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Handcuffing Relievers: Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra

The previous two pairs of relievers I profiled this week weren’t handcuffs in the traditional sense, they were more of a master/apprentice relationship where the student is beginning to threaten the master’s claim on that title. The Dodgers, on the other hand, have as traditional a handcuff situation as has ever existed in fantasy baseball. With Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen ready at the end of games, Don Mattingly has two extremely good options to choose from, and owners who have one or the other may find themselves reaping less than the full benefit of the Dodgers’ save chances. Like the Bronco running backs of old, Guerra and Jansen may limit their other’s value by their very existence.

As camp opens, it appears that Guerra has the best chance of being the team’s closer, which reflects the situation that the Dodgers ended last season with. The 26-year-old converted 21 of his 23 save chances last year, and compiled a 1.18 WHIP and a 2.31 ERA in the process, all of which is quite good considering he didn’t join the Dodgers until May and didn’t get concerted save opportunities until July. The consensus seems to be that he pitched at or near his ceiling last year, and I can’t say I disagree. His minor league WHIP is a much less impressive 1.57 and his 4.31 ERA isn’t much to get excited about either, but the fact remains that he has had success in the majors, and that certainly counts for something. Still, his FIP was a run higher than his ERA at 3.30 and his xFIP was higher still at 4.07, which portend something of a regression. His strand rate was a strong 83.3 percent, solidly above the league average for relievers of 76.5 percent. Guerra is an above-average pitcher, so I’m not trying to insinuate that he’s going to turn into a bad reliever any time soon, but there is a solid amount of evidence that 2011 might have been as good as he can be, and that’s a hard thing to maintain over the course of multiple seasons. Guerra’s 7.33 K/9 is high enough to make him effective at retiring hitters without putting a ball in play when he really needs to, but it isn’t going to make him all that compelling if he isn’t getting consistent save chances.

If Guerra didn’t have someone as potentially good as Jensen coming up from behind, I think he’d be far more secure in his job than he is, but Jensen is potent competition to say the least. 2011 was Jensen’s second season in the majors and he did nothing to give anyone the idea that his 2010 numbers — 13.7 K/9, 1.00 WHIP, and 0.67 ERA — were unsustainable. His K/9 increased to 16.1, his WHIP stayed almost the same, rising to just 1.04, and while his ERA did jump a bit to 2.85, that’s not much of a black mark on his record. Jansen’s peripherals don’t portend regression either, as his FIP and xFIP were both lower than his ERA at 1.74 and 2.09 respectively. His strand rate was almost exactly league average at 76.2 percent rather than 76.5 percent, which also serves to suggest that 2012 won’t be much different for Jansen than his 2011 was. Hitters found his fastball the most difficult to handle of his three pitches, but both his fastball and slider generated solid swing-and-miss rates, which makes it less likely that hitters will suddenly figure out his game and crush his offerings.

Unlike with Vinnie Pestano and Addison Reed, I see no reason that Jansen wouldn’t be the man to take over if Guerra can’t ably perform his duties. Were I the man calling the shots for the Dodgers, Jansen would be my closer from day one, and I don’t mean that as a slight on Guerra, that’s just how good Jansen is. I don’t love either of them as an RP1 because of the potential for one to step in and diminish the other’s value. In sufficiently deep leagues, I like the idea of drafting both of them, but if I can only grab one, I’d actually rather grab Jansen and hope that he grabs a few saves while he bolsters my Ks, WHIP, and ERA. Guerra will get the first crack at saves and if he can pitch effectively in that role, I don’t think he’ll lose it without cause. That said, if he’s as ripe for regression as he appears to be, Jansen and his incredible strikeout percentage may also be racking up saves by Mother’s Day.