Kenley Jansen is Getting Old, But He’s Still Pretty Good

Kenley Jansen Save

The Dodgers barely defeated the Cubs on Thursday afternoon by a score of 2-1 to stave off a sweep at Wrigley Field. In the bottom of the ninth Kenley Jansen entered the game to record the save and gave up a two-out solo home run to Albert Almora Jr. that cut the lead to one run. The Dodgers were up 2-0 entering that inning, so the margin was pretty slim. Kenley did strike out David Bote to end the game however but it got me thinking. Kenley Jansen is getting old, man.

I hear people talking about Kenley a lot these days, on this site and others. It’s all over social media at times especially during the ninth inning of a close game. I watched Kenley pitch on Thursday and during his last couple of outings closely and I can tell you all that this Kenley, this modern version of Kenley is nothing like the peak Kenley that we have been used to. And that’s ok.

Jansen is 31-years old. The Dodgers signed him to a 5-year 80 million dollar contract in 2017. At that time Kenley was still in peak form. During that 2017 season Kenley posted a 1.32 ERA in 65 appearances. He struck out 109 and walked only 7. Jansen allowed just five home runs that year and struck out 14.4 per nine. He gave up just 5.8 hits per nine and finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting as well. He was the usual dominant Kenley that we all knew and loved. Even though he gave up a game-tying home run to Marwin Gonzalez in game 2 of the World Series we still loved him.

He is still the greatest closer in Dodgers history. He’s saved 276 games over the course of his brilliant Dodger career. But let’s be honest with each other. Kenley is not the same pitcher he once was. He’s in his tenth season as a Dodger and has pitched in a lot of games. There’s a lot of mileage on that body, including battling a major heart problem too. It’s just a fact of life folks. Father time cares not for how talented any player is. Nobody can avoid getting old. Not even Kenley Jansen.

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That’s why it’s important to understand this. It’s a good idea to temper our expectations with Kenley. For what it’s worth Kenley is still a pretty darn good pitcher but we can’t pretend that he’s anywhere near the level of dominance that he used to be at. It started in 2018 and it’s still happening this season as well. Last year Kenley allowed 13 home runs after never having a season where he gave anymore than 6. Through 69 games in 2018 Kenley posted a 3.01 ERA. Before that he had never posted an ERA over 2.76. This year he has a 3.55 ERA through 12.2 innings. His strikeout rates have decreased. His ERA has gone up and he’s giving up more home runs and more base runners that usual. Advanced metrics agree that his pitching is not as good as it once was. His FIP in 2018 was 4.03, compared to 1.31 the year before. His FIP this year so far is 3.98. That tells you something.

His pitches just don’t move as much anymore, or so I originally thought. There’s not as much cut on his cutter. Sure his velocity is down maybe a tick. He’s still throwing in the 92-94 range, which was not far from what he used to be at. His four-seamer never reached above 95 normally anyways. But it seemed as though his cutters weren’t you know, cutting as much.

But looking at the data it seems it’s not as prevalent as I thought. Yes he’s lost a little bit of movement on his pitches, but not a lot. So far in 2019 his cutter has a spin rate of 2593, according to the data. In 2018 his cutter had a spin rate of 2601 and in 2017 it registered a spin rate of 2611. He seems to be throwing his cutter and four-seamer more than ever and using his slider less and less. He’s only throwing his slider 4.1% of the time in 2019. In 2017 he threw it 8.0% of the time. That’s a pretty big drop-off.

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So why is Kenley giving up more hits if his cutter is moving normally and his velocity is stabilized? It’s location basically. That and poorer pitch sequencing. I think Kenley should try and throw more sliders and I don’t know why he’s stopped throwing them as much as he used to. He’s leaving to many pitches up in the zone because he can’t locate as well as he used. That’s probably from general age and decline and nothing more.

Kenley is still a pretty good pitcher. He’s not as dominant as he once was and maybe he never will be again. That’s why it’s important for the Dodgers to surround Kenley with good middle relievers in front of him. In the meantime everyone should give Kenley a break. He’s still the greatest closer in franchise history that pitched with a major heart problem. He’s just getting old, but aren’t we all?

Scott Andes

Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Former Co-editor of Lasorda's Lair. Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic Cheap MLB Tickets

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27 thoughts on “Kenley Jansen is Getting Old, But He’s Still Pretty Good

  1. SEEM LIKE JANSON WHEN HE GIVES UP RUNS IT IS ALWAYS A HOME RUN.. AND THAT IS THE SAME FOR KERSHAW THAT MUST MEAN THE BALL IS NOT AS FAST AS IT USE TO BE ..AND IT DOESNT MOVE

  2. I care less that he gives up homers as long as they still win. He could give up 50 and save 50 games and that is not a bother..as long as they win. Belli on the mark to shatter Utley’s total base record before May. Mark is 85, Belli has 84 with 4 days left in the month.

    1. Michael, concur IF Dodgers win the game but lets’s take a look at the current 2019 HR Tacker:
      Dodgers 46…2nd only to the Brewers and of course Brewers do play in a more HR friendly park.
      Opponents 38… And ONLY the Cardinals and Brewer’s pitching staffs in the NL have allowed more.

      1. True Paul, but a majority of those dingers have come against the starters. Ryu has allowed 6, Maeda 5, Stripling 4, Kershaw, 2 Urias, 2 Stewart, 2 Buehler 2. Hill makes his debut this Sunday. No reliever has allowed more than 3. And 4 of the relievers have done that, Jansen, Ferguson, Kelly, and Garcia have all given up 3 dingers. Only untouched reliever on the roster, Floro, who has not given up any. So I am not particularly alarmed by Jansen’s dingers. He is pitching better than he did early last year. He has only blown 1 save, and the team came back and won that game. Dodger Stadium the last few years has been more homer friendly. A little aside here, the Giants are discussing moving the CF fence in at AT&T Park.

        1. Michael, as you may recall, Dodger Stadium was actually made HR friendly back just before the 1973 Season when they lowered the fences a couple of feet and moved them in all around by 5 FT. Before the 1969 season they moved home plate up 10 FT. closer to CF and why? Well for one thing I recall in 1968 the Dodgers hit a total of only 67 HR’s that year with former Giant Len Gabrielson leading the club with 10. But I also recall what Zaidi said when Dodges began last year going 16 and 26. It was mainly because Dodgers were being out homered by the opposition, thereby making it impossible to win any close games. My final thought here is that if this pitching staff can do a better job at keeping the ball in the yard, Dodgers would not have to rely on hitting tons of HR’s themselves.

  3. Gaskanly Jansen does not hit his spots with much consistency, yes his velocity is down thus when a spot is missed the ball flies out of the park. I happen to care that he is getting touched up with HRs in just about every appearance he makes, why, because if he gets touched up against all the teams in the league in the regular season, he is going to be touched up, felt up and stripped naked against the better teams in the post season. Under the current situation in our bullpen Gaskanley is our closer by default not our closer by merit. On another team, Gaskanley would very likely be relegated to a much smaller and less significant role.

    1. Hello True Blue, I concur and KJ is not the only BP pitcher that is serving the HR’s up. The starters have been serving them up as well, and for the most part if this keeps up, we will not be winning as many close games. Again, while Bellinger and Verdugo did hit 3 run HR’s against the Cubs, the Cubs won 2 of 3 in part because they out homered the Dodgers in those 3 games.

  4. Kenley good? I think that is a bit generous.

    He definitely is one of the best closers the Dodgers ever had. We cannot take that away from him, and we appreciate everything he has accomplished. But, you have to agree that he can no longer close the deal…. that is what “Closers” are supposed to do. He is no more effective as Baez or Kelly, today. A high paid closer has to “Close”, bottom line. Now the Dodgers are stuck with his guaranteed contact for three more years. Hard to make a move for legitimate closer, when they owe Kenley so much. Dodgers screwed up signing him to a long term deal, and can only blame themselves. It is not Kenley’s fault.

    It is frustrating to watch, as Kenley demonstrates his diminished abilities. It is obvious he will never be the same Kenley we once knew. The real problem is that he continues to think he can still mow guys over with his cutter, and he still thinks he does not have to hold runners on. He still talks a big game too. Those days are gone. Right now, he is too predictable. Major league batters are drooling, waiting to get their shot at exploiting his weaknesses. They are no longer afraid. Before, they were shaking in their cleats when they saw him coming in…. swinging with their eyes closed, hoping to make contact. He needs to face reality, and try to reinvent himself. He is sort of in same situation as Kershaw. At least Kershaw is trying to change his approach.

    Kenley is just another arm in the bullpen now…. just a fair arm. Not great, not good…. just fair.

  5. The Dodgers are on pace to set a franchise record for home runs. Yet they’re also leading the NL in contact rate and striking out less than last year. Andrew Friedman explained the old-school strategy behind the trend:

    “I think the whole team offense approach is predicated on working good at-bats, passing the baton, moving the baseball, getting guys in from third,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “All of those things are easy to say and with that, I think there’s an approach component, and also a selection component of the guys who are on your roster. And it’s a focal point when we’re putting together our roster, and it’s a focal point for our hitting guys when they’re talking about approach for that game.”

    More here:

    https://www.ocregister.com/2019/04/26/dodgers-bucking-a-trend-by-striking-out-less-while-homering-more-in-2019/

    1. Striking out less? They currently have 6 players with 20 strikeouts or more in less than 100 at bats. Muncy, 28 in 78 at bats, Seager, 23 in 94, Hernandez, 23 in 84, Pollock, 23 in 99, Turner, 20 in 92, and Taylor, 20 in 63. The only players not striking out about once every 4 at bats is Bellinger & Verdugo has struck out 8 times in 58 at bats. Granted, when they are hitting on all cylinders, the offense can be potent. But they are still tooo homer happy.

      1. Facts:

        Through Thursday, the Dodgers owned both the NL’s lowest strikeout percentage (20.9) and its highest contact rate (79.0).

        I think, Michael, you are (or would be) shocked at how high the strikeout rates are across MLB.

        1. Not anymore..these morons seem to think striking out is not a bad thing. As a team they might have the lowest rate, but Muncy’s are up as is Turners. Taylor just has always struck out a lot. Nobody is like DiMaggio anymore. That kind of strike recognition, plus the fact that the umps zones are so damn willy nilly has added to the totals.

  6. Another double digit night in strikeouts…. 10 to be exact. That, along with 2-8 RISP and 7 LOB. Yes, they won by a comfortable 6-2, but could you imagine how dominating this team could be if they could just cash in on those blown scoring opportunities?

    More runs means more cushion for the pitching staff. Starters would could relax and get into their “cruise” mode, meaning fewer wasted pitches, and maybe lasting 7 innings. Relievers could do what they are paid to do, “relieve”, and not be stressed, overworked, and abused. They would not need to rely on Kenley every night to slam the door, saving him for real critical “Save” situations.

    Don’t know where Friedman is getting his stats from, but you don’t need a spreadsheet to tell the true story.

    Well, the long layoff has definitely cooled off Pederson. Hernandez is more effective in the 6 or 7 hole. Barnes had a great night. Bellinger continues his MVP year performance. Got to get Verdugo in the game…. why not sit Pollock more? Did the Dodgers promise exclusive starting rights in CF to Pollock, in his contract? Ryu loves home cooking (Koreatown is tops in the country) A very impressive and strong 7 inning performance…. kept Kelly out of the game, and gave Jansen some rest. JT still getting the hits, but lacks power. Also seems to have lost a bit on defense…. about 1/2 a step. He needs a break. Maybe a stint on the IL.

    The left-handed bat lineup is definitely outperforming the the right-handed bats. The only way to improve Pederson’s numbers against Lefties is to give him a chance to face lefties. As long as the Dodgers continue to sit him when lefties pitch, he will remain the one dimensional hitter the Dodgers have created. The Dodgers’ excessive tendency to play the lefty/righty card, has definitely taken a toll on the players, turning them into one dimensional clones, batters and pitchers alike.

    1. They are not paying Pollock 55 million to sit him more. He is the starting CF. And his track record says he can hit. You want to sit someone? How about sitting Taylor’s worthless rear end in OKC? They have totally gone against the grain because this is the way Ol Andy built his team. As to who plays, we all know Roberts gets info from above. Your suggestions make sense, to us fans. Ol Andy would just smile at you. Me, I bench Kike against RHP, move Muncy to 2nd, Belli back to first, and Verdugo over in right. By the way, Of the 94 career homers he has hit, only 2 have come before May 1st. I am talking about Turner, so his lack of power is not a real concern….yet…..He hit some balls in Chicago that would gone out but were knocked down by the weather.

    2. Your last paragraph says it all here as far as I am concerned. Your last sentence also indicates why Dodgers not only won’t win a WS but may not even get in because we have no chance against an AL team that does not have a lineup full of marginally made players. If you recall that was a HUGE reason why we were no contest for the Red Sox last year. Dodgers have an exposed weakness and that is a lack of any real production from the RH bats.

  7. Bluto,

    Not that I do not believe these “Numbers” you keep quoting, you being the expert on ANAL-ytics, and all. Over what timespan are we looking at…. 5 years? ten years? All-time?

    We need to see the numbers for the last two-three years, you know… sort of “What have you done for us lately” kind of stats.

    What we are seeing on the field “today” is not reflective of the stats you want us to hang our Dodger caps on. I do not think my eyes are deceiving me, those are real strikeouts I am seeing, aren’t they? The box score does not lie, does it?

    Are you looking at Friedman’s spreadsheets? If so, I would not trust them.

    1. I’m having a hard time separating the silliness from the actual question there BlueFan, can you reply simply with the question you are asking of me?

  8. Michael,

    I agree, that CT3 should definitely sit, or go down to OKC to work things out.

    I like the Muncy or Kiké at 2nd, Bellinger at 1st, and Verdugo in RF.

    Pederson should be every day LF, until he proves the naysayers right, and cannot hit lefties. That leaves CT3 as odd man out.

    As far as Pollock…. just because he makes $55M, does not mean he deserves the right to play everyday. His guaranteed starting spot due to salary/contract is exactly what is wrong with MLB today. With these kinds of stipulations, it prevents a team with playing their best hand. That $55 Million Dollar Man becomes a liability, rather than an asset.

    The Dodgers are fairing well enough in the early season, so it would be a great opportunity to give JT a rest and heal his wounds. I do believe he will comeback strong as the season progresses. What worries me is if they continue to play him, his injuries will not get better, and they can only get worse.

    1. I totally agree with that, BUT, we all know they are not spending that kind of cash on a bench guy. Pollock at least is a proven MLB player and his track record says he will hit. I think the more comfortable he becomes as a Dodger, he will improve a lot.

  9. Hilarious Bluto,

    Simple question. Must I repeat it? What do your numbers represent? Over what time period? Is it over 5 years? 10 years? Or 1 year? 2 years?

    If it is over the last 5-10 years, they do not make sense. It does not represent what the Dodgers are doing NOW! It does not represent what we see in the box scores day after day.

    1. Well, if you read the article I linked to, you would know from the headline it’s an article about 2019.

      EVEN EASIER

      Read the sentence that I pulled, “Through Thursday, the Dodgers owned both the NL’s lowest strikeout percentage (20.9) and its highest contact rate (79.0).”

      You would see it’s talking about this season, through Thursday.

      But that was so obvious, I think you must be asking about something else….

      I also have to confess you usage of quotation marks has me perplexed. Why are numbers and today in quotes?

  10. Thanks for the clarification…. I still do not believe it, but just shows you how ANAL-ytics can mislead you into thinking everything is honky-dori.

    1. Everything is hunky-dory!

      The team is coming off back-to-back WS and is in first place!

      I love when people don’t believe facts.

      Where are you on Global Warming? Thermodynamics? Algebra?

      1. The Earth has always been warming, or cooling. Long before man ( or cows).

        Heck, In the 70s you were telling us an Ice Age was coming.

        1. Who is the “you” in that statement? Was there a Bluto in the 70s posting on a moderately populated Dodgers Blog?

          Anyway, for the first line… Thanks for that, any other useless information in your brain?

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