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Dodgers' Top 5 relievers: Gurnick's take

@kengurnick
June 8, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings

LOS ANGELES -- No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only. If you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Dodgers' all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | Bench | RHP | LHP

Here is our ranking of the top five relievers in Dodgers history:

1. Kenley Jansen, 2010-present
Key fact: His 301 career saves trail only Craig Kimbrel (346) for the active lead

A strong-armed catcher who couldn’t hit, Kenley Jansen was given the choice in 2009 to pitch or be released. He made the right call, and the Dodgers soon had a homegrown closer, now entering his second decade. There’s mileage on that big body now and he’s had real health issues, but he spent the offseason so committed to regaining All-Star status that he went to Washington state to work with the Driveline analytics team to put the cut back in his cutter. At his best, Jansen is the closest thing to Mariano Rivera.

How important is Jansen’s return to All-Star form for a Dodgers title run?

“It’s vital. It’s vital,” manager Dave Roberts said. “To have a guy at the back end with his pedigree, it’s vital.”

2. Eric Gagne, 1999-2006
Key fact: Set a record from 2002-04 with 84 consecutive converted save opportunities

Who remembers Eric Gagne struggling to keep his ERA below 5.00 as a starter? Manager Jim Tracy figured he had nothing to lose by making Gagne his closer after the 2002 season started, and the payoff was historic. Gagne reeled off three years of unprecedented domination, converting 84 consecutive save opportunities and winning a National League Cy Young Award before his body broke down. He later admitted using performance enhancing drugs.

3. Clem Labine, 1950-60
Key fact: Of his 388 relief appearances for the Dodgers, nearly half (184) were of two innings or more

Relief pitching was different back in Clem Labine’s day. In the 1956 World Series, for example, Labine pitched two innings of relief in Game 3 and then pitched a 10-inning complete game in Game 6. That year, he had 19 saves. It came in a six-year run of pitching at least 100 innings annually but making no more than eight starts in any season. In the '55 championship season, Labine made seven relief appearances of three innings or longer, then did it twice in the Fall Classic.

“Clem Labine was one of the main reasons the Dodgers won it all in 1955,” said Dodgers announcer Vin Scully. “He had the heart of a lion and the intelligence of a wily fox. ... And he was a nice guy, too.”

4. Jim Brewer, 1964-75
Key fact: Brewer posted a 2.62 ERA in 474 games over parts of 12 seasons with the Dodgers

Before Fernando Valenzuela, Jim Brewer was a lefty making his living throwing a screwball. He appeared in three World Series and an All-Star Game for the Dodgers. Brewer was an overlooked workhorse from 1967-73, when the big league club was unable to finish first. He had double digits in saves over six consecutive seasons. Brewer pitched in 474 games for the Dodgers after he was acquired from the Cubs for Dick Scott, who appeared in only three Major League games after the trade, making it one of the most one-sided swaps in favor of the Dodgers ever. Brewer was later traded to the Angels, a rare deal between the clubs.

5. Jay Howell, 1988-92
Key fact: Howell got a seven-out save in Game 4 of the 1988 World Series

In five Dodgers seasons, Jay Howell had 85 saves, a 2.07 ERA and was a crucial acquisition leading to the 1988 World Series. Unfortunately, he’s most often remembered for getting ejected from a playoff game against the Mets and suspended for having pine tar on his glove. He should be remembered for, among other things, getting the last seven outs while protecting a one-run lead in the Game 4 win against the A's, his former club, in the '88 Fall Classic.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.