2011 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Review: Relief Pitchers

Kenley Jansen

Relief pitchers are a fungible group, as many non-traditional sports analysts around the web have pointed out time and time again. Overpaying for them, particularly veteran arms, rarely works out. Constructing a pen on the cheap is the preferred way to go, especially when you have proven as an organization to be able to develop young arms year after year.

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Kenley Jansen burst onto the season in mid-2010 with a bang, displaying an amazing ability to miss bats and wowing fans as the former catcher registered in the high 90s consistently and touched triple digits on occasion. He cemented a place for himself in the pen for 2011, and looked to be one half of the eighth inning set-up tandem as the season begin. With injuries and ineffectiveness all around him, Jansen had the opportunity to take on a larger role, but unfortunately the young flamethrower ran into ailments of his own which shelved him on two separate occasions (right shoulder inflammation, irregular heartbeat) and saw him take a trip back to AA Chattanooga as well.

Outside of a few rocky appearances prior to that first disabled list stint, Jansen had a monumentally phenomenal season. He set the major league record for strikeouts per nine innings with a 16.1 mark while putting up a 2.06 tERA, 1.74 FIP, and 1.59 SIERA in 53 and two-thirds innings. His walks were still plentiful (4.36 per nine), but he showed remarkable improvement in that area, walking 20 in 30.2 IP prior to the All-Star Break and just six in 23 innings post-ASB.

Jansen was actually utilized in the best possible way by Don Mattingly this past season, much to the delight of those non-traditional analysts previously mentioned: he’s the fireman of the group. He’s brought in when the situation is the most demanding and requires the best reliever, as opposed to when there’s a save situation. And that’s the way it should be.

Jansen misses the most bats out of anyone on the Dodgers, and also induces infield popups at a double digit rate (10.9% in 2011, 16% in 2010). His September was absolutely filthy, as he fanned 32 in just just under 14 innings while walking three. He finished with a WAR of 1.5, triple the man who will be reviewed next.

Jansen possesses by far the most game-changing arm out of anyone in the pen, and should be used when you absolutely need to shut down the other team. That might be the seventh, it might be the eighth, and it could perhaps be the ninth. Pigeonholing him into a certain role would be detrimental to the team, and if Don Mattingly wants to continue to be better than his predecessor, he’ll bring in Kenley to put out fires (and he’ll bunt less, but that’s an entirely different conversation for an entirely different post and day).

Javy Guerra

Javy Guerra made his major league debut in May, and received much fanfare after closing out a few games and racking up a few pretty saves. And by pretty, I mean people liked seeing the “S” by his name; the outings themselves were not always something to cherish. After a couple of months, Guerra sat with a pair of saves and a win, but his peripherals showed that he was fortunate to have those counting stats: a 9:5 K:BB mark and a .344 opponents’ OBP showed that Guerra was not overpowering teams and certainly had not cemented himself as the team’s premier shutdown reliever.

July proved to be a turning point, as Javy had his best month as a big leaguer, fanning nine in nine innings against two walks and eleven baserunners. A solid September followed before Guerra was roughed up in October, allowing his first two major league home runs and issuing eight free passes against ten strikeouts. Overall, Guerra’s rookie campaign was a fairly solid one for a pitcher who had never thrown above AA previously and came in with fairly limited expectations, as he posted a 3.59 tERA, a 3.30 FIP, and a 3.69 SIERA while striking out 7.33 and walking 3.47 per nine.

He’ll clearly need to either fan more or walk less, and BABIP was in his favor in 2011 (2.61), but for the small amount he’ll make heading into 2012, Guerra stands to be a solid contributor if he can tighten up the rough edges to his game.

Matt Guerrier

Matt Guerrier was one of Ned Colletti’s big off-season signings, coming to LA for three years and $12 million dollars. A highly, highly overrated reliever coming out of Minnesota, Guerrier had a solid season. Appearing in at least 70 games for the fifth straight season and pitching 66 and a third innings, Matt posted a 3.43 FIP and had a strikeout to walk ratio of two to one. He fanned under seven per nine and had a 1.27 WHIP as your run-of-the-mill middle reliever.

Veteran relievers being signed to long-term, big money deals rarely work out, and at 33-years-old, there’s nowhere to go but down at this point. Guerrier has a place in a bullpen, but not for the money Colletti valued him at. Hopefully he can be decent enough to be flipped this season to a team in need of an arm, as the Dodgers are beyond stacked with young arms waiting in the wings.

Jonathan Broxton

Jonathan Broxton was the real wild card, as his first half of 2010 was phenomenal, but his second half saw both struggles and a clear dip in velocity. The dip in velocity was evident yet again, as he clocked in around 90-93 as opposed to his usual 97-99.

The wear from Joe Torre‘s over-usage during the Yankees series the previous season was beyond apparent, as Big Jon’s numbers dipped across the board. He struck out under eight per nine after never having been in single digits in his previous big league seasons, and he posted an uncharacteristically horrid tERA of 7.34, FIP of 5.63, and 4.75 SIERA. His WHIP ballooned to 1.89 before succumbing to an elbow bruise and bone spur in his pitching elbow.

As if more proof were needed that it was Torre’s mismanagement that felled Broxton, Jonathan was back up in the high-90s in a handful of minor league rehab appearances after rest, but ultimately he could not get healthy and was shut down for the season.

A free agent heading into 2012, I am fully supportive of bringing him back if he can prove to be healthy. That would entail a minor league deal in all likelihood, though I would not be surprised to see some team take a shot on him with a guaranteed contract based on his past track record of dominance and excellence.

Hong-Chih Kuo

Hong-Chih Kuo, coming off a superb 2010 (1.81 FIP, 2.2 WAR, 10.95 K/9), dealt with both arm injuries and anxiety in 2011. He only threw 27 innings and saw his control vanish as his walk rate jumped to 7.67 per nine and he allowed more long balls than in the previous two seasons (and 90 innings) combined. His FIP was 5.06, and he couldn’t be counted on from jump street. Always an injury risk, 2011 proved to be the polar opposite of 2010, as everything that could go wrong for him did.

With the recent news that Kuo will undergo elbow surgery yet again, his Dodger career looks to be over not just for the foreseeable future, but perhaps for good, as he may never be able to pitch again.

Us fans will always have his utter dominance and the epic bat flip to remember him by though, which is more than most players can say. Hopefully Hong-Chih can attempt a comeback if he so chooses, but if this indeed is the end, perhaps the best way to sum up Kuo is that he was an elite talent who was never granted the chance by the baseball and elbow gods to fully live up to that enormous potential.

About Greg Zakwin

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