Dodgers shouldn't sweat losing Kenley Jansen to foot injury
Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is expected to miss the first month of the regular season after having surgery to remove a growth from the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot Tuesday morning. Per the Dodgers' press release, Jansen is expected to miss 8-to-12 weeks, which would put his return somewhere between mid-April and mid-May. But as the injury will cost him all of spring training, it seems unlikely that he'll be ready to contribute to the major league team until May even if his recovery in on the early side of that range.
Jansen has been a dominant presence in the Dodgers' bullpen since his major league debut in July 2010, posting a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP and striking out 39 percent of opposing batters in his career, good for a 4.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last year, in his first full season as the team's closer, Jansen saved 44 games, tied for fifth-most in the majors and just four behind Fernando Rodney's top total. Yet, despite the quality of Jansen's pitching and his high-profile role on the team, this is not a devastating loss for the Dodgers.
To begin with, the Dodgers have fewer games scheduled for April than any other month of the regular season (not counting October). The season doesn't start until April 6, and L.A. has four off-days over the remainder of the month, leaving just 21 games on the schedule. That's just 13 percent of the season, closer to one-eighth than one-sixth. Last year, Jansen appeared in 49 save situations. Thirteen percent of 49 is just a hair over six, so the Dodgers may only have to cover for Jansen in a handful of save situations before he is ready to return.
Candidates to fill in for Jansen include the newly acquired Joel Peralta (who has accumulated ten saves over the last four years in serving as the Rays' primary setup man) and incumbents Brandon League and J.P. Howell, both former closers coming off strong seasons. There's also the newly acquired Chris Hatcher, who had the best strikeout rate, strikeout-to-walk ratio and fielding independent pitching figure of the four last year in 52 games with the Marlins. What's more, while three of those four are righthanded, Howell is a lefty, giving manager Don Mattingly the option to play matchups in the ninth inning during Jansen's absence.
Jansen is clearly better than any of those four, but over a handful of save opportunities, the gap between them is small enough that it shouldn't have a significant impact in the Dodgers' fortunes this season. Put another way, Jansen has been worth an average of 1.9 Wins Above Replacement over the last three years according to Baseball-Reference.com. Thirteen percent of that is just a quarter of a win, and his replacements are not replacement-level.
The one caveat here is that the Dodgers' April schedule, while short, is a tough one. They have a three-game–home-and-road series against both the defending world champion Giants and the much-improved Padres, plus a three-game set at home against the Mariners. That's 15 of their 21 games against dangerous teams, with a dozen of those games coming against the toughest competitors in their own division. Still, the Dodgers are such heavy favorites in their division that even a disastrously blown save in one of those games against San Francisco or San Diego is unlikely to cause them too much grief.
Yes, the National League West should be more competitive this year with San Diego having taken a huge step forward, but the Giants took a step backward over the offseason, and the Padres are digging out of a huge hole, coming off a season in which they played like a 73-win team, per third-order record. Neither seems likely to come much closer to the Dodgers this year than the Giants did last year, when L.A. lost Clayton Kershaw for all of April and still won the division by six games. Assuming Jansen returns to his established level of effectiveness by mid-May, his surgery should have little impact on their season.