When the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers fielded one of the best teams in franchise history, they did so with a dominant bullpen led by closer Kenley Jansen.
In 2019, the Dodgers have a similarly excellent team but a much shakier bullpen, with Jansen, in particular, struggling throughout the season. Jansen has repeatedly expressed confidence that he would turn his performance around and return to the elite level he was at in previous years.
That sentiment has been echoed by Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts alike. Both have forecasted Jansen playing a pivotal role come the postseason.
However, during an interview with MLB Network Radio, Roberts allowed for the team to potentially take some liberties with the closer role in the event Jansen continues to struggle in October:
“I’ve said this from the very beginning of my tenure: my job is to do the best thing for the Dodgers, and not one individual player. So as we kind of kick the can down the road and support Kenley, there’s a point that yeah, you’ve got to be productive, be consistent and get outs. My loyalty has to be to the Dodgers, so I’m leaving it open-ended. I don’t think it’s going to get to that point, because of my confidence in Kenley. But I will say, when you’re talking about winning a championship, you’ve go with the best guys who are getting the job done.”
Jansen has been victimized by some lucky base hits and soft contact in recent weeks. However, his 1.4 home runs allowed per nine innings is just below a career high of 1.6 that was set last season.
Jansen’s 3.90 ERA is on pace for a career-worst mark and would be more than a full run than his previous high (2.85) in 2011. Ongoing struggles on the field have affected Jansen off it as well.
He recently called the 2019 season the most frustrating of his career. Part of that seems to stem from a belief that he is only a few small adjustments away from returning to his elite form.
That appeared to come during the Dodgers’ road trip, as Jansen had improved command and velocity. He attributed it to getting synced up with his mechanics during a throwing session. However, that was followed shortly after by a blown save to the Tampa Bay Rays.
If the Dodgers are to rely on an option other than Jansen, it likely would need to be one or a combination of Pedro Baez, Joe Kelly and Julio Urias. Though, Kelly is dealing with an unspecified injury that is likely to prevent him from pitching until the playoffs.
Roberts recently said he was not considering a potential change with the closer role.