The Dodgers handed Brandon League a three-year contract and the closer’s role heading into the 2013 season, but his predictable fall from temporary grace in the role has led to continued questions about his viability as the closer, especially with Kenley Jansen waiting in the wings.
It’s easy to see why questions are being asked, as any comparison between the two relievers’ resumes is comical, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about just 2013 or their entire careers.
By now, due to what you see in the chart above, I think most of the fan base has concluded that Kenley deserves the closer’s spot over League. However, that assumes that the closer’s spot is the place where the team should be putting their best reliever.
Don Mattingly doesn’t think that’s correct, and I’m inclined to agree.
Don Mattingly has adjusted his late-inning bullpen use recently by deploying Kenley Jansen to face the hitters posing the greatest threat, no matter the inning.
“I don’t like a committee of guys, that’s always unsettling, like every day is a tryout, and that’s not the environment I want for my pitchers,” said Mattingly. “I want them to know I’m confident in them and trust them. It’s not like you give up a run and you’re out.
“But the way it’s been going is the best way to do it. Kenley gets the tougher part of the order, and there’s a chance of anybody in the ninth. We don’t have Mariano [Rivera]. You see teams changing all the time in the last inning or two.”
For the moment, forget about statistics or the fact that you hate Mattingly or whatever else. Logically, what he’s saying makes absolute sense: Use your best reliever in the most important situations in the game against their best hitters.
Basically, Mattingly’s plan is to use Kenley as an ace reliever of old, a move which is only bolstered by the fact that Kenley has a history of being able to go multiple innings. Another reason it works is because the Dodger bullpen has been hit by injuries and ineffectiveness like the rest of the team, so despite League’s struggles, he’s still projected to get late-inning outs even if he’s removed as closer. And since blowing a lead in the eighth sucks just as much as in the ninth (or more since the closer doesn’t even get used then), simply stripping League of the overhyped title accomplishes little to solve the root problem.
Yes, League and Ronald Belisario and friends have to get it together somewhat for this to work, but that was always true to begin with. If they continue to tank, the bullpen fails miserably anyway, with or without this strategy, as Kenley is only one man. As such, it’s hard to see the downside to this move besides the risk for overwork (a temptation, regardless).
Whether you want to admit it or not, if Mattingly actually uses Kenley like he says, it’s quite the progressive move for a manager whose game decisions are generally regressive. I’ve been calling for Dodgers managers to use their best relievers in the most important situations forever now, and if Donnie sticks to what he’s saying, there may finally be progress on that front, even if it is partially out of desperation.