The Brandon League experiment is over

It’s an old cliché, one that we’ve all heard a thousand times: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But what if it is broken? Conventional wisdom and common sense tells us that if something is broken, you need to fix it.

Brandon League is broken.

Whether or not League’s problems can be fixed by pitching coaches Rick Honeycutt, Chuck Crim or Ken Howell remain to be seen, but there is absolutely zero question that he needs to be replaced as the Dodger closer – and I mean zero.

In the 14 games in which League has appeared this season, he is 0-2 with an ERA of 6.28 and a WHIP of 1.40 – this from a guy who is supposed to slam the door shut on opposing teams when he enters the game in the 9th inning with a lead. It’s kind of hard to describe allowing 11 runs (10 earned) on 16 hits with 3 home runs, one HBP and 4 walks while striking out only 7 in 14.1 innings as exactly slamming the door shut. In fact, it’s more like throwing the door wide open.

Even though League officially has only one blown save in nine opportunities, he has come dangerously close to blowing seven others. Granted, Sunday’s win over the lowly Marlins was not a save situation when League entered the game in the 9th inning with a comfortable 5-1 lead, he came one Juan Uribe great defensive play at third base away from blowing his second save of the season.

Were it not for an outstanding Juan Uribe play at third base in the 9th inning on Sunday afternoon, League would have blown his second save of the season. (Photo credit - Jon SooHoo)

Were it not for an outstanding defensive play by Juan Uribe on Sunday afternoon, Brandon League would have blown his second save of the season – this in spite of beginning the 9th inning with a 5-1 lead. (Photo credit – Jon SooHoo)

It’s no secret to anyone that Dodger general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly tend to hang onto guys and stick to their game plan longer than perhaps they should (see Andruw Jones, Jason Schmidt, Garret Anderson, etc., etc., for examples) – Heaven knows they’ve gone way above and beyond with Luis Cruz; but keeping Brandon League in the closer role any longer is a disaster waiting to happen – something that the Dodgers can ill afford while occupying last place in the NL West and six games under .500.

What do the Dodgers need to do to “fix” Brandon League? I have no idea – that’s up to Honey, Crim and Howell. But what there is no doubt about is that the Dodgers need to move either Kenley Jansen or even Paco Rodriguez into the closer role before League puts the Dodgers into a hole that they will be unable to climb out of.

 Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen are far better choices to be the Dodgers set-up man and closer than Ronald Belisario and Brandon League. Photo credit - Jon SooHoo & Stephen Dunn)

Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen are far better choices to be the Dodgers set-up man and closer than Ronald Belisario and Brandon League. (Photo credit – Stephen Dunn & Jon SooHoo)

There is little doubt that Jansen is the most likely and most capable candidate to become the Dodger closer in lieu of Brandon League, but Paco has shown (time and time again) that he is more than capable of getting both lefties and righties out every bit as much as Jansen or anybody else in the Dodger bullpen. And with left-hander J.P. Howell in the pen and with Scott Elbert only days away from returning from the DL, Mattingly will have a couple of other options for a LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy), thus leaving Rodriguez available as either a set-up man or closer with Jansen – and yes, the Dodgers need to remove Ronald Belisario from that set-up role because he too is broken.

Will the respective roles of Brandon League, Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen and Paco Rodriguez out of the Dodger bullpen soon be changing? Only Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly know this for sure. But what we all know for sure is that fixing something that isn’t broken is foolish, not fixing something that is broken is even more foolish.

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12 Responses to “The Brandon League experiment is over”


    Pretty sure every Dodger fan had the EXACT same thought yesterday my friend. Now if only the coaching staff feels the same way! They were just lucky they were playing the Marlins!

  2. Bluenose Dodger says:

    I don’t think Brandon came in as an experiment in Ned’s mind. He came in as a solution. Why fix it or try to if it isn’t broken. I know at the time he was acquired there were questions about Kenley’s health. That was fine (Logan Bawcom(AAA) and Leon Landry(AA) aren’t tearing it up) but the contract that was offered Brandon wasn’t fine. Three years for a reliever not as good as you already have for almost $20M and a $7.5 vesting option for 2016. Ned’s judgement in these things often seems to be blinded by the three year thing. (Uribe, Lilly, Guerrier)

    I am not surprised by Brandon’s struggles. I expect as a Dodger fan in Blue Jay land I watched him much more than most Dodger fans. He was and is a tease. No question he has great stuff but was/is so darn inconsistent. He had one good year as a Mariner closer, shades of George Sherrill’s one good year with Baltimore, and gets grabbed up as if he is an elite closer. I expect he will have games again when he is hot and unhittable, but he is not the closer the team needs in my opinion. Kenley with a career WHIP of less than 1.0 and 12.4k/9 this year again should be the closer. I have no problem with Paco with a shot at closing, but think it is Kenley’s at this point.

  3. bigbluebird says:

    I don’t know if League has something mechanical going on but he has a focus problem on the first batter. If you want to be a good closer you really have to focus on the first batter by not getting behind in the count or giving up a free pass as he likes to do.

    In the end, I don’t worry so much about the closer position as I see Jansen moving there sooner than later. I worry about the 7th and 8th inning mix. Belisario has not been consistent, Howell and Rodriguez have been ok, Guerrier (ugggh), Javy Guerra hasn’t seem to regained his form, Elbert is coming back from injury, but Withrow should get a shot with his effort in AAA. We have been pretty spoiled with our late inning relievers over the last few years but that now appears to be a point of uncertainty.

  4. OldBrooklynFan says:

    Nice article and to the point. I’m in total agreement. I thought for sure that League was about to turn the game into a Marlin victory last night. He came awfall close.

  5. Evan Bladh says:

    The save is a stupid stat and overrated one at that. I wish managers would simply use their best relief pitcher in the situation that merits it. As an example, if the Dodgers are clinging to a one run lead in the 8th inning against the Rockies, and Colorado has Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzski and Todd Helton coming up, wouldn’t you want your “closer” pitching the 8th? In the 9th inning you’re probably going to be facing the bottom of the order.

    I simply think the situation should dictate the use of your best relief pitcher and the awful “save” statistic drives managers to save their best guy for the 9th inning.

    This all goes back to Tony LaRussa and Eckersley and the one inning closer creation. Everyone had to adopt his strategy and I just don’t think it’s ideal all the time.

    Frankly, In think yesterday’s use of relievers was perfect. Jansen, our true stopper in the bullpen, came into the game with the Dodgers clinging to a 2-1 game with one out in the 7th. It would have been a bad situation had Mattingly been saving him for the 9th and brought in someone like League.

    • Bluenose Dodger says:

      That’s not bad Evan. There are a lot saves in games before the ninth inning. To me stranded inherited runners is a key stat, as important or more important than saves. It really isn’t a save unless the game is in jeopardy when the closer comes in. It’s just a close. If he puts runners on then he has to save the game.

    • Ron Cervenka says:

      This is a key difference between pre-1970 baseball and the game today.

      You say Saves is stupid stat, yet the so-called experts say wins and losses is a stupid stat, favoring ERA, WHIP and Ks. The problem with this is that the archaic BBWAA who vote for the Cy Young Award winners don’t see it this way.

      I agree with Bluenose on the inherited runner thing – this is where games are won and lost by relievers regardless of the inning. I believe that the title “closer” was created by agents merely to get their clients bigger contracts – period. (It worked for League).

      In my opinion, there are (or have been) only a handful of real closers, with the best there ever was being Mariano Rivera. Other real closers include Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley and soon to be Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman. Other than that, there have been a lot of good 9th inning relief pitchers who like to call themselves closers.

      I absolutely agree with the current criteria that a relief pitcher (closer or otherwise) cannot create their own Save situation, as League did yesterday (and has done a couple of times earlier this season).

      • Bluenose Dodger says:

        To me wins and losses are team stats. A pitcher is pretty much in control of K’s, ERA and WHIP but is not in control of wins and losses. T Those are personal measures of success regardless of the team success – wins.

      • Evan Bladh says:

        I see no reason why a manager in today’s game can’t adopt a mentality that ignores the save rule. I’d applaud a guy that told the world that he was going to use his best relief pitcher in the inning that is most crucial to winning the game. As you mention Ron, this age of big contracts and agents has made the “save” statistic an important one to pitchers, as a lot of saves racks up a lot of dollars. That is probably the biggest impediment to setting things right and changing a manager’s mentality on the issue.

        If you really look back in history, it wasn’t until the late 80s that the closer began to be used for one inning only. That was a Larussa invention. Relievers like Reardon, Fingers, Tekulve, Borbon, McGraw, Quisenberry, Marshall, Gossage, Sutter – they’d enter games as early as the 6th inning if the situation warranted it. And they wouldn’t always finish games too. That’s the reason some of those great pitchers listed above wouldn’t save more than 25 games a season. Usually because those saves would exceed 2 innings. Still it didn’t keepo us from recognizing their value, nor did it keep some of them out of the Hall of Fame.

        I’ve heard Bob Costas argue this same point and I’m in complete agreement with him. If the game is on the line in the 7th, bring in your big gun then. Worry about the ninth inning later. These are the types of moves a manager will make that can truly make the difference in the standings.

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