By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Kenley Jansen, Relief Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 season: 65 G, 65.0 IP, 2.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 25 SV, 99 K, 22 BB
Over the past few years, the Dodgers have had some excellent closers. Everybody remembers Eric Gagne, but Takashi Saito had some dominant seasons shutting the door, as did Jonathan Broxton for a few years. Last year, it was Kenley Jansen earned the closer role partway through the season and put up numbers that one would expect from one of the best relievers in baseball.
But despite his success, Jansen won’t be the Dodgers closer – at least at the start of the season. That role will belong to Brandon League, who took over closer duties down the stretch last season when Jansen was sidelined with an irregular heartbeat. What’s funny about Jansen’s “demotion” is that it actually might make him more valuable to the Dodgers. Last season, despite being absolutely dominant, Jansen was limited to just 65 innings out of the bullpen. Part of that was the three weeks he missed in September, but part was also the Dodgers’ strict adherence to the unwritten rules of the “closer.” Jansen pitched more than one inning just three times through the entire season – twice he pitched 1.1 frames and once, during his second appearance of the season, he went two full innings.
If the Dodgers loosen the reins a little bit and allow Jansen to fill a super-reliever role, they would be better off than they were with him at the end of games. Jansen struck out a ridiculous 13.7 batters per nine innings last year – ranking fifth among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched – and has an even better career rate of 14.6 per nine. Jansen almost exclusively relies on his fastball, which he threw nearly 95% of the time last year, and mixes in sliders the rest of the time. That might seem like overkill, but a reliever can survive with one pitch as long as it’s good (see: Rivera, Mariano).
With a pitcher that dominant, the Dodgers are best-served getting as many innings as possible out of him. If Jansen could toss 80-90 frames for Los Angeles, he could strike out 130-140 batters with a low ERA and WHIP. It’s nice to have a player who can close the door at the end of games, but it’s also nice to have a player who can hold the line in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings. At 25 years old, Jansen still has a long Major League career ahead of him. He’ll probably take over as a closer at some point, but even if he doesn’t, he should still be respected as one of the best relievers in baseball.
Next up on March 27: San Francisco Giants