For multiple years the Los Angeles Dodgers could rely on Clayton Kershaw being a dominant force in their starting rotation and Kenley Jansen as the equivalent out of the bullpen. However, whether due to attrition, injury, or mechanics, that changed in recent seasons.
As Kershaw has dealt with back and shoulder trouble, his fastball velocity declined. No longer can he simply overpower an opposing lineup for seven innings, but the left-hander remains plenty capable of turning in an effective start.
“He’s a really good Major League pitcher today,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at his year-end press conference. “Kersh had a really good year as a starting pitcher in 2019. That’s objectively true. He was really good as a starting pitcher.”
Kershaw made a quality start in 22 of his 28 outings this season. His ability to still succeed has relied on making adjustments and becoming more dependent on a patented slider.
Meanwhile, pitch mix was often a point of discussion for Jansen and the Dodgers as the closer endured one of his worst seasons. The Dodgers implored Jansen to incorporate his slider with more frequency as a way to mitigate an inconsistent cutter.
“I’ve never been great, so when you’re talking about somebody who has been great with one specific pitch, when they know it’s coming and to still not hit it, to have to go through that transition, it’s a process,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said recently.
“The more conversations we have, I think he’s understanding you can still be just as effective as you have been in the past, but sequencing is a part of that process. If there’s a takeaway, the idea of continuing to sequence, is not a bad thing for Kenley.”
When specifically asked about comparisons between the two, Roberts agreed Kershaw and Jansen faced a similar need to break from old habits.
“You can definitely put those two together in the same bucket of being very good, elite, great, whatever descriptor you want to use, and having to evolve a little bit,” Roberts said. “I think Clayton has done a very good job of that.
“Whether you’re talking about sequencing, using a different part of the plate, a different quadrant. Kenley’s getting there, but that’s a fair comp.”
Jansen’s struggles prompted the Dodgers to adjust their plan and commit to pitching him at least once per series during the final six weeks of the regular season. The hope was consistent work would aid in cleaning up his mechanics.
There was improvement, though Jansen still hit trouble spots. Friedman voiced confidence the 32-year-old would benefit from being able to use offseason as time to sync back up, but he stopped short of proclaiming Jansen the undisputed closer for 2020.