Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is rediscovering his dominance.
Since arriving in the league in 2010, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has shown to be one of the most dominant closers in the game. As a rookie in his first big league season, Jansen pitched to a 0.67 ERA in 25 games, striking out 37.6 percent of hitters.
Over the next five seasons as the Dodgers closer, Jansen was worth 9.9 fWAR. He posted a 39.6 percent strikeout rate with a 2.04 FIP and held opposing hitters to a .177 clip over 313 appearances, recording 138 saves in that span.
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In 2016 Jansen was a part of a Dodgers squad who appeared in the National League Championship Series and the following season in the World Series. Jansen managed a 1.58 ERA to go along with his 1.38 FIP and a 41.9 percent strikeout rate across the two seasons. He was nearly untouchable.
The first half of 2018 saw Jansen continue his supremacy across baseball. Going into the all-star break, he carried a 2.33 ERA. Unfortunately, some of his numbers began to drop as his FIP and xFIP rose considerably to where they once had been. In August of that year, while on the road in Denver, Jansen suffered an episode of atrial fibrillation due to a heart condition that has been present since first discovered during the 2011 season.
Following the season, Jansen underwent his second heart surgery in November of 2018. The 2019 season saw Jansen make 62 appearances, a similar number of games to where he had been previously. His numbers did spike as he posted a career-high 3.71 ERA. The strikeouts were, however, still present, but the FIP and xFIP, respectively, ballooned.
Jansen returned this year with the goal in mind to return to his previous self. He has done that, and more, as through his first 19 games, he has recorded ten saves and, at present, has pitched to a 1.06 ERA. One of his most notable changes from previous years has been his pitch selection. Moving away from the cutter, his primary pitch, Jansen, has implemented his sinker’s high usage.
The shift has resulted in 99th-percentile exit velocity, 100th-percentile hard-hit percentage, and 98th-percentile xwOBA. Jansen has managed a ridiculous 0.88 WHIP and has seen his soft contact rate jump from 17.2 percent last season to 27.3 percent in 2020. The hard contact has significantly decreased, moving from 38.7 percent in 2019 to 27.3 percent this season.
The Dodgers have borne the National League West crown each year since 2013 and seems destined to repeat this season as long as they can keep the surging San Diego Padres at bay. At 30-10, they are the best team in baseball, having won six straight.
For Jansen, the hope is his dominance continues into the postseason as the Los Angeles Dodgers look to win their first championship since 1988. If they reach the pinnacle this season, it will primarily be on Kenley Jansen’s shoulders to get them to the promised land of that elusive World Series victory.