Los Angeles Dodgers: Who Delivers the Ball to Kenley Jansen?

Oct 11, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Washington Nationals during game four of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Second-base is the most advertised need for the Los Angeles Dodgers which has caused people to ignore the fact their bullpen still needs to be filled out, primarily the 8th-inning setup man role. The Los Angeles Dodgers have been linked with Neftali Feliz; but even outside of him there are still a few viable arms.

During the 2016 MLB season, the Los Angeles Dodgers of all teams had the best regular season bullpen ERA. Let that sink in. Ready? The unit, which was the team’s Achilles heel in 2014 and 2015 was actually a strength. They not only paced the National League with a 3.35 ERA but all of MLB. The bullpen also had the second best Opponent’s Batting Average Against. They also had the most strikeouts of all bullpens and were the most heavily used. This is maybe why they wore down during the 2016 NLCS. Even before the NLCS there was always uneasiness around when the bullpen was in the game. Even with the results, all Dodger fans were on the edge of the seats because they stil couldn’t trust them fully (except for Jansen of course).

The bullpen is anchored by Kenley Jansen, arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball. However there was one pitcher who was a revelation in that bullpen and that was Joe Blanton. The 36 year-old threw 80 innings as a non-closer and compiled a 2.48 ERA with an even 80 strikeouts. The interesting part of the bullpen last year was that no one, outside of Kenley Jansen, had an assigned role.

Blanton was the unofficial setup man but would come in during the middle innings when needed. Vice versa for other relievers. However, he is a free agent now meaning the Los Angeles Dodgers really need to strengthen the bullpen and hopefully with someone who can serve as a setup man and get the ball to closer Kenley Jansen. There are a few under-the-radar names that could fill that role. One name that has been thrown around, as of today, is Neftali Feliz.

There are other names available as well.

Jul 24, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Neftali Feliz (30) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Neftali Feliz

It wasn’t long ago when Neftali Feliz was supposed to be the next elite shutdown closer in baseball. He won the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year and made his lone All-Star appearance that same season. Feliz started off as a hard-thrower, and I mean hard.  He was consistently throwing in the mid to high-90’s. He also had the God-given arm talent to hit triple-digits.

Feliz has a career 3.22 ERA and 1.10 WHIP. He compiled a 2.67 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP from 2009-2012 but then in 2012 he got injured and needed Tommy John Surgery. He attempted a comeback in 2014 and was good in his 31.2 innings collecting a 1.99 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Since then, he has been on the DL three times and his ability has diminished. In 2015 he had a 6.75 ERA  and an unsightly 1.56 WHIP in 48 innings. Last season he was solid, throwing for a 3.52 ERA in a little over 50 innings.

The talent is undeniable and so is his success. It’s just the injuries which ruined a possible elite-level career. His fastball velocity actually increased from 94.6 mph in 2015 to 96 mph last season. That is to be expected as you get further away from injury and get physically stronger. It is a good sign, and one that might show that he might be able to return to form. If he can, he’d be a terrific bargain. He should not cost so much because he still has to prove he can stay healthy and produce like he once did, so a one-year incentive-laden deal would be the best way to go. I’d be surprised if he gets over $5-$6 million in guarantee money from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sep 15, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) flips the ball to third base to make a force out during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Royals won 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Holland

Greg Holland is possibly the ultimate high-risk high-reward guy. He had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and is looking to return to his prior form. From 2011-2014 Holland was one of the best closers in MLB, compiling 113 saves (although saves aren’t the best way to judge a closer) with an impressive 1.86 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and a terrific 12.56 K/9 ratio. If he can come close to those numbers, then he would be elite. The show that he was one of the best in the business, so it was a shame to see him get hurt. It’s probably best not to expect him to immediately replicate those numbers, but given the right amount of time, he can probably work his way back to form.

Because he is coming off a serious injury, it would be smart to first judge his velocity because he was a hard-thrower. His career average fastball velocity is 95.5 mph but that is brought down because the year he got hurt the average velocity was down to 93.6 mph. To put his fastball into perspective, he throws harder than Kenley Jansen, Andrew Miller, and Wade Davis. They are considered hard-throwers (they are) but he has more gas on his fastball.

A great strategy would be to sign him and ease him back in by using him as a setup man or some other relief role other than closer. If this strategy succeeds then the Dodgers would finally have the guarantee of locking down the latter innings. Also, it helps that he has pitched on the biggest stages this game has to offer: The 2014 and 2015 World Series.

It would be best to give him a one-year deal with incentives that ultimately reach around $10 million. Other teams desperate for a closer may throw more money at him while offering the closer role. If this is the case the Los Angeles Dodgers should not get into a bidding war.

Oct 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Blanton (55) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs in game five of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Blanton

Hey, he is still available isn’t he? Since he is, why not? All Joe Blanton did was throw 80 innings, strikeout 80 while posting a 2.48 ERA with a 1.01 WHIP. It would actually be interesting to see if the Los Angeles Dodgers could sign him along with one of the guys listed above. He can serve as the setup man while they round into form, and once they do, Blanton should be used earlier in games because of his ability to pitch multiple innings at times. I would definitely be for bringing him back, just not as the only pitcher. Offering him a two-year deal, with a $6 million AAV sounds reasonable.

Oct 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Pedro Baez (52) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in game five of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In-House

This might be the most unlikeliest of all possibilities available, but knowing the Los Angeles Dodgers front office, it might happen. They would have had to choose between names such as Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia, etc. Actually, Garcia is out next season due to injury, so Baez would have been the best option. Dodger fans are probably rolling their eyes reading his name, but honestly he wasn’t as bad as he was portrayed as.

Baez has a career 3.08 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP while averaging a little over a strikeout an inning.  He also throws hard, averaging close to 97 mph on his fastball. He is heavily dependent on his fastball, throwing it about 75% of the time while mixing in a slider and changeup. Baez is the kind of player whose numbers are better than the eye test suggest they are. He is probably the most nerve-racking relief pitcher the Dodgers have.

Two other names, although there is no way I see them happening, are Josh Sborz and Jacob Rhame. No one except people who follow minor league systems likely know who they are. They are Dodger prospects, and promising ones. There’s a good chance that Rhame will be given a chance next season. His velocity gives him the makings of a high-leverage relief arm. Sborz is being tried out as a starter but he does have college experience as a closer, and with the plethora of arms in the Dodger system, the relief route will be the quickest way to go to reach the big leagues.

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