The Dodgers are 80-0 when leading after eight innings this season. Most of that is due to the magnificent season closer Kenley Jansen is having.
There is no doubt that Clayton Kershaw is one of, if not the best pitcher on planet Earth. Is he the most valuable pitcher on the Dodgers though? The Dodgers excelled with Kershaw on the DL last season and this year they managed to stay hot when he missed time due to a back strain. If Kenley Jansen went down, the Dodger bullpen would be in a world of hurt. This is true despite the fact the Dodgers rank third in MLB in bullpen ERA.
They would likely plug Brandon Morrow in as the closer even though he has no closer experience. You don’t even have to mention the possibility of Pedro Baez having to close out a game, or Tony Watson unless you want to make Dodger fans sick.
While Los Angeles needs Kershaw to have any remote chance of winning the World Series, they can get by without him in the regular season. If Jansen went down, the Dodgers would be screwed in the regular season and, even worse, in the postseason.
This season Jansen has converted 37 of his 38 save opportunities, and the lone blown save he had, his team still ended up winning the game.
To put this in comparison, Rockies’ closer Greg Holland leads Major League baseball with 40 saves, and he has blown four saves. Craig Kimbrel, who is regarded as one of the best closers in the game, also has four blown saves.
Jansen has been nearly automatic when he is put in to end a game, and given that the Dodgers’ home-field advantage lead is down to four games, this is an even bigger deal. Had Jansen blown the same amount of games as the other elite closers in the sport, LA’s home-field advantage lead would be even less.
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Some may argue that the save statistic is an overrated stat, and there is validity in that statement, but not when it comes to the Dodgers. There is no other reliever on the team that any fan would trust in Tuesday’s situation, facing Buster Posey with the bases loaded and the game on the line.
Los Angeles has plenty of starting pitchers that could come in and throw a quality start, but they literally have nobody else who can consistently get the Dodgers out of jams in the eighth or ninth inning.
What makes Jansen even more valuable is the fact that he can go two innings whenever the Dodgers need him. He is not one of today’s prototypical closers who just come in for the ninth innings; he will come in whenever Dave Roberts calls on him and consistently comes through.
One of the issues the middle relievers have had this year is lead off walks. Walks are just not something that often happens with Jansen on the mound. This season he has 101 strikeouts and a mere seven walks. Jansen did not even give up a walk until late June. This has contributed to his stellar 0.75 WHIP, and Jansen definitely makes opponents have to be able to hit off him to score which is very hard to do.
While many debate the actual impact the save statistic has, the Dodgers know they have a stopper at the end of games when they put in Kenley Jansen. More often than not, when push comes to shove with the game on the line, Jansen is the one that does the pushing.
His ability to be nearly automatic in ending games is part of the reason that the Dodgers currently hold the best record in baseball. Without him, Los Angeles may find themselves chasing the Nationals for NL home-field advantage.
Many, including myself, were against giving a closer an average salary of $18 million a year but there is no doubt Jansen is one of, if not the most valuable pitcher on the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers.