We still don’t know why — and trust me, there is a “why” somewhere, because even those most opposed to League’s free-agent deal did not predict this — but at this point, it barely matters. When the game is on the line, League can no longer be absolutely anywhere near it.
Now, I’ve worded that very specifically to say “when the game is on the line” and not “in the ninth inning”, because I think I’ve been very clear in the past that the closer role is highly overrated and that games are just as often won or lost before the ninth. To remove Kenley Jansen from the often more-important eighth inning just to let League or someone else blow the game before it ever gets to Jansen in the ninth does feel like a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Interestingly enough, although I awoke to a barrage of anti-Mattingly complaints, the Dodger manager was showing some advanced thinking along those lines:
“Tonight the numbers said to go with Brandon,” he said. “Does that mean keep the guy? I don’t know. It’s hard to make that decision 12 minutes after the game.”
But he defended his decision to use Kenley Jansen in the eighth inning against Bloomquist, Goldschmidt and Cody Ross (Jansen retired all three) and use League for the bottom of the order. He pointed to the statistical matchups and said if the batting orders had come up the other way, he would have used League in the eighth and Jansen in the ninth.
“If you want to play sabermetrics, those were the best matchups,” he said. “The guys Kenley got are the guys he gets out better than Brandon. The matchups should have been exactly the way it was. But if it doesn’t work, it’s a bad decision. We talked before the game, the eighth and ninth [innings] were up in the air depending who comes up.
The emphasis there is mine, and that’s actually phenomenal. While it clearly didn’t work out, the process was sound. Jansen should be facing the 2-3-4 hitters, regardless of what number inning it is. All too often we see horrible process that ends in a successful result for a completely unrelated reason, but the process is hailed anyway; here, even though it didn’t work out, I love the thinking behind it.
Well, most of the thinking, that is. Just because Jansen is facing the better hitters in the eighth doesn’t automatically mean that it absolutely has to then be League in the ninth, and it really shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, the options are limited there. Ronald Belisario was unavailable last night and has been nearly as erratic as League this year. No one wants Matt Guerrier in a more important role. Peter Moylan is a non-roster ROOGY. J.P. Howell, maybe, but part of his value comes from being able to go multiple innings. There’s not much help in the minors, either, not with Javy Guerra & Shawn Tolleson injured and Steve Ames, Jose Dominguez, Josh Wall, & Chris Withrow all prospects of varying interest who aren’t suddenly big league closers.
So you’re left with Paco Rodriguez, and I honestly wouldn’t have minded if Mattingly had lifted League to bring in the southpaw against lefties Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel, & Didi Gregorius. We’ve heard rumblings previously this season about potentially putting Rodriguez in higher-leverage situations, and I imagine we might hear them again soon. I’m fine with that if so; that said, Rodriguez had already thrown in four of the last seven days, and so we don’t know what his status was for last night. But he’s shown he isn’t clearly a LOOGY, and he needs to be treated as more of a valuable weapon for now.
Really, that’s the problem. The bullpen was supposed to be a strength, and it’s not, and there’s only so much you can do about that. (Just wait for “Joc Pederson & Zach Lee for Mike Adams & Michael Young,” coming soon to a stadium near you.) So for now, all Mattingly can do is make do with what he has. He’s not going to throw League under the bus, ever, nor should he; but Mattingly can restrict him to the middle innings until such time as he manages to sort out whatever is wrong here. That day may not come, and it may lead to a lot of heartburn when Guerrier is suddenly in important situations. But even if we don’t know what the right answer is, we do know this: it isn’t Brandon League.