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Glaser: Stubbornness Clouds Dodgers Judgement With Kenley Jansen

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Kenley Jansen (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers are being stubborn about Kenley Jansen.

That’s it. Cut and dried. Stubbornness is what is keeping Jansen in the closer’s role, not performance, and it’s costing the Dodgers games.

Jansen blew another save Wednesday night, allowing the Rays to score twice in the ninth inning to send the game to extras. Austin Meadows delivered the tie-breaking home run in the 11th inning off of Josh Sborz, and Ji-Man Choi added a sacrifice fly to secure an 8-7 Rays win.

It was Jansen’s fourth blown save in his last eight opportunities. It was his eighth blown save of the year, nearly as many as the nine he had from 2015-17 combined.

And therein lies the problem. The Dodgers are living in those years—the past— when they insist Jansen gives them their best chance to finish opponents at the end of games.

The truth is harsher. Jansen’s ERA is 3.81, the highest of his career. His cutter is averaging 91.7 mph, according to Statcast, down from the 93-94 mph he averaged in the middle of the decade. His 7.3 hits allowed per nine innings are his most in five years, as are his 2.2 walks per nine and his 1.07 WHIP.

Objectively, Jansen is throwing less hard with less control, is giving up more hits and is allowing more baserunners than any time in the last five years. He is surrendering more runs than ever before and has already blown more saves in a season than ever before.

This is not the same pitcher who finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting two years ago, no matter how hard the Dodgers might wish it.

And yet, the Dodgers can’t—or won’t—see it. Manager Dave Roberts made clear after the game he considers Jansen the unquestioned closer moving forward.

"He didn’t have the command that he had the last few times out, and when you don’t, you get exposed,” Roberts said. "But I don’t think it’s a step back. . . . I think Kenley is in a good place.

"Right now, the way that he’s been throwing . . . I’m not really entertaining that thought (a switch) right now.”

Jansen’s latest outing wasn’t good from the start. He allowed a hard liner to Meadows to begin the ninth that was fortunately right at Joc Pederson in right field. He then surrendered a single to Tommy Pham that left the bat at 101.5 mph. He walked Matt Duffy after getting ahead in the count 1-2.

With two on and one out, Jansen threw an 0-2 cutter to Choi that appeared to nick the low outside corner. Home plate umpire Adrian Johnson appeared to step back to call strike three, but held off. Jansen promptly allowed an RBI single to Choi on the next pitch.

Travis d’Arnaud followed with a sacrifice fly to tie the game, and Jansen had let another lead slip from the Dodgers' grasp.

"The command wasn’t the best,” Jansen said. "The last three games it was. Just gotta clean up this one. Go home, rest and be better.”

The scene has become all too familiar at Chavez Ravine. Three of Jansen’s four most recent blown saves have come at home, and the Dodger Stadium crowd has taken to booing him loudly in recent weeks.

Just when it looked like things might be getting better—Jansen had strung together four straight scoreless appearances after surrendering a run in four of six appearances—things went sour, a pattern that has repeated itself all year.

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The Dodgers have options. Joe Kelly has a 2.53 ERA since the start of June while holding batters to a .179 average. Pedro Baez has a 2.52 ERA and .159 opponent average in his last 25 appearances. Yimi Garcia has a 2.66 ERA since the start of August.

All have their flaws, but all are outperforming Jansen and his 4.81 ERA since the start of July. And this is not a case of the Dodgers using Jansen as a closer but spotting other relievers into higher-leverage situations, as Jansen leads all Dodgers pitchers in adjusted leverage index.

The Dodgers could have had more options, but they declined to move their considerable prospect surplus for relief help at the trade deadline, save for lefty specialist Adam Kolarek. Their potential National League playoff opponents, meanwhile, acted boldly and aggressively to fortify their bullpens and are reaping the benefits.

The Dodgers' decisions have been rooted in a faith in Jansen that has not been rewarded and shows no underlying signs of being rewarded any time soon. The franchise have experienced plenty of playoff disappointment in the last two seasons, and anything short of a World Series championship will be considered a failure in the eyes of 10 million Los Angelenos, fair or not.

The Dodgers aren’t helping their chances by continuing to run Jansen out as their closer. Los Angeles' latest loss is just the most recent example of that, and it cost them valuable ground in the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Jansen has been an elite closer for nearly a decade and deserves every chance he’s received, but management’s foremost responsibility is to put their players in the best position to win.

Jansen, in his current state, no longer offers that as the Dodgers' closer.

The Dodgers have time to live in the present, not the past, and move Jansen into a lower-leverage role, where his stuff and performance are now better suited.

The only question is whether the Dodgers will continue to be too stubborn to see it, before it’s too late.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Jansen's eight blown saves were as many as he had from 2015-17. His ERA since the start of July has also been corrected.

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