Why Kenley Jansen can be the Best Closer for Years to Come

by Brandon Gutierrez

Last season, Kenley Jansen established himself as the best closer in baseball. In 68.1 IP he posted a 1.32 ERA, 1.31 FIP, 1.82 xFIP, 109 K, 14.36 K/9, .092 BB/9, .07 HR/9, 1.48 SIERA, WPA of 5.57. Kenley has made All Star appearances in the past two years and has won The Trevor Hoffman Award (best National League reliever award) back to back years.

Great in High Leverage Situations

How can you be the best closer if you cannot get outs in pressure? You can’t. In Jansen’s career in high leverage situations he’s been great. In 142 high leverage IP he’s posted a 2.17 ERA, 13.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, and .06 HR/9. More of the same in October: in 37 IP in the postseason he has posted a 2.19 ERA, converted 13 saves in 14 opportunities, 13.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 0.7 HR/9. Jansen has been able to handle the bright lights of the postseason well.

Throws A lot of Strikes

Since 2014 (age 26 season) Jansen has owned a BB/9 of 1.6. Last year Kenley Jansen broke the record for the most strikeouts without allowing a walk to start a season, striking out 51 batters before walking one. Jansen had 109 strikeouts last year, so he nearly struck out half of his season total before allowing a walk. It is obvious that Jansen is getting ahead and finishing his opponents.

Cutter Ages Well

Kenley Jansen’s bread and butter is his natural cutter. Many people have compared it to that of the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera’s cutter.

Others have said that Kenley Jansen is the closest thing since Mariano Rivera. Rivera’s natural cutter helped him dominate the 9th inning for 19 years. In his age 40- 43 season, Rivera posted a 1.95 ERA, 1.40 FIP, 1.4 BB/9, 7.8 K/9 and HR/9 of 0.45. It is still too son to say that Jansen will pitch into his 40s. Even if he does, him posting similar numbers to Rivera would be too much to ask for. Jansen pitching past 35 is more reasonable with his natural cutter.

Even an unnatural cutter has saved or made a pitchers career. The cutter does have a bigger role in the pen. For example C.C. Sabathia, Wade Davis. In 2015 CC Sabathia posted he posted in 167.1 IP a 4.73 ERA, 86 ERA+, 7.4 K/9, 2.97 BB/9, 16.6% HR/FB, 1.422 WHIP, 4.68 FIP,. He had a 29.1 Hard Hit %. In 2015 Sabathia threw his cutter only 3% of the time. In 2016 he threw his cutter 29% and in 2017 he threw it in 30% of the time and it worked. In 2016-2017 he posted a 3.81 ERA, 116 ERA+, 7.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 1.297 WHIP 4.38FIP. His Hard Hit % from 2015 -2016 dropped from 29% to 24. His GB % went form 45.9 to 50.1. A big reason why Sabathia was able to improve after an age 34 season was because of his cutter.

Wade Davis is a dominant closer who also used the cutter to his success. In 2013 he abandoned his slider and started throwing a cutter. He was a starter in 2013 and struggled. He threw the cutter 19 % of the time and in 135.1 IP he posted a 5.33 ERA. In 2014 he was moved into the pen where his cutter played a bigger role.

This was SLG. aginst the cutter in 2013 as a starter

This is CC Sabathia’s SLG against the cutter in 2016

SLG against the cutter in 2014. This time as a reliever.

Big difference on what the cutter can do in the pen. In 2014 Davis threw his cutter 20% of the time. He posted a 1.00 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 13.68 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, .00 HR/9, 1.61 SIERA, 3.81 WPA.

Jasen, unlike Sabathia is in the pen where his cutter will play a bigger role. Unlike Davis and Sabathia Jansen’s cutter is natural.

Lack of Injury History

Kenley’s only arm problem came in 2011 when he was put on the DL for right shoulder inflammation. He was also put on the DL in 2011 and 2012 for an irregular heartbeat, but that was not pitching related. He got surgery to fix the irregular heartbeat and bounced back from both injuries. The only other time he would need surgery was in 2015 to remove a growth from a bone in his left foot. A big reason Jansen has avoided any major arm concerns is because of his history.

Less Wear and Tear

Jansen has only been pitching for 9 years. Unlike Jansen, most of the relievers/closer in the big leagues today have been pitching since young ages. Jansen was signed as catcher out of Curacao on November 17, 2004. In 2009 he transitioned to a relief pitcher. Throughout his whole life, he has far fewer innings compared to other relief pitchers. He has a less chance of getting injured by wear and tear.

Jansen has been able to maintain his velocity. A list of his average velocity from 2010-2017

Jansen should be able to maintain this velocity due to his past history.

It’s hard to argue that Jansen is not the best closer in baseball. He gets big outs, throws strikes, limits walks. His natural cutter plays up and his history shows he should be able to stay on the field while maintaining his velocity.  If he can continue to limit his walks, he will be the best closer in baseball for years.

Sources: Baseball Reference, Fan Graphs, Baseball Prospectus, USA Today


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