Dodgers Bullpen: Waiting for Kenley

With the news that Kenley Jansen is going to be sidelined into May after undergoing surgery on his landing foot, the Dodgers are going to need to find someone to close games for them in his stead. Over the past five seasons, Andrew Friedman has cobbled together bullpens in Tampa that ranked 11th in WAR in the majors. Not stellar, but definitely better than the 24th place the Dodgers have ranked over that same span. Has he given Don Mattingly the right mix to fill the hole left by Jansen, or is he going to go out and add a Rafael Soriano through free agency, or will he reach out to the Phillies and try to make a deal for Jonathan Papelbon?

They have a number of holdovers in the mix in Pedro Baez, J.P. Howell, Brandon League and Paco Rodriguez. Friedman has added a plethora of relief arms in former Ray Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio, and Sergio Santos. After we look at Jansen, we’ll sift through this pile and see who might emerge as the early-season closer, and see if there are any cheap strikeouts or holds.

Kenley Jansen

Prior to undergoing surgery that will shelve him for 8-12 weeks, Kenley Jansen was considered a top closer. He still should be after he gets his boot off and gets back to unleashing his 94 mph cutter against the masses. He’s basically a one-pitch pitcher, as he throws the cutter 88.9% of the time, mixing in the odd slider and sinker.

He’s been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball over the past three seasons, however, there is a troubling trend:

2012 39.3 8.7 2.40 .221 18.8
2013 38.0 6.2 1.99 .273 24.1
2014 37.7 7.1 1.91 .350 27.6

You’ll notice the K%, BB% and FIP are fairly consistent, but the BABIP and LD% have increased 58.4% and 46.8% over the past two seasons respectively. Not a good recipe for success. He’s going to need to get that LD% back to a more respectable level. If he can do that, then the BABIP should follow. He has no issues emasculating righties, as he held them to a .229 wOBA and struck out 47.5% of them, placing him second behind Aroldis Chapman in that category. If he can get the cutter inside to lefties instead of trying to backdoor it so often, maybe he can break a few more bats. He’s getting groundballs 45.1% of the time against lefties, but they touched him for a .378 BABIP.

vs Lefties Away/Off Middle In/Off
Usage 47.18% 26.76% 26.06%
BAA .393 .343 .253

If he can keep them from extending against it, he should have even more success.

Joel Peralta

One of the names being bandied about as a possible Jansen replacement is Joel Peralta. Andrew Friedman brought him over after seeing him up close in Tampa. Last year he had batters chase more than most pitchers did, with an O-Swing% of 35.5%. They also swung at less pitches in the zone, with a 64.2% Z-Swing%. How much of that was thanks to the framing skills of Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan? When Yasmani Grandal is behind the plate, he’ll enjoy the same benefits, but when A.J. Ellis is back there, the zone is going to be smaller.

His 4.41 ERA in 2014 is not one you would expect to see from a guy who could be racking up a few early saves. A 3.11 xFIP and 2.54 SIERA are a little closer to what you’d expect to see from your ninth-inning guy. He’s got a three-pitch mix, with a four-seamer, curve, and splitter, with the splitter being the most effective of the three. If you’re looking for the saves that will be sopped up with Jansen out, I don’t think you’re going to find them here.

Brandon League

Brandon League used a 94 mph sinker and 86 mph splitter to generate an inordinate number of groundballs last year. Hitters didn’t have any problem making contact with the sinker, as they only had a 5.0% whiff rate on the pitch, but when they did put it in play, they smashed it into the ground 71.8% of the time. His overall 67.5% GB% was second amongst relievers last year.

League isn’t going to get many outs via the strikeout, as he only had a 13.9% K rate. Not what you want out of someone pitching the late innings for you. His walk rate of 9.9% isn’t that hot either, but he mitigated it by inducing the most double plays in the majors amongst relievers. Considering the group assembled here, you could do worse with League closing out April and early-May games.

J.P. Howell

Most bullpens would love to house a guy who posts a 1.33 ERA in 47.3 innings, especially a lefty who can retire both RHB and LHB. If you do what we all hate, and take out 1.7 innings against the Cubs in September where he surrendered six earned runs, that’s what you have. He boasts a sinker-curve combo that entices his foes to keep the ball on the ground 57.5% of the time.

One might look at his 49 innings in 68 appearances and see LOOGY. In fact, he was deployed against lefties 52.3% of the time and held them to a 167/284/227 line. Math would tell you he faced righties the other 47.7% of the time, and they only slashed 193/301/284 against him. He has shown he can handle both, and maybe this year you’ll see him get at least three outs in more than 28 of his 68 appearances.

If you’re in a league that likes holds, you could do worse than the 27 he posted in 2014. It will depend how he’s used, however. 2014 saw him come in to a pLI of 1.33, as opposed to 0.81 in 2013. Maybe that was Mattingly realizing what he had, or maybe it was him having to fill the size 14 spikes of Paco Rodriguez(spike size simply an estimate,) but it was a huge leap from the 11 holds he accrued in 2013 under the same regime.

Pedro Baez

Pedro Baez used his 96 mph four-seamer to his advantage in 20 innings in 2014. Using it three quarters of the time, he produced a tiny 0.88 WHIP. Don’t count on that again this season though, as it was fueled by a .197 BABIP. His 19.6% K% and 5.4% BB% aren’t shabby, but don’t expect him to be seeing to many high-leverage opportunities in the early going, if he even breaks camp with the Dodgers. Until he gets a secondary pitch that hitters fear, they’re going to be teeing off on his flaming arrow.

Chris Hatcher

You won’t find many short relievers who display a legit four-pitch mix, especially guys who were calling the pitches as recently as 2010. He throws a four-seamer and a sinker, both at 96 mph, and deviates with a couple of 88 mph offerings in his slider and splitter. The least-used pitch is the slider, at 17%, with the four-seamer topping out as at 42%.

In 56 innings with the Marlins after being recalled in late May, he posted a 25.9% K rate, coupled with a 5.2% BB rate. Not too shabby. His 3.38 ERA isn’t anything special, but his 2.56 FIP is almost a run better. If he can solve his homesickness (5.34 road ERA), and couple that with a stellar 1.32 home ERA, you may have a late-inning stud on your hands here. The difference could be as simple as dumb luck, with a 57.9% road LOB% and a 90.9% home LOB%, even with similar .337 and .313 BABIPs respectively.

With Jansen out, if the Dodgers stay in-house and let the dominos start to fall, Hatcher could be one to get behind for 70+ innings and 80 or more whiffs. Keep an eye on him in the spring, if he goes west from Camelback Ranch, he could be a cheap source of goodness for you.

Paco Rodriguez

Remember when Paco Rodriguez burst onto the scene with his Statue of Liberty motion, liberating his way to a 2.32 ERA and 20 holds in 2013? What happened last year? Well his ERA went up to 3.86, but both his FIP and xFIP went DOWN by 0.16 and 0.31 respectively. Maybe his LOB% going from 81.8% to 68.5%, combined with his BABIP exploding from .210 to .324 had something to do with it?

Sure he threw 40 innings less at the Major League level in 2014 and he lost 2 mph off his already pedestrian 89.6 mph fastball, but I’d expect something closer to 2013, if Mattingly hasn’t totally soured on him. He should get you more than a strikeout an inning, and if Howell falters or gets hurt, Rodriguez will be there to sop up those innings.

Sergio Santos

Remember when so many of us rushed to grab him last year because he was going to be closing in Toronto? Five April saves in the first two weeks of the season were pretty hot, but then his history of arm troubles bounced back to take him totally out of fantasy relevance. IF, he has a healthy spring and breaks camp with the Dodgers as an NRI, and IF, you’re in a crazy-deep mixed league, maybe you look to him for some holds. Promise yourself though, that if these unlikely events manage to come together, that you drop him like he’s hot at the first poor outing. Decreased velocity won’t be the first sign, because he actually ticked up one mph across the board through May, before taking two steps back. Nobody wants to see a guy hurt, but be on the lookout for warning signs if you’ve decided to roster him.

Juan Nicasio

The erstwhile Rockie starter seems to be primed for a shift to the pen. He ticked up a couple miles an hour after the Rockies gently placed him there in the second half of 2014, and was able to ditch his change. If he’s able to locate 95 and then subtract ten mph with a slider, that could be a dangerous weapon in the pen. He threw more than one inning a few times in Colorado, let’s see if Mattingly chooses to deploy him in the same way. With a 15.0 K%-BB% in relief, he’s not too bad of an option.

Darren contributes to RotoGraphs when he isn’t watching the Braves or shoveling snow. Follow him on Twitter @shinesie.

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Burton Cummings
Burton Cummings

Francisco Rodriguez? The Fangraphs backlog is going stale!

Seattle Homer
Seattle Homer

Huh? I don’t even see a reference in the article to Francisco Rodriguez. Are you confusing him with Paco Rodriguez, who is already in the Dodgers pen?

Bert Cooper
Bert Cooper

He took it out. Was with the Rafael Soriano reference in the first paragraph …