Kenley Jansen’s cutter jolted towards the plate with arm side run of the past. Its velocity was a reminiscent 93 mph yet the pitch’s result was a reality all too familiar and present. The cutter smacked off the end of Bryce Harper’s bat. At 102 mph, almost ten ticks faster than the pitch itself, the ball soared into centerfield, was misplayed on a hop and Phillies, flooding rapidly from their dugout, won the ball game.
Jansen blew the save, his fourth of the season, and picked up his third loss in 2019. Both figures represent some concern but they’re small enough to look past them. Jansen’s ERA, however, rose to 3.72 after the appearance. The three earned runs from the Tuesday disaster all added officially to his ledger and his total WAR this year stayed pat at -.1.
In a lot of ways the numbers make him look abysmal and unserviceable. Jansen’s numbers look like they belong to someone else and the truth that comes with them a harsh one. One that fans and the organization hope to be nothing more than a nightmare, not a reality. Jansen has fallen towards humanity. His outrageous numbers from the past look like just that: the past.
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Since the start of 2018, Jansen’s ERA+ is just 122, 22 percent better than the average big-league pitcher but 59 percent worse than his average ERA+ over the previous eight seasons combined.
But Jansen’s slip from what he used to be is not alarming as much as it is predictable. He’s in his 10th season, going on 32-years-old and experiencing a regression common amongst players of lengthy MLB experience. He’s apart of a normal cycle and fretting over the regression would be like worrying about whether or not the sun will rise every morning. It happens and with Jansen, it is happening.
So, instead of begging the past to become the present, look to the future bullpen pieces that could reinforce the bullpen and reignite the effectiveness and predictable success at the end of the bullpen.
The Dodgers don’t need to make a change now. The biggest change that needs to happen with 2019’s bullpen is to reinforce it before Jansen to reduce the risk of blown games before the ninth inning. This season, the Dodgers rank tenth in bullpen ERA and that ranks significantly higher than the team did just two weeks ago before Joe Kelly started to find his stride.
But, if we’re talking long-term, Jansen is not going to be the solution forever and his slow decline from what he used to be is the two-week notice that someone is leaving their job. The Dodgers need to now look for future replacements and they already have those in the system.
As far as replacements go that are not far off from joining the roster, Marshall Kasowski is waiting on a clean bill of health, a promotion and some triple-a success before he receives a phone call and a plane ticket to Los Angeles.
The 24-year-old reliever has been incredible over the last two seasons in Tulsa with low ERA’s and strikeouts numbers that have yielded a strikeout per nine innings rate of just over 16.
The righty with Josh Hader esque strikeout totals and a Josh Collmenter type delivery looks ready to make waves as a Dodgers and he is the most obvious person to eventually take Jansen’s role in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Kasowski sports a fastball with good rise and breaking pitches that get the job done for a fastball that he throws almost 70 percent of the time. The only issue with Kasowski is control and when he irons that out his becomes a great option for the ninth.
Behind him, the Dodgers are home to both Logan Salow and Aaron Ochsenbein, two relievers who recently joined the organization, one by trade and one by draft.
Salow was the other end of the Wilmer Font trade in 2018. The left-handed pitcher formally owned by the A’s works a great sinker with incredible offspeed stuff. Salow has been more than the Dodgers could have bargained for when they traded Font to Oakland. This season, his first full time in the Dodgers’ system, the southpaw has had a 1.45 ERA over 49.2 innings between the Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa. Those innings have also yielded 80 punchouts, 14.5 k/9, and Salow, a former college player has vaulted himself into the potential closer conversation.
The final guy for this article is Aaron Ochsenbein, the Dodgers sixth-rounder in the 2019 draft.
There was some confusion over this pick as the Dodgers rarely draft reliever that early in the draft mix but this year, with a little bit of forecasting in mind, the team went with Ochsenbein from Eastern Kentucky University.
Ochsenbein has the stuff to be ridiculous with a hard sinker in the upper 90’s and a changeup that works. Control was a problem for him but with a 0.83 ERA and 90 punchouts in 54.1 innings at school this year, the young reliever could see a strong rise and join the closing conversation.
Kenley Jansen’s story is following a path of many pitchers before him. He is regressing at a normal pace and the Dodgers, a team with the knowledge and ability to replace him long-term will eventually do that. These were a couple players that have a shot at taking the job and they are only three of many. So, when the time comes, Kenley’s cutter has backups waiting in the wings.