StrategyMay 14, 2013


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Bottom of the 9th: A League of His Own - 1 comments

By R.J. White

A lot has gone wrong with the Dodgers in 2013. After making the Yankees look like penny pinchers in the offseason, the Dodgers had high expectations heading into the regular season. But injuries and ineffectiveness have conspired to give the Dodgers a 15-22 record and last place in the NL West. Some of the necessary fixes will be hard: the team has to find a way to add some talent to a lineup that hasn’t scored very many runs, ranking near the bottom of the league in runs scored per game despite quality performances from Carl Crawford, A.J. Ellis, Mark Ellis and even Juan Uribe. Some will be easy: a healthy Zack Greinke should boost a decimated starting rotation, and Ted Lilly could also serve as a reinforcement soon. But what to do about Brandon League, a highly-paid closer who has made scoreless outings a rarity?

League has put together an extended run of mediocrity that’s rarely seen from a closer who still retains that title. Since starting the season with three straight scoreless outings, League has managed to give up at least one run in eight of his 11 appearances, including six of his last seven games. He managed to work around the runs in April, blowing just one save out of nine opportunities. In May, he hasn’t blown any saves, but that’s just because he hasn’t had the chance. He’s been called upon three times this month, twice in a tie game and once with a four-run lead. League has managed to pick up losses in each of the tie games and allow multiple runs in the four-run lead, doing just enough to give the Dodgers a rare win.

Add up League’s recent brutal stretch, and despite not suffering a major meltdown in any one game (he hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs in any appearance), League owns a 6.28 ERA to go with an ugly 7:4 K:BB ratio in 14.1 innings. It’s no wonder that manager Don Mattingly considered a change at closer even before League’s last performance, which inspired Mattingly to call League his closer “for now.”

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, there’s not a huge chance to go out and grab the Dodgers’ soon-to-be closer from the waiver wire, as he’s already owned in most competitive leagues. Kenley Jansen has flashed the dominant stuff of a closer-worthy reliever for so long that his coronation as the team’s stopper has seemed like a given for far too long. He has been so effective that League’s three-year, $22.5-million deal from the Dodgers had to go down as the most perplexing signing of the offseason. If that’s the price tag on such a mediocre “closing” option, it only makes sense to promote Jansen to the role and sign effective setup men for a fraction of the cost — the Red Sox signed Koji Uehara to a one-year, $4.5-million deal this offseason, a pittance for a guy with the best K/BB ratio ever.

While it’s too late to grab a top-rate setup guy for a bargain, it’s not too late to bury League in the bullpen by having him pitch the 6th and 7th inning until he gets it together enough to at least provide effective performances in the 8th. That would mean giving the closing gig to Jansen, a player with a 2.29 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 27:5 K:BB ratio in 19.2 innings this year.

Some would argue that it’s smarter to have your most effective closer in the setup role, allowing him to take advantage of higher leverage situations. While I agree with the practice in theory, I should also point out that League has the higher numbers in average leverage index (1.60 to 1.38), average leverage index at the start of an inning (1.38 to 1.14) and average leverage index when entering the game (1.33 to 1.27). Even if you put all the importance on the final number, it’s clear that the 8th and 9th innings have been virtually interchangeable for the Dodgers in terms of leverage this season. Part of that is Jansen’s effectiveness, but it does show that while putting Jansen in the closer role is easy on the surface, it’s not clearly the wrong decision once you dig deeper either.

The time has come for Jansen to take his rightful place on the mound in the ninth inning for the Dodgers. With League showing stretches of mediocrity that virtually no closer gets to endure, expect a change soon. If you happen to be part of the 35 percent of Yahoo leagues that has Jansen as a free agent, what are you waiting for? If you can trade for Jansen without paying full value, I would do so. He has the potential to be one of the top fantasy relievers in the game. All he needs are the saves, and those should be coming very soon.

 
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
 
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One Response to “Bottom of the 9th: A League of His Own”

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