As usual, the most scrutinized part of the Dodgers through the first third or so of the 2021 has been their bullpen. If there has been a weakness of the dominant Dodgers teams over the past few years, it has been their bullpen, but most of the time it's actually sneaky good. Unsurprisingly, that's mostly been the case this year.
The main stalwarts of the bullpen are, as we all know, Kenley Jansen, Blake Treinen, Jimmy Nelson, and Victor Gonzalez. These are the lockdown guys who cover the late innings of close games, in which Jansen usually tackles the 9th inning. These guys have been some of the best in all of baseball, however, the same cannot be said for the other half of the 'pen.
While David Price and Joe Kelly have been okay, their only flaw inconsistency, the revolving cast of "mop-up" or "low-leverage" guys has been spectacularly underwhelming, with guys like Dennis Santana (recently DFA'd), Mitch White, Alex Vesia, Garrett Cleavinger, Edwin Uceta, Nate Jones, and Phil Bickford often struggling to close out games in which the Dodgers have very comfortable leads. While this can be annoying to watch, the Dodgers haven't lost any games like that. The problem, though, occurs when one of the high leverage guys has to warm up or come in to slam the door on a game which the Dodgers lead by 5 or more runs late.
Jones and Bickford are probably here to stay, as they've showed dominant, swing and miss stuff in a lot of their outings to go along with their poor ones. The other young guys, while they probably won't have have major roles in the bullpen this year, show promise for development in the future. However, they haven't proven themselves good enough to have a stable spot in the Dodgers bullpen. Luckily, though, that won't matter come postseason time, so you needn't worry about it. The only guys who's performances really matter long term are 4-headed monster (it works, trust me) of Jansen, Treinen, Nelson, and Gonzalez. So let's see how they've been doing, because that's the only thing that really matters and could cause concern in the long run of the season.
Kenley Jansen, the best closer in franchise history, who has been (somewhat undeservingly) maligned by fans over the past 3 years appears to have recaptured much of what made him the best closer in the baseball in 2016-17. He has a 1.63 ERA and 3.44 FIP, suggesting that he has been lucky in terms of some hard hit balls becoming outs, but those are still good numbers. More importantly, however, his ground ball percentage is up and his home run percentage is way down from what it had been during his down years. While his numbers likely will never completely return to what they were back in the day, he's been remarkably effective and his velocity has dramatically ticked up to 95-97 mph on his sinker and 92-93 on his cutter due to a mechanical change in his delivery. The one knock on Kenley this season would be the walks, which are on pace to blow by his career high, but his walk rate has dropped much closer to an acceptable number over the past month or so and he has given up fewer hits than any other reliever in baseball, meaning that he can at least control the damage. While past his prime, Jansen has recaptured his velocity and become a master of soft contact, ranking high in statcast categories relating to quality and frequency of contact against him along with ranking decently in swing and miss categories.
Jimmy Nelson has perhaps been the best reliever on the team in 2021. Although he struggled with his command to start the season and missed two weeks due to an injury, he leads the team with strikeouts and in essentially every statistical category. He leads the bullpen with a 1.63 FIP (suggesting that his ERA should be EVEN BETTER than his 2.08). His spinning fastball and hammer curve have produced an absurd 40.4% strikeout rate. He has recently been used in higher leverage situations and has showed up spectacularly. As the season goes on, if he can stay healthy, he's going to be a (maybe THE) primary set-up guy for Kenley Jansen along with Treinen and Gonzalez.
Blake Treinen has been the primary set-up or 8th inning guy for Jansen this season (he's even recorded a couple saves when Kenley's been unavailable) and has excelled. His physics-defying slider has yielded 2 hits and over 20 strikeouts to complement his 99 mph fastball and turbo sinker. Hitting against him looks so terrifying it should be punishment for some sort of heinous crime. There isn't really a ton to say about Treinen except that he's well, durable and effective. He sometimes yields soft hits that extends his innings or grounders that get through the shift, but his stuff is so nasty it hardly matters. He's been a reliable leverage reliever during his entire tenure with the Dodgers and should remain one throughout the season and postseason.
Last but not least, Victor Gonzalez is the youngest member of the bullpen and only reliable lefty, yet, in his short time in the majors, he's showed up. Gonzalez was otherworldly last season, and he's regressed a little bit in 2021, but he's still incredibly effective. He struggled with walks to begin the year, but, like Jansen, that problem has begun to disappear as Victor's found his groove. He excels at inducing ground balls and seldom (I believe only once in his career) gives up the longball, both crucial qualities in a leverage reliever. Because of this, Victor often comes in with guys on base, which he's tremendous at as evidenced by his 84.7 left-on-base-percentage. No MLB pitcher has been hit less hard than Victor this year.
Clearly, these 4 relievers are a dominant back-end of the Dodgers' bullpen, one that could rival any relief quartet in the majors. While some of the other guys in the bullpen have struggled in 2021, nobody needs to worry when these Jansen, Nelson, Treinen, and Gonzalez guys are in your bullpen.