Before we actually dive in and look at the Dodgers' bullpen, as promised in the headline, let us appreciate closer Kenley Jansen providing us with baseball's equivalent of Paul George's "it was a bad shot" after allowing in San Diego on Sunday. Take it away, Kenley!
"That's how they beat me." "Two perfect bunts."
Um ... what? The Padres won with a walk-off grand slam. That is actually how they beat you, Kenley.
The Dodgers are now 22-14 and, as has been the case more often than not the past seven seasons, sit in first place in the NL West. As we've grown used to seeing, it's a very talented and deep roster. In thinking through their season to this point, however, I anecdotally felt like a number of their losses could be blamed on the bullpen. Let's take a look.
The Dodgers rank 23rd in baseball with a 4.73 bullpen ERA. They have blown seven saves, which is tied for the second-most, trailing only the Royals, who are one of baseball's worst teams. They've taken eight bullpen losses, trailing only the Royals, A's and Reds. It's pretty remarkable given that the Dodgers have only lost 14 games.
As it turns out, my memory wasn't failing me. The Dodgers have a good record, but it would be a lot better if the bullpen hadn't failed them so often early in the season. Specifically, it's the two guys they hoped would be a killer back-end duo entering the season.
A big part of the issue is offseason acquisition Joe Kelly. Despite his inconsistent track record, the Dodgers decided to bet on him as the primary setup man for Jansen. He coughed up leads in three of his first five outings and sits with a 10.13 ERA through 13 1/3 innings. He's been the biggest problem here and -- while certainly the ERA normalizes -- it's reasonable to believe he will continue to be an issue.
Kelly isn't the only problem, though.
What about Jansen?
Sure, the ERA at 2.70 before Sunday's "two perfect bunts" took it to 4.67 looked fine, but going game by game, the picture wasn't nearly as pretty. Prior to Sunday, there were 16 appearances for Jansen. He gave up one run in seven of them. Make it eight games out of 17 on the season that he's allowed at least a run. In 2017, Jansen allowed runs in eight games out of 65 appearances. Even last season with the early woes and all the questions about his spring training preparation, he allowed runs in 18 of 69 appearances.
Part of the issue might be his velocity, which we heard plenty about last year.
His signature pitch, the cutter, is averaging less than 92 miles per hour so far in May. On the season, it's 92.09 (Brooksbaseball.net). In 2017, it was 93.59.
Similar to last season, Jansen isn't missing as many bats as his heyday and he's walking more, though it's more about how he's getting hit. He's getting squared up a lot more often, giving up hard contact on 40.9 percent of batted balls compared to 25.9 in 2017. That walk-off slam was the fourth home run Jansen has allowed this season. In 2017, he only gave up five all year. In 2016, it was just four. Last season jumped to 13 and it appears that trend is continuing.
Basically, at age 31 and having had heart surgery last season, it's pretty clear this is post-prime Jansen. He's still very good, but he's not the assassin he was a few years back.
If the rest of the bullpen was good, it would be workable. Instead, Kelly is bad, Yimi Garcia has gotten pounded and manager Dave Roberts is left cleaning up messes with Pedro Baez (who has mostly been good) and Scott Alexander. Dylan Floro actually has a 0.00 ERA through 15 innings, too.
On the whole to this point, though, the Dodgers' spring-projected high-leverage duo of Jansen and Kelly has been mostly underwhelming and -- especially in Kelly's case -- has failed them.