For die-hard Dodger fans who watch every game on television -- well, those lucky enough to have Time Warner Cable -- Kenley Jansen has become like a close relative this season.
He’s shown up in their homes three, four times a week, mostly just before bedtime. And although the Dodgers closer doesn’t say much when he's seen, his presence has largely been comforting, because it's usually meant lights out for opposing teams.
Jansen is second in the National League in saves (22) and he's only blown three save opportunities.
He’s not quite Craig Kimbrel of the Braves, but the 26-year-old has quietly put together a first-half of the 2014 season that should get him a spot on the N.L. All-Star team.
On the surface, some of his stats may not look very All-Star like: 0-3 record, 4.26 ERA, 1.39 WHIP.
But those numbers don’t reflect how well he’s pitched for the Dodgers this year.
Let’s just take his last 12 appearances minus the horrible June 20 outing against San Diego when he allowed three runs in 2/3 innings for a blown save. In 12 innings, Jansen posted a 2.25 ERA, allowed three earned runs on nine hits, he struck out 20 batters, walked two and recorded 10 saves. In other words, not only did he put batters to sleep, he gave them nightmares.
But, because he’s a one-inning closer, any misstep and his stats suffer. Toss in that disaster against the Padres June 20th and his ERA jumps to 4.43.
Baseball insiders have speculated that Jansen’s troubles this year have been because his velocity has dropped noticeably in stretches, and in fact it has. As recently as last Saturday, his cut fastball was clocked as low as 91 mph. But, that’s to be expected when a reliever who throws that hard is called in to pitch three games in a four-day stretch.
A closer look show’s that the 6-foot-5-inch, 265 pound right-hander's velocity has remained consistent this season, for the most part. Jansen’s cutter, which he has increasingly relied on as the season has progressed, averaged 93.55 mph in March, 95.58 mph in April, 94.18 mph in May and 94.08 mph in June, according to Brooks Baseball’s advanced metrics. And when he’s gotten a batter in an 0-2 count, Janson’s cranked it up for 96.70 mph.
That type of gas Jansen’s hurling is why he has a 30.2 percent strikeout-to-walk ratio (second among N.L. relievers), according to FanGraphs.
What’s gotten Jansen into hot messes on the mound is when he’s not striking guys out. Batters have hit .417 against the righty on balls put in play, according to FanGraphs. Only one N.L. reliever has allowed a higher batting average. And Jansen's ERA-, a stat that compares a pitcher’s ERA to the league average, with 100 being average and every point below that meaning the pitcher’s ERA is one percentage point better than the league, is 122. That’s 22 percent worse than the N.L. average. That’s pretty bad.
But the one stat that’s made him the most valuable to Dodger manager Don Mattingly is the 28-7 record the team has when Jansen has pitched. For a team that has World Series aspirations that’s really the only stat that matters.
That pressure, and the bright lights of the L.A. stage, don’t faze the burly right-hander, in fact, Jansen relishes the challenge.
I’ll look forward to watching how well he accepts the challenge of facing the American League’s best under the bright lights of Target Field for this year’s Mid-Summer Classic, because I fully expect him to be there.