It Might Be Time to Move on From Kenley Jansen As Closer

Photo Credit: David Zalubowski / Associated Press

Throughout the storied-career of Kenley Jansen, he’s reached many milestones. It began with the transition from catcher to pitcher within the Dodgers farm system, which turned him into arguably the greatest closer in Dodgers history. However, his role as closer might have ended on Wednesday, just six games into the 2021 season, with a blown save against the Oakland Athletics.

Jansen’s Closing Days Could Be Numbered 

The biggest concern regarding Jansen coming into this season was his significant decrease in velocity, which pales in comparison to some others arms available to Dave Roberts in the bullpen. What once was a cutter that reached into the mid-to-high 90s, has now dipped below 90-MPH in some recent outings. On the second day of back-to-back appearances on Wednesday, Jansen blew the save in the ninth inning, giving up a run to tie the game in the Dodgers’ eventual loss to the A’s. A man once loved by the Dodgers’ faithful, has become a liability. It might be time Roberts realizes he is not putting his club in the best position to win by handing the ball to Jansen to close a game. 

Jansen’s numbers over the recent years haven’t exactly been dominant closer material. Since 2018, he’s had an ERA of 3.34 while converting 82 saves with an ERA+ of 122, which is a drastic difference from his 2015-2017 stats. During those three seasons, he had an ERA of 1.81 while converting 124 saves with an absurd ERA+ of 220. Clearly, he’s not the same as he once was and replacing him is the only option. 

Matt Chapman Scores to Tie the Dodgers

Replacement Could Come From Former Starter 

Not to worry, Dodgers fans. There are plenty of reliable ninth inning options available to Roberts, and the best might just come in the form of Tony Gonsolin once he returns from the Injured List. Gonsolin was in contention for the fifth spot in the rotation until late in Spring Training, but then Roberts announced that the last spot would belong to Dustin May. That left Gonsolin and David Price to begin the season in the bullpen. Price has already made his Dodgers debut, and it was one he’d like to forget.

However, there is promise for Gonsolin to contribute as a middle reliever, just as Roberts planned. Gonsolin has a significant velocity increase over Jansen, averaging around 95-MPH, touching as high as 98. Gonsolin’s 4th place finish in Rookie-of-the-Year voting last year only adds to his resumé, and he’s proven that he can handle the pressure that comes with playing in big games for the squad.

Roberts Could Go Traditional Route 

Outside of utilizing a starter as a 9th inning option, Roberts will most likely hand the ball to Corey Knebel in the ninth inning. Knebel is a proven closer, which he demonstrated to perfection on Friday in the Dodgers’ 1-0 win over the Washington Nationals. Another high-leverage option is Blake Treinen. Although he has mostly been utilized as a setup man, Treinen definitely has the velocity and veteran experience to lead the Dodgers to victory.

Managing the bullpen is going to be a challenge for Roberts all season long, and Jansen might not be a high-leverage part of the equation much longer. If Jansen’s time as the Dodgers 9th inning man comes to a close soon, this 2021 Dodgers squad certainly has the depth to efficiently secure victories in the late innings.

Darby Allen is a writer & columnist for Dodgers LowDown.