One of the biggest elephants in the room for the 2019 Dodgers is the current lack of dominance from Kenley Jansen. The franchise leader in saves is followed around by a singular, uncomfortable narrative:
He has not been the same since the 2017 World Series. MLB Quality of Pitch, take it away!
#Dodgers Kenley Jansen Pitch Quality Decline
2017 (5.50 QOPA) (1.32 ERA)
2018 (4.63 QOPA) (3.01 ERA)
2019 (4.35 QOPA) (3.72 ERA) pic.twitter.com/NFq4kzSSGe
— MLB Quality of Pitch (@qopbaseball) July 17, 2019
Two fun/not fun takeaways from this breakdown:
- His Location% has declined from a high of 99 in 2017, to 80 in 2018, to a career worst 67 in 2019
- His Velocity% fell from 89 and 88 in 2017 and 2018 respectively, to 78 in 2019
Moreover, in 2017, the Dodgers were 59-6 in games in which Jansen made an appearance. They went 54-15 in 2018. As of July 29, the team is 34-7 in his games in 2019.
Jansen threw a lot of pitches during the 2017 season — 1,242 between the regular and postseason — and went into 2018 Spring Training with a plan to be eased into game action. He injured his hamstring late in camp and started the season very poorly (5.59 ERA in his first 10 games).
Kenley rebounded to post a 1.41 ERA over his next 41 games, before suffering from a health scare in Colorado. He sat out 12 games before returning and essentially risking his life to pitch through a heart condition. While he performed admirably in the postseason, his 5.71 ERA after returning from the disabled list was concerning.
After an off-season surgery to repair his Atrial Fibrillation, and a 25 pound weight loss, the 31 year old was expected to perform closer to expectations in 2019.
On paper 2019 is an OK season at-best, but his continued struggles are amplified by a generally bad bullpen unit. 18 relief losses just seem to stand out even more after back-to-back World Series defeats on your home turf.
Is it fair? No. But that’s just how it is.
Kenley Jansen Summary
While he continues to surrender home runs at an alarming rate (1.5 HR9), and is walking more than ever (2.2 BB9), he’s still a serviceable and very fine closer. No longer armed with elite control and movement, his frustration seems to be getting the best of him more often than you’d like — especially for someone with past heart conditions — but statistically he lines up as someone you can rely upon in the postseason. His career 2.08 postseason ERA speaks to this too.
An overview of Felipe Vazquez
I bet you thought this would be a diss track on Kenley. Far from it. We are literally comparing and contrasting two relievers that are awkwardly linked through this trade deadline.
Felipe Vazquez — aptly nicknamed “Nightmare” has been one of the most dominant relief arms in the game since assuming the closer’s role for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2017.
Here in 2019, he continues to find his name linked in trade talks to the Dodgers.
Equipped with a wipeout slider and 99mph fastball with natural cut from the left side, he truly is a nightmare for opposing batters. He recently joined MLB Network to discuss his career, his process and his arsenal.
An easy knock on — or mark against — Vazquez, is his lack of postseason experience. In 5 big league seasons, his teams have never won more than 83 games. But his stuff plays no matter what time of year it is.
Jansen/Vazquez Side by Side Stats
|Kenley Jansen||Felipe Vazquez|
|ERA since ’17||2.53||2.10|
For the 2019 season, Vazquez doesn’t need to be viewed as a Kenley Jansen replacement, he’s a complement. The sheer body of work affords Jansen the opportunity to retain closer duties without much of an argument. Kenley is closing in on 300 saves in his career, and Vazquez is yet to eclipse 85. But it also ignites a fire under him heading into, arguably, the most important postseason in franchise history.
Beyond the 2019 season, however, “Nightmare” offers a safety net in the event that Jansen opts out of the final two-years and $38M of his contract to test the free agent market as a 32 year old. The 27 year-old Vazquez is under team control through the 2023 season for a team friendly $33.5M.
As we see baseball bullpens shift toward having multiple lockdown relief arms, the Dodgers arming themselves with Jansen and Vazquez to pair with Julio Urias and Pedro Baez out of the back end allows the team to rethink the traditional closer’s role. The biggest outs aren’t always in the ninth.
And Dodgers Nation can’t handle another World Series loss.