Kenley Jansen Could Miss a Month; Who Will Step Up?

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Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was unavailable for last night’s game against the Colorado Rockies due to illness. After the game, it was announced that Jansen had experienced an irregular heartbeat and had actually been hospitalized earlier in the day. Jansen was heading back to Los Angeles and would be unavailable for the entire four-game series in Colorado.

This morning, multiple sources are reporting that Jansen is likely to miss “about a month” to treat the heart issue.

Obviously, the most important concern here is the health of a player who is beloved by the fans in L.A. and one of the emotional leaders of the team, not to mention a husband and father whose family probably couldn’t care less about baseball right at this moment. Jansen had a similar issue in 2012 (also in Colorado), and he eventually had offseason surgery to address the problem. He has since become one of the best closers in baseball, so there’s reason for optimism that he will be back in great health soon. But in the meantime, the Dodgers need someone to finish games for them, and there’s probably not any major help available on the trade market, so let’s talk about the options.

Pedro Baez

Hahahahahahahaha… Just kidding.

Scott Alexander

Alexander was the de facto closer last night, and he pitched his classic version of the 1-2-3 inning (get an out, allow a baserunner, get a double play). Alexander is an extreme groundball pitcher whose only real flaw this season has been the base on balls. He has walked 24 batters in 52.1 innings, although six of those batters have been eliminated on an ensuing double play.

Alexander does not have extreme platoon splits, but he is certainly more effective against left-handed hitters. Lefties are slashing .192/.280/.247 against Alexander, while righties are hitting .252/.346/.378 with the only two home runs he has allowed. Still, he has a 103 sOPS+ against righties, meaning he is just three percent worse against righties than the league average. The big number in that right-handed slash line is the .346 on-base percentage, and he has shown improved control as the season has gone on. Alexander is definitely an option to serve as closer for the next month.

Dylan Floro

Floro was pitching very well for the Cincinnati Reds before they traded him to the Dodgers in early July, and he has pitched even better since arriving in Los Angeles. On paper, he looks a bit like a mirror image of Alexander — death on right-handed hitters, around league average against lefties, and induces a lot of groundballs. He doesn’t have the extreme sinker that Alexander has, but his combination of grounders and strikeouts makes him very reliable out of the bullpen.

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Perhaps the only strike against Floro in this discussion is his track record, or lack thereof. Floro had thrown just 24.2 innings in the big leagues before this year, and his 5.11 ERA and 1.824 WHIP were not anything to write home about unless you were mad at your mom for something. But the recent work is probably worth more than a tiny sample from one or two years ago, and Floro has shown a desire to be on the mound when the game is on the line.

John Axford

Pros: He has been a closer before, leading the National League in saves in 2011 and saving 25 games for the Rockies just three years ago.

Cons: He has a 5.72 ERA over the past two seasons and currently sports a shiny 162.00 ERA with the Dodgers (albeit in just one game).

I believe that Axford has a place in the Dodgers bullpen, but he’s not going to be their closer.

Erik Goeddel

Goeddel was outstanding in his first month with the Dodgers after they acquired him from the Seattle Mariners, pitching 14.1 innings in 13 games without allowing a run. Since then, though, he has allowed 11 earned runs in 13.2 innings, and he is currently on the 10-day disabled list. But hidden in that bad stretch is actually another seven-game, 8.1-inning scoreless stretch — essentially, all the damage against him has come in three disaster games. Overall, of Goeddel’s 25 appearances as a Dodger, 21 have been scoreless.

Goeddel is not eligible to come off the DL for a few more days, but he could pitch some important innings at the end of some games.

J.T. Chargois

Chargois is a lot like Goeddel, in that he has been mostly outstanding with his overall numbers inflated by a couple bad appearances. Overall, 26 of his 33 appearances have been scoreless, and he has a knack for the strikeout. Since returning from the disabled list in early July, Chargois has 13 strikeouts and just one earned run in 11.2 innings pitched. Perhaps more importantly, he has also only walked one batter in that time, after walking 12 in 17 innings to start the season.

If Chargois’s control issues are really under … ummm … control, he is an excellent candidate to pitch some high-leverage innings for the Dodgers.

Kenta Maeda

Maeda is currently a starter, but his last three starts have been pretty rocky. Late last season, Maeda moved to the bullpen to make room in a crowded rotation, and he was a revelation in that role. His strikeout rate increased — from 9.3 K/9 to 11.3 — and his walk rate decreased — from 2.4 BB/9 to 1.1, and his 2.25 ERA from the bullpen was much better than the 4.35 he posted as a starter.

The Dodgers currently only have five healthy starters, but both Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu are due to come off the disabled list very soon. With Maeda’s history of his stuff “playing up” in relief, he is an outstanding candidate to fill a prominent role in the bullpen. (Also, Dodger fans could just sing “Kentafornia Love” instead of “Kenleyfornia Love” as the game goes to the ninth, and that’s important.)

Walker Buehler

Buehler doesn’t have Maeda’s history of success in the bullpen, but he has an electric fastball that could become even more devastating pitching one inning at a time. He seems destined for the bullpen at some point this season (or postseason) anyway, and it could be a useful way for the Dodgers to limit his innings while maximizing his value. Buehler walked too many batters when he pitched out of the bullpen last year, but he wasn’t the first young rookie to struggle with command. He has looked excellent most of the time this season, and he could be an exciting option to close games while Jansen is on the shelf.

There are other names we didn’t mention. Caleb Ferguson has pitched very well mostly in a long-relief role. Josh Fields has been outstanding when he has been in the big leagues this year but he’s likely to be out with a shoulder injury nearly as long as Jansen is out. Daniel Hudson had pitched himself into a prominent bullpen role but it also currently injured. In all, there are 20 guys on the current 40-man roster who have pitched in relief for the Dodgers this year — 21 if you count Kiké Hernandez, which you shouldn’t — so there are a lot of options on the table.

I could see the Dodgers going with the two-headed monster of Alexander and Floro. I could see them plugging Maeda or Buehler into the role. I could see them doing a full closer-by-committee situation and just playing the matchups. Ultimately, if there’s anything we’ve learned from this exercise, it’s that for all the grief the Dodgers bullpen gets from Dodger fans, there is a lot of potential for the guys currently on the roster to step up and fill Jansen’s shoes without missing a beat.

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