Perhaps gone unnoticed in this crazy roller-coaster ride of a season, is Kenley Jansen’s superb season. Jansen is quietly having a fantastic year. Despite a few shaky games in April, and a brain fart game in July, Jansen has emerged as one of the most dominating relievers in all of Baseball. Jansen’s under the radar season has stabilized the backend of the Dodger Bullpen. Of course things haven’t always been easy for Jansen, also known to us and Vin Scully as the kid from Curacao.
Jansen languished in the minors as just another below average hitting catcher with plus defensive skills, and a great arm. Jansen was going nowhere as a catcher, and the Dodgers gave Kenley an interesting option.
Jansen was born in 1987 in Wilminham, Curacao. The 24 year old right hander was signed as a free agent by the Dodgers in 2004. The 6’5 260 pounder was a switch-hitting catcher for the majority of his minor league career. In seven minor league seasons, Jansen hit just .229 with 15 home runs, and an OBP of .310. Jansen was still able to ascend through the minors quite quickly. He reached the inland Empire single-A level in 2009 while still as a catcher. Other than 6 games at first base, and one in center field for the Gulf Coast League rookie Dodgers, Jansen was still a catcher. In 2009 he played in the World Baseball Classic.
In 2009 the Dodgers noticed that with his strong arm, that perhaps a conversion to pitcher might work. After all Jansen was not a good hitter, and had always displayed a very strong arm. Jansen threw out runners in the minors at an impressive 38% career clip. Jansen pitched in 12 games for Inland Empire, and also caught in 8 games for the Albuquerque isotopes that season.
In 2010, Jansen was promoted to double A Chattanooga where he continued to pitch. In 12 games as a pitcher for Inland Empire in 2009, Jansen whiffed 19 batters in 11 innings and had a 4.63 ERA. That’s a 14.57 whiff per nine rate. Jansen continued to ascend up the minor league ladder very quickly. He pitched in 11 games for Inland Empire in 2010, and 22 games for Chattanooga. He had 28 whiffs in 18 innings, a 1-1 record, and a 1.50 ERA for Inland Empire. For Chattanooga, he pitched in 27 innings, posting a 4-0 record, 8 saves, a 1.67 ERA, with 50 whiffs and only 17 walks. That year Jansen was selected to the Southern League mid-season all-star game.
On July 23, 2010, Jansen was finally called up to the Dodgers. Against the Mets, Jansen pitched a scoreless frame, whiffing two of the three batters he faced. The next day he recorded his first Major League save, also against the Mets.
The Dodgers even used him a couple of times as a pinch-hitter in 2010, during lengthy games. On August, 26, 2010, Jansen walked as a pinch-hitter, during a Dodger game in Milwaukee. On August 31, 2010 he collected his first major league hit. It was as a pinch-hitter during a long game where the Dodgers had run out of position players. Jansen got a single up the middle off of the Phillie’s Kyle Kendrick. Later that year on September, 11, he collected his first Major League win in Houston.
Jansen pitched in 25 games in 2010 for the Dodgers. He posted a 1-0 record, a 0.67 ERA, 4 saves, 27 innings, 41 whiffs, and a 13.7 whiff per nine rate.
The next season Jansen had another great year, continuing his development despite missing time with a sore shoulder, and an irregular heartbeat. Jansen still was awesome. In 2011, he pitched in 51 games, posting a 2-1 record, and a 2.85 ERA. He recorded 5 saves in 53 innings, and whiffed 96 while only walking 26. He set a new Major League record with a 16.7 whiff per nine rate. He finished seventh in the NL rookie of the year voting that season.
This season in 2012, Jansen has been dominating. Kenley has already pitched in 53 games this year, posting a 5-3 record, and a minuscule 1.84 ERA. Kenley began the year as the set-up man, pitching the seventh and eighth innings. But after Javy Guerra struggled, and lost his closer role, Jansen stepped up. Jansen has 24 saves this season, and has whiffed 81 batters, and walked only 19. His whiff per nine rate is 13.6
Occasionally because of his inexperience, Jansen has moments that we like to call his “rookie moments” That can be expected from a young talented pitcher, still learning how to pitch while on the job. Jansen on July 14 at home against San Diego, Jansen had a brain fart. We all have days like this. Jansen after putting the tying and winning runs on base, battled to get two outs, before allowing Everth Cabrera to steal home. Jansen’s wide throw to the plate allowed the winning run to come all the way around to score as well. What had happened was Cabrera noticed Jansen pawing at the mound, not paying attention at all to the runners. Cabrera broke for home, and when Jansen finally looked up and saw, he panicked and made a bad throw to home. These things happen. It’s Baseball
Jansen later said he had dirt in his cleats, and was trying to get them clean. His mistake was not calling time out first. I am pretty sure that Jansen will not make that mistake again. In case you are wondering, Jansen only allowed one earned run in the entire month of July. He only allowed two in May, and three in all of June. He is that good.
Jansen mainly throws a cutter. His cutter has a ton of late movement on it, making him very hard to hit. His cutter sitting in the 92-95 MPH range, mixes well with his four-seamer, and slider which he has in his arsenal.
No disrespect to Javy, but we all knew that Jansen was destined to be the closer since the first moment he was called up to the Dodgers. There are not many converted catchers turned into closers. Once he ascended to the closer role, he flourished, and everything within the Dodger bullpen fell into place, like someone finding the right pieces of a puzzle.
As the season winds down and we head down the stretch drive, let’s not forget the utter domination of Kenley Jansen. He could be one of the best closers in Baseball right now. Jansen should be a mainstay of the Dodger bullpen for many years. After all, where would the Dodgers be without the big kid from Curacao?