Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen have been phenomenal over the past two seasons. Jansen is arguably the most dominant closer in baseball and Baez can be used as a setup man or someone to get out of high-leverage situations. However, the Dodgers should be more conservative in how they use them down the stretch.
If Dave Roberts trusts you, you’ll know. Last year, Roberts’ most-trusted reliever, besides Jansen, was Joe Blanton. In 2016, Blanton threw the fifth-most innings on the Dodgers with 80. Roberts used him similarly to how he is using Baez this year: as a situational pitcher and set up man. However, the more Blanton was used, the less effective his pitches became.
In the postseason, teams grew aware that Roberts turned to Blanton when runners were on in the late innings. They began sitting back on his slider, which resulted in a couple of big home runs to the Chicago Cubs.
Luckily for Baez, he has his velocity to live and die by. It’s much harder to hit 97+ than wait for a hanging slider at 85 mph. Also, Baez is no stranger to the role he serves now, as he was used like Blanton starting the second half of the 2016 season.
In 2017, Baez has arguably been the MVP of the bullpen because he has been the bridge to Jansen and gotten the Dodgers out of threatening jams. If he hadn’t extinguished the fires before Jansen’s time, Jansen wouldn’t have had as many opportunities.
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The hard-throwing right-hander holds a 1.43 ERA in 37.2 innings of work. His most recent act of heroism was striking out Paul Goldschmidt and preserving a precious 1-0 lead that would eventually win the game. What was more impressive though, was his turnaround after throwing six straight balls to begin the inning.
Baez has arguably been the MVP of the best bullpen in the National League. Arguably. Kenley Jansen has been out of this world in his 37.2 innings. He has converted all 21 of his save opportunities, and owns a 0.96 ERA and .056 WHIP. If those numbers weren’t good enough, then his 57 strikeouts with just two walks can place him at the apex of late-inning relievers in the game.
Jansen’s proven he can shut down the ninth, but he’s also proven he can do Baez’ job as well. In the 2016 postseason, Roberts wasn’t shy about bringing in the big man in high-leverage situations well before the ninth. He hasn’t diverted from that plan this year either.
10 of Jansen’s 21 saves have been four or more outs. Though these were all necessary to secure wins, the Dodgers should start to save Baez and Jansen’s arms for when wins are a matter of survival. That being said, the Dodgers have a few relievers who could earn the complete trust of Roberts.
Brandon Morrow was brilliant until a recent hiccup against the Diamondbacks. He hadn’t given up a run in 10.2 innings before the outing against Arizona. However, he allowed another run in his third of an inning of work against the Royals on Saturday. It’s harsh to criticize every run a Dodgers reliever gives up, but that just speaks to the high standard the bullpen as a whole has set.
Morrow may be another example of how pitchers can go through slumps, like Josh Fields back in June. After being sent down in late-June, Fields has appeared in 3.2 innings and only allowed one run. If Fields can find his April and May form, he along with Morrow can fortify the bridge to Kenley Jansen and take some of the workload off of Baez.
Brock Stewart has been marvelous since his return from the DL. He hasn’t allowed a run in nine innings, a start similar to Morrow’s. What’s unique about Stewart though, is that he’s thrown at least two innings in all four of his outings. That includes a three-inning save against the Mets in his season debut. Stewart’s effectiveness in going more than an inning provides Roberts with a flexible weapon from the pen.
Grant Dayton is another name Roberts has trusted before, but has used more conservatively this year. He along with Fields and Morrow had a bad month, and his was in May. However, if that’s cut out, he’s having a spectacular year. Dayton can get both lefties and righties out, but his biggest problem is throwing strikes which may be why Roberts has held back on calling on him. He’s walked 12 and struck out 20 in 22.1 innings pitched. Dayton went down with a neck injury, so perhaps Luis Avilan can see more opportunities.
The Dodgers are flying higher than ever, and their bullpen is once again the best in the National League. It’s hard to find holes in this team the way they’re playing, but if there are any, it’s important to address them quickly. Last year, the bullpen ran out of gas towards the end. To prevent that from happening to the two of the best relievers in the league, the Dodgers should use them a little more sparingly and look to rely on some other qualified arms.