2012 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Review: Relief Pitcher

Kenley Jansen

Kenley Jansen entered 2012 as the set-up man with elite stuff, freed up to face the opponents’ best hitters should they be due up before the ninth inning. It was the perfect scenario, considering the closer role is a vastly overrated entity. Though Jansen was slotted correctly, he quickly found himself as the closer following some early struggles in that role by Javy Guerra.

Jansen closed 2012 with his third-straight dominant season, posting a 2.40 FIP and 1.81 SIERA while whiffing a magnificent 13.71/9 IP. He appeared in a career-high 65 games and 65 innings, and though he allowed a few more long-balls (six homers after three in 2011 and none in 2010), he more importantly cut down impressively on his free passes for a third consecutive campaign (5.00/4.36/3.05 per nine innings). Also of note is his continued ability to induce infield popups, which has always been excellent (16% in 2010 & 10.9% in 2011), as he reached a new career best in 2012 (19.4 IFFB%).

To put it another way, as infield popups are essentially as effective as strikeouts, Jansen “whiffed” roughly 60% of the hitters he faced in 2012. That is insane, obviously.

Though all has been well from a between-the-lines perspective, Jansen has seen his short career put in jeopardy multiple times due to a heart ailment that has afflicted him for parts of the 2011 regular season, Spring Training of 2012, and most recently the 2012 regular season. While Jansen has thankfully been able to return from all three bouts, the irregular heartbeat has been recurring, which is troublesome for his health and career prospects.

Jansen and the Dodgers have taken action though, as Kenley recently underwent heart surgery to correct the problem. All seems well thus far, as no complications from the surgery have been revealed, and all reports indicate he’ll be ready to go for 2013. He’ll recuperate for at least three months prior to resuming baseball activities, and with his electric stuff, fantastic ability to get hitters to swing-and-miss, and three straight seasons of improving WAR (1.1/1.3/1.9), the sky is the limit for the former backstop as he continues to refine his new craft.

Brandon League

Acquired for Leon Landry and Logan Bawcom, Brandon League arrived having been stripped of his closer duties in Seattle. His 2012 with the Mariners was a season typical of your average middle reliever, as League was fanning only 5.44 per nine while walking far too many (3.83/9 IP), and had a 3.45 FIP and 4.43 SIERA. I was against the trade when it happened and League did nothing to assuage my mind in his first few outings, as he was charged with six earned runs through his first seven games with Los Angeles.

League rebounded to end 2012 strongly though, allowing one earned run from August 21 on. His strikeout rate ticked up in LA to 8.89/9 IP, the highest it had been since 2009, though he walked even more at 4.61/9
IP. His new-found success was attributed to mechanical flaws that were corrected by Rick Honeycutt and his staff.

Whether that’s true and whether his success carries over into the future or not, the 29-year-old heads into free agency banking that teams will be looking at his recent performance over his career track record that consists of 6.71 K/9 IP, 3.10 BB/9 IP, a 3.81 FIP, and a WAR that’s eclipsed 1.0 twice.

Ronald Belisario

After a time spent pretending to be Tony Montana, Ronald Belisario returned to the States and MLB in 2012. Following a 25-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy, Belisario made his season debut in early May and would go on to appear in a bullpen-high 68 games and 71 innings.

Belisario posted a 3.09 FIP and 2.80 SIERA, and after starting the year out-pitching his peripherals and shiny ERA, had a very good season after his year off. He fanned just shy of a batter per inning while walking 3.68 per nine and inducing a mess of ground balls (64.5 GB%), which resulted in just three homers allowed in ’12.

Belisario, after all of his troubles, is line for a nice raise from the $480,000 he made on a one-year deal in 2012. He qualified for Super Two status and is arbitration eligible, and he will be an integral part of the pen in 2013.

Javy Guerra

Javy Guerra entered 2012 as the Dodgers closer, though not the most talented reliever on the team, which is perfectly fine and is actually my preferred method of bullpen management. Following a rocky start and a liner to the head, Guerra was removed in favor of Jansen in early May.

After allowing eight earned runs in his first 14 games, which included three blown saves and a pair of losses, Guerra settled down before succumbing to a knee injury that ended his season in early September.

Though Guerra’s season is largely viewed as a failure by many, his 2012 was, in actuality, little different from his 2011 season. His strikeout rate increased (7.33/7.40), his HR/9 IP rate improved (0.39/0.20), and his FIP (3.30/3.34) and WAR remained stable (0.9/0.8).

Guerra’s “struggles” were two-fold. First, the self-inflicted portion: Guerra walked too many guys in 2012, as his BB/9 IP jumped from a high 3.47 to a terrible 4.60 per nine. That must be corrected for Javy to see more success. Second, his BABIP increased to .321 from .261. In other words, after getting lucky in 2011, 2012 saw that luck shift entirely the other way. There is almost certainly a happy medium, and in that place, Guerra is a solid contributor to the pen as a middle reliever.

Scott Elbert

After an excellent 2011 that ended with a new established role in the pen, Scott Elbert finished 2012 on the DL with an elbow injury that felled him from late August on. I wouldn’t be shocked if the elbow bothered him all year, as his numbers fell across the board.

Elbert struck out less per nine (9.18/7.99), gave up more homers (0.27/0.83), and saw a significant drop in FIP (2.73/3.80) and SIERA (3.23/3.76). The lefty also uncharacteristically struggled against his fellow southpaws in comparison with his 2011 success (.271/.342/.342/.684 after a .191/.267/.227/. 494 slash line the year before).

With Randy Choate a possibility to return if he and the club share a mutual interest, and young Paco Rodriguez emerging as another option, Elbert’s health and success in Spring Training will go a long way in determining his future with the club after years and years of injuries finally appeared to be behind him.

Shawn Tolleson

Shawn Tolleson, the club’s top relief prospect heading into 2012, got the call in early June before getting the Blake DeWitt treatment and shuffling between The Show and the minors. Though he moved around, he ended up appearing in 40 games and just under 40 innings.

Known for his swing-and-miss ability and domination of the minors, Tolleson whiffed 9.32/9 IP while posting a 4.08 FIP and 3.78 SIERA. He did struggle with his control at times, walking 4.78 per nine, and he allowed almost a homer per nine.

Five outings — in which he allowed between two and four runs in each — skewed the 24-year-old righty’s numbers a bit, though not as much as his massive struggles against the 68 lefties he faced, who hit a combined .316/.426/.471/.897 against the Texan. On the other side of the coin, Shawn was death to righties, holding them to a .152/.244/.207/.453 line.

Those lefty struggles not withstanding, the future is exceptionally bright for Clayton Kershaw‘s former teammate. Tolleson will have a prominent role in the pen going forward — whether that role begins at the outset of 2013 or not –  and a young pen featuring Jansen/Tolleson/Rodriguez/Guerra should have fans excited.

Randy Choate

Acquired in the Hanley Ramirez deal, Choate arrived with the reputation of a lefty specialist (.201/.278/.252/.530 career) and continued to dominate his brethren in 2012, limiting them to a .158/.243/.190/.433 slash line.

Though he held lefties down in 2012, Choate was mediocre overall after arriving, posting a 4.89 FIP, 4.16 SIERA, and a negative WAR (-0.1). Most troubling was his propensity for issuing free passes, to the tune of 6.08 per nine in his 36 appearances.

Paco Rodriguez

Just 21 and fresh out of college in the spring of 2012, Paco Rodriguez found himself in 11 games down the stretch and whiffed a very impressive 8.1 per nine over those 6.2 innings. He posted a 3.09 FIP and 4.17 SIERA — as well as a .143/.200/.133/.333 slash line against lefties — in his very small sample size of a career, and holds the distinction of being the first 2012 draftee to debut in The Show.

Rodriguez enters 2013 with just north of 25 professional innings under his belt, and could very likely open 2013 on the major-league roster. Paco’s immediate future hinges on Elbert’s health, the signing of some other free agent lefty specialist, and his 2013 Spring Training performance.

While he has stuff to improve upon (like his control), if he can solidify a spot in the pen he would provide the Dodgers with another lefty and a cheap bullpen option with a ton of upside.

Jamey Wright

Jamey Wright, who made the team out of Spring Training after signing a minor-league deal, surprised most with a solid campaign, surpassing expectations in his 66 appearances and 67.2 innings pitched.

Wright fanned 7.18 per nine while posting a 3.39 FIP and 3.15 SIERA. His splits were quite wacky all the way around, as he allowed southpaws to get on-base more, but righties knocked him around in terms of extra-base hits (.252/.365/.230/.595 versus LH & .283/.337/.329/.666 versus RH).

As alluded to above, Wright did struggle with his control, as he allowed around 4.0 BB/9. He did a great job, however, of keeping the ball in the park — 0.27 HR/9 — which saved him from those walks becoming more damaging. Hitters actually benefited from a bit of luck against him with a .324 BABIP, but Wright’s strong propensity for inducing ground balls (67.3%) and infield popups (12.0% IFFB) allowed him to escape his control problems relatively unscathed.

Having lived off minor-league deals, which he turned into major-league roster spots, for most of the past decade, Wright will head into 2012 — his age-38 season — with a strong likelihood of obtaining a major-league contract. Earning just under $1.5 million last year, Wright will probably receive a small raise, and the Dodgers could do a lot worse.

Odds & Ends

Matt Guerrier spent most of 2012 on the shelf with right elbow inflammation, but managed to return late in the season and appeared in 16 games totaling 14 innings. It did not go well. He pitched to a 6.31 FIP and 4.86 SIERA while walking seven, hitting a batter, and allowing a total of 16 baserunners, six earned runs, and 56 total bases against.

He has a year remaining — at $3.75 million — on the ridiculous three-year deal that Ned Colletti signed him to in late-2010. Whether he has a place in the bullpen though, considering the superior arms around him, is another story entirely.

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Josh Lindblom, prior to being dealt to Philadelphia in the Shane Victorino trade, struggled despite some solid peripherals following a breakout 2011. Though he struck out 8.12/9 IP while walking 3.40/9 IP, Lindblom put up a 5.07 FIP, though his SIERA was a fine 3.66.

What really killed him was the long-ball, as following a 2011 in which he didn’t allow a single homer in almost 30 innings, Josh was touched up for nine dingers before being traded.

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I honestly forgot Mike MacDougal was a Dodger in 2012, but he began the year on a ludicrous guaranteed one-year major-league deal. He quickly flamed out, lasting seven games and 5.2 innings too long. In that short time, he allowed 15 baserunners, five earned runs, and 32 total bases.

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Greg Zakwin is the founder of the site Plaschke Thy Sweater Is Argyle. Follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke.

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