On Wednesday night, LA Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gave a vote of confidence in favor of Kenley Jansen.
After Max Muncy’s 10th-inning home run against the Blue Jays, as well as Rowdy Tellez’s home run, Jansen was saved spared from having another one of his already six blown saves out of 32 chances.
Roberts mentioned, “Kenly’s our closer”, which is true – Jansen has been the primary closer for the Dodgers for over 8 years. In fact, he is getting close to his 300-save mark over the course of his career. He also holds the record for most saves in the Dodgers franchise since 2016.
As an All-Star, Jansen is a prominent reliever who has just been re-signed for a five-year contract worth $80 million. He is signed on from 2017 – 2021. That’s why it is such a sad fact that Jansen has spiraled downward and fallen from his prime. The Dodgers may have a problem gearing up for future championships because of it.
Jansen’s failings are becoming a big problem for the franchise. One solution includes moving Jansen away from relying so much on his cutter and towards other tactics that could help him continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
What Happened? Where Can Jansen Go From Here?
Jansen isn’t completely hopeless. He still has a FIP and ERA that are way better than the average, and his strikeout-to-walk ratios rank quite high. But simultaneously, Jansen has been dropping off in both skill and focus.
It’s becoming quite a dramatic fall. Jansen was at the top, and has now faced some failed homers and many blown saves. Not only did he blow three saves in the first two World Series in 2017 and 2018, but he blew six more in 2019. His conversion rates are lower than they have ever been.
Throwing a Cutter
Jansen utilized the well-known and highly successful formula of throwing cut fastballs to batters who can do nothing to stop them. For a long time, it worked great for Jansen, giving him success 85%-95% of the time. This lead Jansen to overpower the rest of the league and become that unstoppable force he’s known to be.
But ever since the 2017 season, Jansen’s cutters have dropped in speed and velocity. More and more of these fastballs have converted into hits, dropping his statistical success severely.
For example, in 2017, batters hit .306, with several home runs and 196 at-bats on cutters. Moving forward, they slugged over .429 with 21 homers and 357 at-bats on cutters.
Roberts has been criticizing Jansen’s long-used approach while still defending him as a player and as an asset to the team.
Roberts reports, “I just felt he had a chance to throw a slider down below and went to the well one too many times.” He goes on to defend Jansen by saying, “When you give a guy with power multiple looks in the same quadrant, it decreases your margin. I know Kenley feels bad, but he got a strikeout…Unfortunately, he couldn’t put up a zero”.
Why Diversification is Necessary
Jansen can look to his fellow teammates and long-time friends for the answer. He can use Clayton Kershaw as an example. Kershaw threw heaters at an average of higher than 70%, but over time, that number fell. As of 2019, Kershaw throws more sliders and curves. While Kershaw may not be at the peak he was once at, he still has a 2.71 ERA from last season and has gone six innings or more at all of his 22 games. There is a pattern here. More and more pitchers across all MLB franchises are relying more on breaking pitches, and Jansen has a great one.