Dodgers Bullpen: What’s Wrong with Kenley Jansen?


As a whole, fans of the Dodgers are often discredited for their gut reactions and passionate criticism when trying to evaluate the overall performance of their favorite club. However, this year, many followers of the team appear to be right on the money with their assessments. While the club has been rumored to be making strong pushes for several possible position player upgrades, the glaring needs are with the relief corps. And while it’s getting to the point when many folks start chattering about the playoffs, it’s hard to think the Dodgers can succeed with the options they have in house—even with one of the best closers in the game as their anchor.

Kenley Jansen has come under fire lately, as many critics continue to bring up that he’s not competing to the level he performed in 2017. This is obviously accurate, but the numbers that Kenley recorded last season were ridiculously phenomenal and may never be attained by him again. I’m not a big believer in using ERA as a measuring stick for relievers, but while it does stand for something, Jansen’s ERA of 1.32 last year was indeed remarkable. Even the great Mariano Rivera, a future Hall-of-Famer who Jansen is often compared to, never recorded an ERA below 1.40. A more reliable stat for relief pitchers is Fielding Independent Pitching or FIP. Jansen’s insane 1.31 FIP last year shattered Rivera’s career-best 1.88 FIP from 1996, which puts Kenley’s exceptional 2017 campaign into even better perspective.

And, while Jansen’s 14.4 K/9 in 2017 was the second-best of his career, Rivera’s best was 10.9, which also came in 1996. I’m not using these comparisons to claim that Jansen is the better reliever; I’m just trying to illustrate how special his 2017 campaign actually was. And while it wouldn’t be surprising if he never reached those 2017 numbers again in his lifetime, it’s really not fair to keep drawing comparisons to what may end up being the benchmark season of his career.

Looking at the here and now, there’s the issue of velocity. While some make it sound like his pitch-speed has tanked drastically, it’s really not as bad as many perceive. Sure, his average cutter speed of 89.83 for the first several games of the year was horrific, but it was somewhat excusable considering that he saw limited action in Cactus League play, thanks primarily to a tender hamstring. In spite of that, according to Brooks Baseball, Jansen’s cutter during July of 2018 has averaged 92.56, which is down just a bit from his 93.84 mark measured from July of last season. Although 1.28 MPH can be seen as a significant amount of speed, it’s certainly not as drastic in the way that many are clamoring. Furthermore, he’s been using the two-seam much more this year, which may be affecting the release point of all his pitches, thus impacting his velocity.

Consequently, Kenley has also been denounced for his susceptibility to the long ball. Balls are flying out of parks at alarming rates this year, and Kenley’s not the only one with an increased HR/9 ratio. We’re all familiar with Clayton Kershaw‘s increased number of home runs surrendered, but even if we look at last year’s Cy Young Award winners, it seems to be happening everywhere. Max Scherzer has already given up 15 this year after allowing 22 last season, and Corey Kluber has been tagged for 19 this year after allowing just 21 in 2017. It’s a growing epidemic which can probably be attributed by the swing approach of the majority of sluggers, despite the claims by some that the baseball itself has been altered in some fashion to travel farther.

To go along with the adjusted plan of attack of the hitters, the pitchers are also altering their location strategies, which likely could be the cause of the increased number of walks. Jansen has already given up 12 free passes this year after only allowing seven in 2017.  Kenley himself has admitted that he’s missing locations. His loss against the Angeles in the first-round of the Freeway Series stung immensely, and he was the first to admit that he was missing his targets.

“I just feel like I almost lost my feel on the fastball up in the zone,” he explained. “I couldn’t get it where I wanted. That caused that walk. That kind of irritated me. I just have to keep my composure in the game.”

Regardless, there was a stretch from May 3 to July 4 when Kenley did indeed show a few glimpses of his 2017 self. During that period, he tossed a full 29 innings while only surrendering three earned runs on 15 hits and three walks, which calculates to a 0.93 ERA and a .621 WHIP—impressive numbers any way you look at it, despite the undependability of a reliever’s ERA. And during that particular time frame, there was hardly any criticism at all, as many believed he was nearing those extremely magnificent stats from 2017. Yet, once the erroneous outing against the Angels occurred, the naysayers reappeared in full force once again.

Maybe three appearances over the last four games also has something to do with his alleged lethargy. He’s been used at that rate all year—he’s already made 43 appearances this season after making just 65 regular season appearances the entirety of last year.

Nonetheless, the biggest problem with Jansen this year could be the fact that there’s nobody else to rely on in the Dodgers’ relief corps—almost like the way a legit slugger struggles without any protection around him in the batting order. Fans are tired of hearing about it, but last year Los Angeles had a legitimate Plan B in Brandon Morrow. This year, in terms of effectiveness, there’s nobody even close to Jansen—or Morrow, for that matter. Seemingly, Kenley’s shouldering the entire load of the bullpen himself. Undoubtedly, as there isn’t much bonafide firepower in the Dodgers’ relief crew, opposing clubs are expending more and more energy on ways to conquer Kenley, and it’s starting to show. That in itself should be a key reason why Dodgers management is doing their best to find more than one significant relief upgrade before the trade deadlines pass this summer.

And the prospective returns of Josh Fields, Yimi Garcia, Tony Cingrani and Pedro Baez should not be considered as significant upgrades.

Indeed, Jansen’s not the same pitcher as he was last year. But, the Dodgers are also a completely different team, especially in the way Kenley’s supporting cast is constructed. Perhaps we’ll see a different bullpen and a different Jansen come August 1, as it could be the determining factor of just how far the team goes in 2018.


64 thoughts on “Dodgers Bullpen: What’s Wrong with Kenley Jansen?

  1. This is why an arm like a Blake Treinen’s or a Kyle Barraclough’s could’ve really come in handy for the Dodgers this season because that’s really what Kenley needs: someone who can also share the closing responsibilities in that bullpen in addition to providing that crucial 8th-inning bridge to him. Unfortunately, Oakland feels they’re all the way in it right now so they’re not gonna deal Treinen anytime soon and I’m not really sure what the Marlins front office is doing with those players they should be pegging as viable trade pieces already, Barraclough included. I trust the Dodger front office “geek squad” will eventually find a way to resolve this issue by the end of the month just like they did last year, but I have to admit they totally caught a break with Morrow because he was not counted on to do what he did in the pen last year anyway….

  2. Btw, congrats to RHP prospect Tony Gonsolin for finally earning his long-overdue promotion to AA Tulsa today! All he’s done for High-A Rancho this year was go 4-2 with a sparkling 2.69 ERA and an outstanding 106/26 K/BB ratio in just over 84 IP (17 starts) while allowing just a .227 average against (.215 vs lefties, .235 vs righties). There’s been talk of Gonsolin possibly moving to the pen at some point, but with a legit starter’s arsenal of the kind of quality he possesses, I’d be tempted to just let him remain a potential rotation option for the time being. He’s currently on schedule to make his Tulsa debut today so we’ll see how well he fares if that happens to be the case.

    Looks like Dustin May might soon be the next one to follow him up the latter along with those two relievers that have been lights-out down there at Rancho in Marshall Kasowski and Zach Pop (future Morrow???). Man that club’s gonna be so loaded by the end of this month, it’s crazy…

  3. You’re right Manuel, no way in the world the A’s trade Treinen today, but they still have about a dozen games left until the deadline and if, by some chance, they nosedive between now and then, they might still consider a last minute deal. On the other hand they still consider themselves contenders for 2019 so might decide to keep him no matter what. A number of teams which are in the hunt now might go south in the next dozen games so we might very well see some players we aren’t even thinking about today traded on the 31st. Teams such as Oakland, Washington, St. Louis, Colorado and San Francisco don’t consider themselves sellers today, but if they go something like 3-9 in the next 12 games might change their mind right before the deadline. Not saying it’s going to happen, but it isn’t impossible.

  4. What’s wrong with Kenley Jansen. Well, last night it was both velocity and location. That’s how he started the season too. Looked like he was over it. Clearly not. Will it continue to be an issue? Ion’tkno. Maybe. If it does continue obviously we have a problem. Dodgers have nobody that does what he does.

    Beane said they’re staying in it this year. They will be buyers unless the wheels come off after the break. There are some interesting names being bandied about, some of whom are already in the organization. Names like Barraclough, Steckenrider are well known, others like Kirby Yates, Jared Hughes, Raisel Iglesias are also interesting. But the guys who may end up being asked to get it done may already here. We’ve got 26 pitchers listed on the stat sheet this year and it’s just now the All Star break. That figure is going to go over 30 and it won’t take long to get there.

    1. I think three appearances in four games also has something to do with his lethargy. He’s been used at that rate all year—he’s already made 43 appearances after making just 65 regular season appearances all of last year.

      1. Hey Dennis, how’s that piece on Miguel Vargas coming along? Kid continues to rake like none other in that Dodger farm system this year. Finally hit his first longball of his pro career a moment ago for Ogden (an opposite-field shot) and so far is 3-3 at the plate. They have him playing 1B this time, but it looks like he’s capable of playing both infield corners from the looks of it. What continues to catch my attention regarding him, he hardly ever strikes out! Yeah, Dodgers just might have something with him after all…

        That said, at least Jansen came back with a vengeance and shut down the Halos in the 9th today. Boy, did he look pissed on the mound (lol). He really wanted to atone for yesterday’s extra-inning letdown and succeeded. Tip my cap to Andrew Toles for coming through with that clutch 2-out insurance RBI late in that game as well. Another reason why they need to keep him in that lineup: the guy usually comes through with 2-out and RISP. Seen him do it all season long down at AAA OKC this year, too.

      2. Haha Manuel, do you have 6 screens in your man cave so you can watch the Dodger game plus each of the 5 minor league games all simultaneously? Vargas really looks to be something extra special. He’s now back to .500 in 44 at bats, but to your point about his k’s or lack thereof, he has 13 RBI and 2 k’s. That is absolutely ridiculous. If you add in his 31 at bats from the Az Rookie team he’s hitting .476 in 75 at bats. Wow! It really was good to see Kenley come back today. He definitely seems to pitch better when he’s mad, especially when he’s mad at himself.

      3. Haha, no I don’t have 6 screens Jeff. I DO tend to audio stream minor-league games quite a bit and usually have the game logs going all at once whenever the Dodger affiliates are involved. And yeah, Vargas is already making a name for himself and he hasn’t even graduated from rookie ball yet! I mean, he’s struck out ONLY FIVE TIMES in 76 at-bats between the AZL Dodgers and Ogden combined so far (btw, he’s now 4-4 at the plate tonight while I’m posting this comment geez…). And as for Jansen, he should pitch mad more often if that’s what it will take to get him fully keyed in this season.

  5. Maybe there’s something in the air at Ogden. In their last 17 games they’ve scored 9 or more runs 12 times. Either it’s the air or we’ve got some fine young prospects.

    1. Oh, there’s no doubt in my mind there’s some prospects on that squad that might turn out to be something down the road (NOT including Vargas since the secret’s pretty much out on him, lol). Middle infielders Jacob Amaya and Ronny Brito (latter already showing some pop in that bat with 5 HRs so far down there) have stood out both offensively and defensively. 2018 draft picks Dillon Paulson and Niko Hulsizer have both shown to be rather polished with the bat and might not finish their stints with Ogden this season as a result.

      1. I remember when they signed Brito. Not familiar with Amaya but I’ll start paying attention. I saw some video of Hulsizer the day of the draft and made up my mind he could be very interesting. Some really nice power there. Speaking of power, the Dodgers signed a kid named Simon Landry this year. I think he’s a first baseman and have no idea where he is right now, but Gasparino said that he showed more raw power than anyone they’ve ever seen at a workout. He’ll probably strike out 400 times a year but his homers will be fun to watch. Anyway, please keep an eye out for him. Would like to know where they wind up sending him.

      2. Wow, they actually signed Landry!?!?!? That might turn out to be one of those sneaky-good draft pick-ups like what Rylan Bannon has turned out to be so far for them. Wasn’t sure he was still hanging around on the day of the signing deadline, but that’s mighty good news indeed. Yeah, definitely start paying attention to Amaya because only Vargas has shown a more advanced eye at the plate this season for Ogden. Has yet to show any pop, but I get the feeling he’s more Jose Altuve than Geyber Torres in terms of his overall hitting approach. Looks like a savvy baserunner, too. Hulsizer’s bat is gonna have to be the one tool that carries him through the Dodger farm system because defensively he reminds me of Justin Upton from last night’s game (lol). He is rather fun to watch when he’s swinging the lumber, though. I’ll also be sure to keep an eye out for Landry the moment he finally gets assigned to a ballclub. Gasparino’s not the kind to brag about what his prospects so if he says that kids got real power in that bat, I’ll gladly take his word for it!

      3. I was surprised to see they signed Landry too. Kept checking back to the list but the one I was looking at hadn’t been updated since the day after the draft. Checked back one more time as I was typing my last post and low and behold it showed he signed (no amt given). Just checked his stats and apparently for a guy with that much power he doesn’t strike out a ridiculous amount, although we are talking a lower level of competition here.
        OK, will definitely try to follow Vargas, especially since you’ve guaranteed that we have another Altuve here. What’s that, no guarantee?

      4. I was merely trying to come up with a working MLB comp for Amaya, that’s all. And yeah, he profiles to be a legit top-of-the-order bat with plus-speed and baserunning instincts from what little I could gather. Very advanced offensively for his age, much like fellow Ogden teammate Vargas. Can’t wait to see what Dennis digs up on that young Cuban phenom, talk about a mystery player…

    1. It’s already happening, buddy! That just leaves Kasowski and May as far as the remaining pitchers on Rancho that have yet to be promoted to Tulsa this year. As for the position players go, still waiting for Bannon, Lux (average against lefties SLOWLY trending up of late), and Thomas to get their tickets punched. Praying it won’t take much longer for them in particular…

      1. He seems to have really gone into overdrive this year. Today certainly made any team that hadn’t paid much attention to him sit up and take notice. Only question now is does he help us get deGrom, Machado, Realmuto, Hand, Iglesias, Vazquez, etc. or is he still in our system on August 1st. I hope it’s the latter. I think he’s going to be a good one.

      2. Expect my write-up on Diaz from that Futures Game tomorrow afternoon at the latest, Dennis. Already going through the game right now. Impressive stuff I saw from him at the plate, too. 4-tool player my behind, he’s got ALL of ’em right now! I’d be surprised if he returns to AA Tulsa after that. AAA OKC should be his next stop at this point. Didn’t see much of Ruiz as he was inserted roughly halfway through, but Diaz was clearly one of the main highlights of the game.

        As for that Sierra fella, couldn’t find anything on him other than being invited to ST this year as a non-roster invitee. Guess this means he’s been finally cut loose by the Dodgers. If so, best of luck to him. Thought he might’ve had a chance at landing himself a bullpen spot on the parent club, but probably wasn’t to be.

      3. My guess is that Sierra is stashed away in the bunk rooms at extended spring training, but I can’t find anybody at all who knows his whereabouts. And I have a lot of connections.

      4. If we had cut Sierra loose I think someone would have seen something in print at some point so I’m guessing you’re correct Dennis. They probably have him stashed in Az. Maybe a good idea you asked about him. Somebody at Camelback is probably hunting for him as we speak.

      5. Jeff, if Diaz is enough to get the Marlins worked up enough to hand over Realmuto in a deal after the way he showed out today I’m gonna do the Pee Wee Herman dance until I pass out! I’m NOT joking around, either…

      6. Suddenly it seems as though our pretty good farm system (only pretty good because of all the guys who have already graduated to the Blue) really has a bunch of guys that could develop into special players. Let’s see how many we pass along to other teams in the next couple of weeks.

      7. I sent a note last night congratulating Zach, and he replied this morning, saying that he’s excited for the opportunity while also thanking everyone here for our support.

      8. Great thought Dennis. I’m sure Pop and other prospects feel terrific when they realize they have a rooting gallery in the home city of their parent club even while playing in A ball (now AA). Maybe this will inspire him to get to Dodger Stadium a little faster (unless we include him in the trade for Manny tomorrow :))

  6. Don’t we go through this ever year? Don’t ALL teams go through this every year?

    By most accounts our system is down the rankings list. I just read an evaluation that said it appears we are creating an organizational foundation of utility players and bullpen arms. That concept making sense to me, I also figure there must be some all or nothing blind squirrels sprinkled in there.

    My question remains – this clearly being a cap reset year, and with more than a couple teams several steps ahead of us, what does management really think about our chances to get that elusive championship this year? Odds makers say not likely going to happen. Taking the “if this then that” perspective, does Machado and Barraclough turn those odds in our favor? If not Machado and Barraclough ….. then what? 538 has us at 11% WS odds. In the NL only the Cubs are better. Obviously the AL teams are heavily favored, as they should be. The Astros, Yankees and Red Sox currently are better teams than any in the NL.

    So, what to do? I’m old, and old school. Prospects are only prospects to me. A means to an end. I say go for it. Send the message to everybody that we are coming after it. We can figure out next year later. And my go for it pick is Machado. If we can add an 8th inning guy too? Great. If not, we have thirtyleven bullpen arms to choose from now. Choose.

    We are an all or nothing team. This is what they built. Get the obviously needed Seager replacement and go for it. If it looks good, with an open checkbook next year convince Machado he should stay. If he chooses to leave, so be it.

    1. Exactly—prospects are prospects, and not many first-rounders become MLB regulars. I find it hard to believe that the Dodgers didn’t bite when Baltimore asked for Dustin May and Gavin Lux. I wouldn’t have hesitated, but that is me.

      1. Of course, we don’t know for sure that a) they asked for May and Lux, b) Dodgers said no, or c) there weren’t more prospects requested on top of those guys until the front office confirms any or all of those points. On the other hand, that could have been all they asked for and the Dodger brain trust may have a steadfast rule in play that we don’t give up players we think have excellent futures for a rental, even if we realize those prospects might actually crash and burn at some point. Lastly, we might trade May and Lux for Machado after the final out is recorded tomorrow night. It ain’t over till it’s over.

      2. I think it’s an unwritten rule that no trades be announced in the couple of days leading up to the AS game. Wait a minute! Kenley just snuck over to the AL locker room and gave Manny a Dodger cap to put on tomorrow after the game.

      3. In the latest skinny, according to Jon Heyman, the Dodgers are now in the lead for Machado, and Yusniel Diaz is apparently one of the centerpieces of Baltimore’s return.

      4. Depending upon what they finally give up (assuming we get him) I wouldn’t be surprised to see Forsythe as part of the deal. If the O’s are willing to take him, they could get a very nice return for 2.5 months of Manny. That might actually swing the deal in favor of the Dodgers because the Phils don’t need to eliminate salary so would probably not give up as much.

      5. Looks like by the time we get to Philly on Monday, Manny will be in uniform. We just don’t know which uniform.

      6. Should be interesting, one way or the other………………………….unless the D’backs pull a Greinke and swoop in at the last minute.

      7. Sure would be something if they land Machado, but end up resorting to using a combo like Goeddel/Rosscup to handle the eighth-inning bullpen duties heading into the playoffs.

      8. I’m guessing that Rosscup isn’t on the roster August 1st. If they trade for Machado, it means they’re all in and won’t stop there. They’ll get at least one, if not two good bullpen guys. Even with all of that, nothing says we’d be able to get the best of the Sox/Astros/Yanks in a 7 game series. It might make us the clear cut best team in the NL but those three teams in the other league are monsters.

      9. If they bring in Britton also, that just means they have to dump still more salary. He’s earning 12 mil this year.

      10. Great idea. Just had a call from Andrew wanting your phone number. He’d like you to replace Anthopoulos in the Dodger front office.

  7. I don’t know there is any legit playoff team that needs a thumper shortstop more than we do. 2 prospect for Machado isn’t that much. And neither of those guys are in our Top 5. Last I checked May was Top 10, but Lux isn’t. There is still the tax cap issue but if they’re serious about the purchase they must have a plan for that contingency.

    I still don’t think they’ll do it. Big deals are not their nature.

    1. Stayed tuned because it looks like “Mannywood’s” coming back to LA! Deal is pretty much done, both sides just waiting to announce it after the All-Star Game.

      1. Matt Kemp just said minutes ago he’s close enough friends with Manny Machado that if a trade to the Dodgers was done, and Machado knew it, Kemp would know. He said he’s heard nothing.

      2. Like Kemp’s gonna leak it to the press, c’mon now! Gotta learn to read between the lines, buddy. Deal’s done, otherwise it wouldn’t have lingered this long anyway. Only question now is, which of the Dodgers on the active roster’s gonna get moved in this deal? Personally, I’m praying it’s Logan Forsythe (haha)…

      3. Hey man, you know if the Dodgers land Machado YOU KNOW Will Smith’s staying put right???

      4. Well, we know that Diaz will go. And the Orioles will need to take Forsythe to make it work financially for Los Angeles. So, who else? I keep hearing May, but it’s hard to even guess how big the package will be.

      5. The reason Machado hasn’t mentioned anything to Kemp is because he’s the guy going back to the O’s and Manny knew that would piss him off. 🙂 Everyone who is even a semi-regular reader on this site needs to be on after the game tonight so if an announcement is made we can argue the pros and cons deep into the night. Sorry, Dennis, you’re gonna be up late tonight.

      6. You don’t need to watch the game. Just post your phone number here so we can wake you up if there’s an announcement.

      7. Well it’s not gonna be that big of a package because Friedman and Co. need to save some of their key prospects (the ones they already don’t have long-term plans for, mind you) as well as another Dodger on that parent club roster (Grandal? Hill? Wood? Puig?) for the other major deal that will finally net them the bullpen help they so desperately need to carry them through the 2nd half of this season.

        Besides, my write-up on Realmuto’s been circulating online long enough for them to catch a whiff of it at the very least so if they’re still going hard after Machado then it either means the Orioles REALLY want them to take him off their hands for whatever they can get right now…or the Marlins are just farting around with their lone star player/bargaining chip and can’t make up their own damn minds right now (much like the Mets and their ongoing issues with their star player deGrom of late).

      8. I don’t see Wood going anywhere unless we get another starting pitcher. Still way too much chance of injury to the starters between now and October. Hill has too much left on his contract and would probably not be very easy to flip because of that. Grandal would be easy for them to flip but I don’t think Friedman wants to go the rest of the year with Barnes/Farmer/Smith as his catching crew. Puig might actually make the most sense of the guys you mentioned, but he may be out quite awhile. On the other hand, the O’s really don’t need him for this year anyway and that would give them 2019 to see if they like him enough to try to re-sign him. I’ll add the name of Hudson to the list. He’s making 5.5 mil this year, so although it wouldn’t be a huge savings, they’re so close to the limit that it just might make some difference.

  8. Like others have said, Kenley’s statistics last season were unbelievable. He has thrown a lot of innings over the past few years, including the playoffs. Virtually all of those innings have been in stress situations being a closer. Especially the playoff innings. Expecting him to replicate what he did last season simply isn’t realistic. I have faith that he’ll be there to come through for the team when they need him the most.
    The entire bullpen has been overused. When healthy and rested, there are a lot of quality arms in the Dodgers pen. Hopefully they can regain their potential form before October. It would obviously be nice to add an impact piece like Hand or Barraclough but I think either would cost a lot in terms of prospects. The Padres will undoubtedly make the Dodgers overpay for Hand and if even made available, Barraclough isn’t just a rental so the price for him would likely be much higher.
    Morrow was phenomenal in the 2017 playoffs, no one can dispute that. But I think Maeda’s performance as a reliever was just as impressive/impactful. Hopefully the starting rotation gets and stays healthy going into October and Maeda can be that guy for us again.
    I’m all for going “all in” this season after the turnaround from 10 games under .500 to 10 over and a relatively clear path to at least the NLCS. I say give up the necessary prospects to get Machado and Britton if possible. If that means May, Lux or more, I say do it! Prospects are just prospects until they’re not and their potential is never guaranteed. Machado is a proven player that would almost certainly make the Dodgers lineup at least the best in the NL

  9. Rosenthal now says no major league roster players are in the trade. Great news Manuel, that means we can still include Forsythe in the Realmuto trade. Do you think Forsythe plus Baez would do it?

    1. Nah, Dodgers feel Baez is off-limits in ANY trade after pitching a scoreless inning in his rehab outing tonight at AAA OKC. A package of Forsythe, Grandal, and Puig ought to do it: a player who does better in Florida along with two Cubans who get to play closer to home. How could the Marlins refuse such an offer!?!?!? LOL

  10. Diaz not in Tulsa lineup tonight. Rios not in OKC lineup. Could be very innocent, or……………………………..

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