If there’s one conversation topic among fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers that’s constant, it might be the idea of how the team can improve its bullpen. Every year, regardless of which new arms the organization adds to the relief corps, there seems to be plenty of criticism.
At the center of those perennial discussions is Kenley Jansen. Originally signed as a catcher, Jansen began his career as a professional pitcher as a shy, 21-year-old farmhand back in 2009 at High-A Rancho Cucamonga. When he was first recalled in 2010, he often hit triple digits on the radar gun (although his infamous cutter was not fully unleashed), and fans of the club thought his pitching talent was the greatest thing since sliced bread. There was no question he was a keeper.
Undoubtedly, 2016 and 2017 were Kenley’s two greatest seasons. We hardly ever use WAR to measure the success of a reliever, but both those years Kenley lurked right around 3.0. It seems an incredible feat, as perhaps the greatest reliver in the history of the game, Mariano Rivera, eclipsed a 3.0 WAR in 10 of the 19 MLB campaigns he threw.
In 2017, Jansen posted a 1.32 ERA, which was the best of his career. Some fans argue with good reason that ERA is not the greatest measuring stick for a reliver, but with Kenley, it has always been a good indicator where he’s trending. Regardless, his 1.31 FIP and 0.746 WHIP that year were marks that some Hall of Fame relief pitchers never even approached (see Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, and Rich Gossage).
2018 was the season when things started to go downhill. It was Kenley’s age-30 campaign and his eighth full season in the bigs. Some felt that his age and arm mileage had gotten the best of him, but Jansen ultimately underwent open heart surgery that November after dealing with an irregular heartbeat for a number of years. It was his second heart surgery, as the first came in 2012 when the issue initially became problematic.
Indeed, things have gotten better since the surgery, but his numbers as a 30-something reliver have never approached the Hall-of-Fame stat lines he put up in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, his FIP was a career-high 4.03, but those marks have trended downward after he logged a 3.48 and 3.03 FIP in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Moreover, his K/9 increased from 10.4 in 2018 to 11.4 in 2019 to 12.2 in 2020.
Using the cutter, velocity does not necessarily mean a ton, but many pundits know that Jansen’s sweet spot has been in the 92-93 MPH range for that particular pitch. Since using the fastball more frequently, we have seen his velo as high as 95 MPH in recent years, but his overall success rate seemingly depends on the cutter, and it’s not difficult for a fan to know when it’s working well. During recent years, Kenley’s cutter drifted downward with regards to velocity. According to Brooks Baseball, it sat around 92.5 MPH at the beginning of 2019, but by October of last season, it was averaging just 90.3 MPH.
No doubt, the most important feature with the cutter is its movement, and when it’s moving well, Kenley seems to succeed. Undeniably, his biggest enemy has been consistency with his command.
Even though he dealt with a bit of a setback when contracting COVID-19 during the 2019-20 offseason, the majority of Jansen’s 2020 regular season went well. The problems began, though, in September. It started when he gave up three earned runs to the Diamondbacks on September 8, then another five earned runs against the Astros four days later. At that point, skipper Dave Roberts began using Jansen sparingly, affording save opportunities to both Blake Treinen and Pedro Baez when Kenley normally would have been on the bump.
The 2020 season culminated with Julio Urias getting a 2-1/3 inning save against the Rays in Game 6 of the World Series. Jansen, the franchise’s all-time saves leader, was nowhere in sight.
However, as with every season since 2012, Jansen has once again opened the year as the team’s featured closer. Apparently, Roberts will be using Jansen a bit more sparingly, specifically in less back-to-back outings while affording multiple-inning save chances to some of the long arms, but Jansen is still the appointed closer for all intents and purposes.
It’s a little too early to tell how Jansen looks in 2021. His cutter has looked spectacular at times, but there have been other times when he’s missing the zone badly, a characteristic that certainly was not overly apparent in his heyday. What’s more, the Athletics and Rockies aren’t exactly the best offensive juggernauts in the majors.
This season, Jansen is earning an even $20 million in what is the final year of his five-year deal. He won’t make that much ever again, but there’s no reason that Kenley won’t sign another contract somewhere this winter, even if it’s for a minimal one or two years.
The big question is whether he’ll garner an offer from the Dodgers. There’s definitely no heir apparent to Kenley as it stands, although some thought Urias might fit the bill after shutting down the Rays last October. The other thing is that Jansen, especially in his older years, doesn’t necessarily need to be a ninth-inning option to be effective.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out this winter, even though it seems to be a lifetime away. Brusdar Graterol has shown flashes of excellence, but he still has not developed a secondary pitch to put him over the top as a closer. Victor Gonzalez is coming along nicely. Corey Knebel will be a free agent after this season. Treinen will be around through at least 2022. There’s a whole slew of talented arms down on the farm. So there are options.
Nevertheless, Kenley will remain under the proverbial microscope for as long as he’s the go-to ninth-inning guy—a situation to which he’s certainly accustomed.
(Postscript: Obviously, this post was published well before the Dodgers’ finale against the Athletics on Wednesday, but Kenley’s lack of control in this game is exactly why his stock is falling as closer. One of Jansen’s most impressive stats came in 2017 when he walked just seven batters against 109 Ks in 68-1/3 innings of work. Seven walks all year. That’s a great example of outstanding command and one of the reasons that contributed to the tremendous success during his heyday.)
24 thoughts on “Is There Even a Chance Dodgers Re-Sign Kenley Jansen?”
Jansen loses control. Watch where his pitches go versus the catcher’s target. Jansen tends to lose movement on his cutter and control at the same time. A deadly combination for a pitcher.
Knebel has looked very good hitting 95-96 with a very good 80 mph curve that has a lot of movement. Graterol will learn another pitch. Graterol is very inexperienced he needs to learn how to pitch but his ability is off the charts.
There are guys on the Farm like Knack that are also possibilities. White has had injury issues he might be a good bullpen candidate. He has a wicked curve and good velocity when healthy.
No, I do not believe they should sign Jansen although I am sure Roberts will lobby for it as he is an idiot.
Agree about Lux. Don’t agree about Roberts.
This bullpen is remarkably deep, including Price and a few arms in the minors. This whole team is deep.
Roberts’s bad in-game pitching decisions caused the Dodgers to lose two playoff series. Friedman has to build a juggernaut because Roberts needs a team to be much better to win. Roberts loses close games against teams that are as talented as the Dodgers. The good news is there are few teams that match up. He is a Nice Guy a Wonderful Human Being and a terrible manager of pitching talent.
He’s coughed a few hair balls, that’s true. But his winning percentage is over .600 and he has never not made the playoffs. I like that in a manager.
Today is a great example. Gonzalez comes in 2 outs 2 on in the 8th makes 2 pitches and gets out of the inning. Roberts has to give his buddy the closer the save so he pulls Gonzalez after two pitches and puts in Jansen. So Roberts demonstrates no faith in Gonzalez! Jansen has lost his control and right now it’s a tied game. Congrats to Roberts another in-game pitching decision that was horrible. Roberts believes in Jansen most of us do not. Jansen cannot come near the catcher’s target today he is all over the place. Roberts just cost Bauer a win…and maybe the Dodgers one also. Out of control…
I agree about Jansen. He’s already been paid over $100 million. Don’t agree about Roberts.
This pen is remarkably deep. If all of them pitch to their potential it’s going to be great. Not likely they all will, but if most of them do it’s still going to be among the league leaders.
Jansen has no shot at being resigned. And one reason is performances like today, especially in back to back games. He puts two men on with no outs. You can’t do that. Especially against a team who is as hungry as the A’s were for a win. This is not on Roberts. it is on Jansen for not getting the job done. And who gets the loss? Nelson. There is just something wrong about that.
Bear I agree to disagree. Roberts is the Manager! He has stated that Jansen is his CLOSER! Period! Jansen is not consistent enough to be THE CLOSER> I believe that in today’s game there should not be a designated closer. Had Roberts used Jansen instead of Urias we would have lost that WS too!
Roberts should not be allowed to make in-game pitching decisions he is terrible at it. Heck, I would have fired Roberts 3 years ago.
When will the Front Office call Roberts and tell him to stop using Jansen in critical situations? Probably never but we can all hope.
Actually he did not say that. He said he was the closer for now, but it is not chiseled in stone. You can’t say definitely that they would have lost the series had Jansen closed. You can only guess because no one knows what would have happened. The front office is not going to call the manager and say , hey, quit using this guy. And as the manager, he is the guy who HAS to make that decision. My problem with Roberts is that he waits to long to get someone else just in case things go sideways. He was hampered yesterday because of the stupid 3 batter rule. Jansen should have been out of there after the walk. But he could not take him out. As it was, he got the second out and could have gotten out of trouble, but he did not. And I still hate the man on second rule in extra innings. But blaming that loss on Jansen blowing the game and then Nelson losing it in the 10 is placing blame on the wrong people. How about a pitiful 2-21 with men in scoring position? That is why they lost the game. Not because Jansen blew the lead. I do agree, he should not pitch in back to back games anymore. But this one is on the offense more than the pitching. By the way, Umpires took one of the balls Bauer threw in the 1st inning out of play for inspection. Part of Manfred’s crack down to make sure there are no foreign substances on the balls.
I’m kind of wondering what team, never mind the dodgers, would sign Jansen to a major league contract, based on his decline the past few years.
Some team that has no other options out there maybe. But no way he gets the kind of deal he got from LA last time. He is in his last season of the deal. They have younger options in the wings. I think Gonzalez could easily become a closer. But they are probably waiting for Graterol to mature and get healthy.
Jansen is not the closer answer…hope I helped Dodger brass….
I don’t think anyone can predict how many if any teams will offer a contract to Kenley this winter. It will all depend on what his entire 2021 season looks like.
I do know that I don’t want him back here, because if he’s on the roster Doc will use him. We have better options. He’s had a great Dodger career and for that I thank him and wish him well. But if he’s going to be on an MLB roster next year, I hope it’s not our roster…………………………………..unless maybe we should sign him as a catcher. We don’t have enough of those. 🙂
If Sergio Romo keeps getting hired year in and year out, I’m sure that Kenley will find a job somewhere. Just not sure of how much money. 😀
Jansen is a joke. Why is that so hard to see?
I agree Jefe, his time here is coming to an end. Roberts is loyal, to a fault maybe, and though that is something I encourage and admire, when it comes to Jansen I would ask Doc to be more discriminating, as in don’t use him like you usta did. No multiple innings and no back to back. Give him innings with those guidelines and it will be better for him and better for the team. The guy is making $20 million. That’s thanks enough.
Doesn’t it seem like Roberts says that every year, though? Always implying like overuse and back-to-back games are Kenley’s downfall. So a month passes with plenty of rest and no back to back games, and Kenley appears like he’s looking sharp again. Then, boom. Roberts thinks Jansen is reborn again. Back he goes to 4x appearances per week. Happens every year.
Hopefully by playoff time Treinen, VGon, Knebel, Graterol or Morrow will have elbowed their way into a spot performance-wise that will make it impossible for Doc to even pretend that Kenley should still be used in high leverage situations.
As you and others have pointed out, it’s not that Kenley is never any good but that he has become incredibly inconsistent. When you make someone your appointed closer you need to be sure he can give you consistency. I’m afraid Kenley is beyond that point.
As the Manager why cut down on your options? Teams do not need to declare a Closer! Why would you do that unless you are just that stubborn and clueless? Roberts never makes the hard decision. He is always placating players rather than managing them.
Baseball is a game dominated by statistics like it or not. Why wouldn’t a team decide to put in a pitcher that statistics say has the best odds of success? Some pitchers are better on grass others on turf. Why continue to stick with a pitcher that is so inconsistent?
Rather than blame the hitters see this as an audition for a high leverage situation in the playoffs. Does Roberts risk the series because he is too stubborn to use a more consistent pitcher or does he continue to beat the dead horse? Does Jansen have pictures of Roberts with farm animals? Baaaaah
Jansen has a $20 million contract. Roberts has to see if he can earn at least a part of that.
I agree with your point about declaring a closer. We don’t need to do that. We just need to clean up innings 6-9. It’s up to management to best figure out how to do that.
I have an idea, how about they trade Jansen and a couple of prospects to some team who is really out of it come deadline time. Or how about they try and pry Bard away from the Rockies. He probably would not cost too much and the guy has some nasty stuff. At any rate, we all know if this continues, and Roberts cannot let that happen very often, that AF will make some sort of adjustment. And the answer may be at AAA when Morrow gets healthy.
I just came up with an even better idea, lets trade the entire bullpen for a new one.
They could build a new one around Sergio Romo, Josh Fields, JT Chargois, and Zac Rosscup. Keep Jimmy Nelson for a long man. 🙂
Now that’s funny right there.