Kenley Jansen is one of the game’s elite closers. In fact, since 2012 he’s saved 253 games in a Dodgers uniform. Unfortunately, he has a nagging heart condition that has reared it’s ugly head once again.
Jansen never made it to Coors Field with the team on Thursday night. While at the team hotel, he felt his heart beating irregularly. Clearly, heart problems are not to be taken lightly, so after some testing in Colorado, Jansen was flown back to Los Angeles where he was hospitalized for further tests.
First and foremost the Dodgers are concerned about the health and well being of their All-Star closer. They also have other concerns with the situation though. Jansen could miss an entire month while being treated for his condition, which means the team has to find another closer during that time, in the middle of a playoff race.
Had they gotten their way in the Machado trade, they would have Zach Britton. Britton would be an obvious choice to step up, but that didn’t work out for LA. Fortunately, they do have some decent options already in their pen, some better than others.
Dodgers Options to Fill in for Jansen
Whether they want experience, a righty, a lefty or just someone who has pitched well this season, the Dodgers do have options to fill in the closer role. It’s not a decision they should, or will, overlook the importance of.
They are in a tight race coming down the stretch to win the division or take home a Wild Card spot. A closer can make or break a team in their situation. Whoever they turn to shouldn’t be given too many opportunities if they don’t succeed right away and if they find a hot hand they need to stick with him.
The first guy the Dodgers should look at is Josh Fields. Unfortunately, he too has landed on the DL, though just the 10-day, so he will not be an option right away. He should still be available for a good portion of the time that Jansen will miss though.
Fields is having a very nice season out of the back end of the bullpen. He has a record of 2-2 with a 2.36 ERA, 0.932 WHIP and 28 strikeouts over 34.1 innings pitched. His FIP is also good at 3.82 as is his strikeout to walk ratio at 3.11. Walks and strikeouts are huge for closers so that 3.11 is a really important number in this scenario.
He’s also put up good numbers in clutch situations. When the game is late and close according to baseball reference, Fields has held opponents to just a .214 average, .254 OBP and a tOPS+ of just 71. He’s even got some limited closing experience, with 13 career saves and two this season.
Had he not been put on the DL, Fields would have probably gotten the first shot at the ninth. Regardless, he may get a shot when he comes back, all depending on how whoever initially takes the spot performs.
It might be risky to put a rookie in the closer’s role in a pennant race. However, Caleb Ferguson is deserving of a chance based on his numbers this season. The rookie left-hander has pitched very well for the Dodgers, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.24 ERA, 1.020 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 33.1 innings. His ERA, WHIP and FIP are all skewed a bit too, thanks to a few starts this season that didn’t go so well. Strictly as a reliever he’s 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA, 0.838 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.
Ferguson’s FIP and strikeout to walk are even better than Fields’ at 3.45 and 4.33 respectively. His strikeout to walk ratio is even more impressive at 9.00, if you leave out the three starts. Even in late and close situations, he has been shut down good, allowing opponents to slash just .174/.174/.304 with a tOPS+ at a minuscule 36.
The only hesitation with putting Ferguson in the closer’s role is his youth, though he’s more than proven he can handle big spots this season. He might be the best option right now, with Fields on the DL. In fact, he might be the best option even if Fields wasn’t on the DL. He is a perfect 2-2 in save situations this season and looks to be ready for the challenge.
The next candidate in line is probably Scott Alexander. Another lefty, he has one full season under his belt, after limited big league time with the Royals in 2015 and 2016.
This season with the Dodgers, Alexander has solid numbers. He’s made one start, but the rest of his 52.1 innings have come out of the bullpen. Alexander has a 2-0 record, a 3.27 ERA, 1.261 WHIP and 3.36 WHIP in 2018.
He is another Dodger reliever who has been very tough in late and close situations. Facing 94 batters in those scenarios, Alexander has a 2.20 strikeout to walk and allowed a .205 average and a 75 tOPS+. He’s also collected two saves this season, after getting four in 2017.
Alexander might get the edge over Ferguson due to experience. He’s been around a lot longer and has over a full big league season on Ferguson. However, Ferguson has slightly better numbers in clutch situations, even though he has faced fewer batters than Alexander. Whichever one of these two guys gets the first crack, look for the other to be right behind them if they struggle.
If the Dodgers are looking for someone with closing experience, John Axford is their guy. They picked him up from Toronto at the trade deadline. While he was north of the border, Axford put up a 4-1 record with a 4.41 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 1.255 WHIP and struck out 50 batters in 51 innings.
The appeal with Axford for the closer’s role isn’t what he’s done this season though, it’s what he’s done in the past. Back in 2011, he led the league in saves with 46 for the Brewers. Over his career, he’s amassed 144 of them. However, he hasn’t saved a game since 2016 when he was in Oakland. The year before that, though, he had 25 saves for Colorado.
Axford might not have the greatest numbers this season, but if Fields, Ferguson or Alexander don’t work out, he might be the best option to close games for the Dodgers. His experience alone makes him a possibility. It will be interesting to see whether or not he is given a chance.