Kenley Jansen’s $8 Million Cutter
Kenley Jansen is one of four Dodgers who filed for salary arbitration this week, and he’s due for a big pay raise.
He deserves it.
Jansen was at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday working out, and he took some time out to answer a couple of questions to some media folk who were there fielding questions to skipper Don Mattingly.
Kenley made $4.3 million in 2014, and he could very well double his annual salary for 2015 after having another solid year pitching out of the ninth inning for the Dodgers. Jansen has been an invaluable anchor to an often shaky Dodger bullpen over the past couple of seasons, and he really has established himself as one of the elite closers in the game. Frustratingly, Jansen doesn’t get enough recognition for how good he really is. He has been dominate since converting from catcher to relief pitcher, and he should be getting a lot more credit for keeping games intact for the Dodgers who often have trouble scoring late in games.
Kenley Jansen RHP:
Scott wrote about the Dodgers and their lack of late inning offense earlier this offseason, and this weakness from last year only compounds the necessity for a late inning shutdown guy like Kenley at your disposal. Even though 2013 was filled with magical late comebacks for the Dodgers, in 2014 the offense hit a paltry .202/.279/.275 with 6 homeruns and a .554 OPS in the ninth inning.
The Dodgers still managed to win 94 games in despite of their lack of a late game spark, and a big reason for their success was thanks to Kenley Jansen’s dominance. Comparisons to Mariano Rivera may be a little premature, but Kenley definitely can be grouped with the top closers of the National League like Craig Kimbrel, Trevor Rosenthal and flame thrower Aroldis Chapman. Kenley’s nasty yet beautiful cut fastball is salivating and mesmerizing. He’s even increased usage of an almost equally deadly slider, and his dominating pitching packaged with a cool California Love soundtrack makes Kenley’s success in Los Angeles incredibly enjoyable to watch.
That cutter though.
We can take a look at the stats from Kenley’s last season, and we can definitely see that Kenley’s numbers are on par with the top closers of the game.
44 saves (career high, third in the N.L.)
2.6 BB/9 (he only walked 19 all year!)
13.9 K/9 (101 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings pitched)
1.91 FIP (ranked 12th)
1.93 xFIP (ranked 5th)
Now let’s take a look at Kenley’s value in the ninth inning.
In 62 games pitched out of the ninth inning, Kenley struck out 97 batters and only walked 14 (6.93 K/BB). His opponent’s batting average was .205, and he only allowed 4 homeruns all year. He only allowed one tie-breaking homerun which was to Victor Martinez back in April of 2014 during a mini “slump.”
Jul 29, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) earned a save in the ninth inning of the game against the Atlanta Braves at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers won 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
After battling an irregular heartbeat, Jansen came back from heart surgery more focused and determined than ever. While some have worried that Kenley’s velocity would eventually drop, and his movement on his fastball could waver, Kenley is still striking out batters at an impressive rate with mean movement on his pitches.
Jansen had to make a mechanical adjustment in June of last season, but after that his second half was dominant as ever. During his last 35 games of the 2014 season, he had an ERA of 1.26 with 52 strikeouts and just 8 walks while saving 24 out of 26 save opportunities.
Jansen’s 44 saves in 2014 was tied with Todd Worrell for the fourth-most in a single season in Dodger history. The only person who has saved more? Eric Gagne. So there you have it. Jansen’s 2014 season was historic.
In 2013, his K/9 slightly dipped from 13.7 to 13.0 from the previous season, in 2014 his strikeout per nine ratio up ticked back to 13.9. In 2011, Kenley struck out 16.1 batters per 9 innings over 53 2/3, but he walked more (4.4/9) than in 2014 (2.6/9). Kenley is becoming a meaner and leaner pitching machine, and he’s still only 27 with fewer innings on his arm than most pitchers (coming from a catching position) who have been putting wear on their arms far longer.
"“So many hitters come up [to the plate] and talk about how hard he is to square up and how deceptive he is, even though they know what’s coming,” A.J. Ellis said. “When you’re able to do that against major-league hitters, it’s pretty impressive.”"
Jansen may seem like a one trick pony, but he isn’t. There was some hullabaloo about Jansen’s velocity at the beginning of last season and at times over the course of his career so far, but we tend to forget that Jansen’s craft is still in the process of progressing toward perfection. We may see his velocity go up and down, and he may surprise us with a 100-mph cutter once in awhile, but his talent is still being honed. After all, Jansen is entering just his sixth year as a big league pitcher and second full season as the established Dodger closer.
Does Kenley have an $8 million cutter? Absolutely.