Dodgers: Kenley Jansen’s Value is Unfair to Quantify

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Kenley Jansen
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Kenley Jansen /

The Dodgers have one of the elite rosters in baseball, and one big reason is the guy anchoring their bullpen.

Bullpen’s have (arguably) become the most important unit in baseball. They have made or broken seasons. Ask the Dodgers. Ask the San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians who have either had a deep run or flame out in the playoffs because of their relievers.

The Dodgers were able to reach the World Series last year for the first time since 1988 in large part due to their bullpen. The Giants have struggled their last two season in large part because their relievers just couldn’t hold the lead. That’s why relievers (middle relievers included) were the first ones to get paid, and handsomely at that.

The first step in having a good bullpen is having that relief ace you can bank on to come through whenever you need him to. For the most part, that role is the closer; the guy that comes in the 9th inning with a three-run or less lead and closes the door shut.

But with the new-age thinking, that is slowly starting to become a waste of use of your best pitcher in the bullpen. Slowly, teams are beginning to extend their closers into the eighth. Some teams have at least two relief aces and use one of them mid-innings when the opposition is at its most significant threat to score.

The Dodgers ended up using Brandon Morrow in this role. He came in whatever inning, whether it be the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth inning, and had him limit the damage. They were afforded this ability because they had their big man, Kenley Jansen waiting in the wings to finish business when needed to.

Kenley has been used in the traditional closer way for most of his career, but things started to change in 2016’s postseason. In the series-ending Game 5 against the Washington Nationals, where he came in during the seventh inning and pitched 2.1 innings before handing off the Clayton Kershaw to end the game. Then in the next round against the Cubs, he pitched two innings in Game 2 and three perfect ones in Game 6

But since then, the image surrounding Kenley has changed (at least amongst Dodger fans), and his value to the team has elevated even more.

Closers used to be judged (and still are by some) by the ‘save’ stat. But let me tell you right now that it is one of the most meaningless and misleading stats out there in baseball, along with a pitcher’s win-loss record and a batter’s RBI total. And this year was the perfect example.

Alex Colome led baseball with 47 saves while Kenley and Greg Holland were tied for second with 41 saves while Fernando Rodney and Roberto Osuna had 39. Colome had a 3.24 ERA, Holland a 3.61 ERA, Rodney a 4.23 ERA, and Osuna a 3.38 ERA. In 2015, Brad Boxbrerger had 41 saves with a 3.71 ERA. And should I even mention Brandon League? The guy was handed $21 million because of his save totals from past seasons.

Stuff like this happens a lot. Check out Keith Law’s Smart Baseball for a more in-depth explanation on the worthlessness of the stat.

To judge a reliever goes beyond looking at his saves totals. Not only is it numbers but how he allows for a manager to use, not only him, but the rest of the bullpen. Kenley can be extended to pitch more than one inning if needed to.

He had 14 outings in more than one inning in 2017, easily the most amongst traditional closers. Not only that, but Dave Roberts always turns to him whenever even the slightest of problems occur. For a reliever, he probably has the most stamina (other than Andrew Miller), which is critical. That means you can use him more frequently and longer.

He can be brought out earlier, preventing Roberts from ever bringing out the Dodgers’ worst relievers, thus masking a hole.

According to FanGraphs, he had the best WAR amongst relief pitchers in 2017, had the best ERA at 1.32, best FIP at 1.31, one of the best Left on Base rate, and one of the best K/9 and strikeout rates.

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He has been valuable to the Dodgers since he became the full-time closer in 2013 and the Dodgers proved it with the $80 million contract they re-signed him too.

He allows for Roberts to be more aggressive with his managing of the bullpen and enables him to not go to the weak spot of the relief corps. That can’t be overstated enough. He makes the game an eight-inning game at most because once the ninth comes along, it’s game over if LA has the lead.

That mental edge does get to opponents; it’s just hard to quantify in numbers. And it also gives the Dodgers a bit of a swagger because they know they have a rock anchoring the end of the bullpen and any late lead is safe. To have that relief on both a pitcher and hitter is monumental.

The dude owns a career 2.08 ERA and has gone sub-2 in three of his last five seasons. And what makes him even more valuable is his ability to miss bats. One reason for his ridiculous 91.3% Left on Base percentage in 2017 and career 83.5% rate is his ability to miss bats.

Whether it be a guy on first or in scoring position, he hardly ever lets them advance. And if he does, he ends the rally quickly. If you take him out of the team and replace him with a ‘solid’ closer, the Dodgers would have been around 90 wins at best last year, and in years prior, fighting for a Wild Card spot at best.

After Clayton Kershaw, you can make a strong argument for him being the Dodgers most valuable player. Not best, but most valuable. Without him, Doc would have to scramble around and hope for the best when trusting Pedro Baez, Josh Fields, Luis Avilan, Tony Watson, Tony Cingrani, etc. to be the rock of the unit and close by committee.

Next: Should the Dodgers make Chris Archer their main trade target?

It’s hard to quantify his true value because he will only pitch around 70 innings a season. But there are all-time great relievers who’s presence is felt throughout a season, even with limited appearances, because they make handling a bullpen easier, their flat-out dominance on the diamond, and the mental edge they give to their team. Kenley Jansen is one of a kind and the Dodgers need to cherish it.