by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
No one is overly concerned about Kenley Jansen, despite a poor start to his season, though there have been whispers of a potential injury. Publicly everyone is saying he’s 100% healthy and instead placing blame on his mechanics, but could the mechanics be off due to an underlying issue? He’s allowed home runs in each of his two appearances, and his velocity on his cutter is down over 2 mph:
- 2016 – 94.14 mph
- 2017 – 93.63 mph
- 2018 – 91.41 mph
Obviously it’s a miniscule sample size, but we need to be prepared in case things snowball quickly. Who could step in? Let’s take a look at the candidates:
Long considered the “closer of the future” for Houston, he’s continued to build off of an impressive run with the Dodgers in 2017:
Don’t take those numbers to think he’s a can’t miss option. He’s proven to be prone to home runs, given his career 33.2% groundball rate, and was burned to the tune of a 1.58 HR/9 in ’17. He also benefited from a lot of luck, with an 88.1% strand rate and .219 BABIP (despite a 21.4% line drive rate), and that could turn quickly.
He has the ability to generate strikeouts and has solid control, so there is potential, but if things go wrong they can do so in a big way.
He was the assumed “next up” prior to the season, but thus far only one of his three appearances would be considered “high leverage”. Of course game flow could be more of the issue, as no Dodger pitcher has earned more than 1 HLD on the year (and Baez hasn’t earned one).
Last season Baez struggled with his control (4.08 BB/9), though a poor finish (5.06 in August, 7.27 in September) helped to skew the numbers. Instead the bigger concern is in home runs, as he owns a career 38.3% groundball rate. He also has generally benefited from luck (84.7% strand rate in ’17), making him extremely similar to Fields.
For now we’d put Baez a step behind Fields, based on the early season usage, but the two can be seen as almost interchangeable.
Scott Alexander’s blowup on Tuesday could take him out of the running, leaving Cingrani as the left-handed candidate. He had 17 saves back in 2016 as a member of the Reds and despite a 4.22 ERA last season his underlying metrics were impressive:
- Strikeouts – 10.97 K/9
- Control – 2.53 BB/9
- Groundballs – 41.3%
Walks had been the biggest concern, and it’s possible the integration of a split-fingered fastball helped to alleviate the issue. He posted a career best 13.5% SwStr% and 30.7% O-Swing%, giving hope that he can maintain the numbers.
With the ability to get both right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters out, it’s not a stretch to say that Cingrani has the best skillset of the candidates. No one is going to look in his direction, but he could emerge if/when a need arises and run with the role.
Prioritizing The Pickups:
- Josh Fields – Appears to be first up, but highly risky
- Tony Cingrani – Could argue has the highest upside
- Pedro Baez
- J.T. Chargois – Very deep sleeper
- Scott Alexander
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, MLB.com, ESPN