Brian Wilson comfortable with a hybrid role

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:19
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers will be doing their part to fuel one of the hotter trends in baseball, blurring the lines in their bullpen.

Kenley Jansen retains the title of closer, but Brian Wilson will get opportunities to close, his traditional role. There might even come a day when Chris Perez or, gulp, even Brandon League pitches in a save situation. Both have done it dozens of times in their careers. Stockpiling closers wasn’t by accident.

“We would like to be able to spread the love a little bit, trying to keep the workload down,” manager Don Mattingly said.

No matter what Mattingly does, the Dodgers’ front office made the bigger statement about the changing dynamics of bullpens in the off-season. It signed Wilson to a $10 million, one-year deal with a player option for the next season. That kind of salary had previously been reserved for closers. The Dodgers had to pay him as a ninth-inning pitcher, because Wilson had an offer to be one with the Detroit Tigers.

The Dodgers may have set a precedent that the best bullpen arms will be paid the most, regardless of their title.

“There are a few guys in the seventh and eighth inning who are starting to get a good deal of money,” Wilson said. “Teams are starting to realize that maybe some of the most important outs are as soon as the starter comes out. That could be the difference in the game.”

The trend, if anything, has to see salaries for closers shrink. Many statistical analysts think the traditional use of a closer -- constrained by the save rule -- creates one of the bigger market inefficiencies. Many analytically driven teams have a new closer virtually every year.

It reflects the volatility of the profession. Of the 19 relievers to record a WAR of at least 2.0 in 2012, only three, Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman and Darren O’Day reached that level the following season.

“You’ll see guys going one year and just lighting it up,” Mattingly said. “The next year, it seems like that took a toll on him.”

The Dodgers hope that isn’t the case with Jansen, who was -- aside from Kimbrel -- perhaps the most dominant reliever in baseball last season. For his career, he has a 14 strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio. Opponents have a .494 OPS against him in his career.
Wilson said there isn’t a whole lot of mentoring he needs to do with Jansen, who is going into his third year on the job. Wilson, whose beard has grown a few inches since last October, is a three-time All-Star who led the league in saves in 2010.

“He’s been gifted with a ball that makes a left-hand turn for about a foot-and-a-half, so he’s always going to have the strength,” Wilson said. “We haven’t really talked situations because what’s the point? If you’re going to dominate, just keep doing it.”

Wilson has been hesitant to talk about his feelings for his former team, the San Francisco Giants. He said he considers them just another opponent on the Dodgers’ schedule.

“There are 29 opponents, all equal. It’s a win or a loss and I don’t like losing, ever,” Wilson said. “I didn’t really care who the opponent is. I don’t put much thought into that. I know a lot of the guys on every team. “

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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