m not,” Jansen said before Monday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals in Dodger Stadium. “You have no control over your heart, so if it goes, it goes. That’s how I think.”

“Jansen, who last appeared in a game Aug. 7 at Oakland, was cleared to pitch after a follow-up visit with his cardiologist Monday, providing a huge boost to a bullpen that floundered in his absence.”

“Relievers blew late-game leads in seven consecutive games from Aug. 9 through last Wednesday, with the Dodgers losing five and dropping out of first place in the National League West. And on Saturday night at Seattle, Dylan Floro balked in the winning run in the 10th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Mariners.”

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OK, back to 2020 now. Jansen had a heart ablation procedure after the 2018 season.

It would be easy to draw a conclusion that the aftereffects of his irregular heartbeat scare did something to Jansen that has impacted his pitching either mentally (subconsciously or otherwise) or physically. That requires a level of mindreading into the psyche of Jansen that none of us can make. But I think it’s worth pointing out the demarcation zone between Jansen being elite and Jansen just being above average.

All of which brings us to the question: Should Jansen be replaced as Dodgers’ closer? Here’s what Dave Roberts had to say about Saturday’s outing: “The last three haven’t been great. The last two were his worst. … We’ve just got to continue to give him confidence and expect him to go out there and close out games for us. … As far as leash, he’s our closer. But obviously performance matters. It does. And everyone in that clubhouse understands that.”

So, it appears Roberts has no plans to replace Jansen.

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The question you have to ask yourself if you want to replace Jansen is: Who do you replace him with?

Brusdar Graterol? For a guy who throws 2,000 miles per hour, he doesn’t strike out a lot of guys (11 strikeouts in 17.2 innings). Yeah, I know he struck out three of the four batters he faced Sunday, but starting a game is a lot different than ending the game. He certainly has the potential to be a great closer. I just don’t think he is there yet.

Blake Treinen? Since we are judging Jansen based on last season too, then let me point out that Treinen was worse last season than any Jansen season.

I’m not saying Graterol or Treinen can’t do the job, just that they aren’t exactly overwhelming candidates for the position. A candidate where you say to yourself, “This guy is going to be a great closer. Give him the job now!” It’s not like 2010 or 2011, when you had a younger, flamethrowing Jansen ready to take the reins from Jonathan Broxton or Javy Guerra.

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The problem Jansen faces is that he is competing with impossible competition: His own past. We grew used to him coming in, game after game, season after season, and locking down games after striking out the side. There is no one on the current roster who can do that anymore. So basically you would be trading Jansen in for a different guy who will more than likely give you similar results and make you just as nervous as Jansen does.

However, the Dodgers do have a guy on their roster who had the best ERA and the most strikeouts of any NL pitcher with at least three saves across July and August. He had an 0.82 WHIP and held opponents to a .122 batting average. His name: Kenley Jansen.

So, if Jansen has a couple more outings like Saturday, then by all means experiment with someone like Treinen closing a couple of games. But until then, I’m fine going with the guy who was 1-0 with 10 saves, a 1.06 ERA and 24 strikeouts with only seven hits allowed in 17 innings until his last two outings.

And by the way, let’s cast some of the blame on Saturday on Roberts. It was obvious pretty quickly that Jansen didn’t have it that day, but Roberts left him out there to be hammered. I love that he is loyal to his players, but sometimes he is loyal to a fault.

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Do you think the Dodgers should replace Kenley Jansen at closer? Vote here and let us know.

(By the way, later this week we will talk about the rotation. I’m not ignoring it.)

Who’s in the playoffs?

Remember, this season 16 teams make the postseason, eight in each league. The three division winners, the three second-place teams and the remaining two teams with the best record make the playoffs in each league. They are seeded as follows: 1-3 (division winners in order of best record); 4-6 (second-place teams in order of best record); 7-8 (remaining two teams in order of best record). No. 1 will play No. 8 in the first round, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc. First round is best of three, with all three games played at the home stadium of the team with the better seeding. As of Sunday, here are the NL seedings:

1. Dodgers, 33-14
2. Atlanta, 28-19
3. Chicago, 28-20
4. San Diego, 31-17
5. Miami, 23-21
6. St. Louis, 20-20
7. Philadelphia, 23-22
8. San Francisco, 23-24

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The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record (if applicable). The next tiebreaker is intra-division record. The next is record in the final 20 division games (plus one until the tie is broken).

Your first Dodgers memory

I have thousands of responses, so if I don’t get to yours right away, don’t worry, I will eventually. If you haven’t already, I’d still love for you to send me your first Dodgers memory, and it may run in an upcoming Dodgers Dugout. Include your name. And don’t send only a sentence, tell why that memory sticks out in your mind. You can email me your memory at houston.mitchell@latimes.com. And remember, it’s first Dodgers memory, not favorite Dodgers memory. Thanks.

Bruce Boehner: My first Dodgers memory happened on Sept. 3, 1958 when I went to the Dodger game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with my father and my godfather. And it couldn’t have been any better had Hollywood scripted it. The score was tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Duke Snider hit a walk off two-run home run to beat the Giants 5-3. To top it off Sandy Koufax was the winning pitcher. Willie Mays played for the Giants in that game. After the game the three of us went for a late snack at Tiny Naylor’s drive-in restaurant in Hollywood where my godfather drilled all the facts of the game into my head that I still remember 62 years later. I was 11 years old and had never been out so late or had so much fun and was inoculated with Dodger Blue blood for the rest of my life.

I have seen at least one game every year since (until now), including Campanella Night in 1959, opening day at Dodger Stadium in 1962, World Series and playoff games, four no-hitters (2 by Koufax) and many more with four generations of my family. And all of those years listening to Vin Scully until he retired. I hate to see my streak end and I would sit in the last row of the Top Deck wearing a full hazmat suit if I could just see one game this year and keep my streak alive at 63 seasons since 1958.

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Scott Schneider: I still fondly remember the first time I walked into Dodger Stadium (thanks to tickets provided through the “Dodger Pepsi Fan Club!”). I sat in the outfield pavilion with my dad proudly wearing my (fan club) blue and white wrist bands with glove in tow for any potential home run balls. What a great day!

George S. Baroff of Chapel Hill, N.C.: I was born in The Bronx in 1924 and am now 95. I became a Dodger fan in the early 30’s when we we moved to Brooklyn. My dad occasionally took me to games but my first memory was not of a Dodger, it was the Bambino himself who was then in his last year with the Boston Braves. The Dodgers were not a good team, the Brooklyn Bums; Burleigh Grimes, Casey Stengel and Leo Durocher were managers in the 30s, but while not winners, they were “Our Bums.” For Dodger fans in the 30s and 40s, the pennant was the goal and when they started to win there was always the Yanks to crush our hopes in a World Series. I continue to follow and root for them, though on game nights in L.A., as a now-North Carolina resident, I don’t get to bed very early! By the way, Roy Campanella was a special favorite and my son, Roy, carries his first name.

These names look familiar

What players on the 2019 Dodgers are doing this season with other teams (through Saturday’s games):

Travis d’Arnaud, Atlanta, .317/.371/.533, 132 OPS+

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Yimi Garcia, Miami, 1-0, 0.93 ERA

Kyle Garlick, Philadelphia, .188/.188/.250, 15 OPS+

Jedd Gyorko, Milwaukee, .288/.365/.621, 157 OPS+

Rich Hill, Minnesota, 2-1, 3.81 ERA

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Kenta Maeda, Minnesota, 5-1, 2.43 ERA

Hyun-Jin Ryu, Toronto, 3-1, 3.19 ERA

Casey Sadler, Seattle, 0-0, 5.23 ERA

Alex Verdugo, Boston, .311/.369/.506, 131 OPS+

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Up next

Monday, Dodgers (TBD) at San Diego (Dinelson Lamet), 6 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Tuesday, Dodgers (TBD) at San Diego (Zach Davies), 6 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Wednesday, Dodgers (TBD) at San Diego (TBD), 1 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

*-Left-handed

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And finally

In the movie “42", Jackie Robinson deals with Ben Chapman‘s racism (warning: language). Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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