Prepare yourself… The season is coming and the questions will follow soon after. As the Dodgers set out to defend their 2020 championship, there are few question marks on the current ballclub. One could argue that most were answered this spring when Gavin Lux essentially took command of second base and Zach McKinstry proved he can play all around the field and remain productive.
But the biggest question mark for LA in the eyes of most baseball pundits heading into spring training was the bullpen. More specifically, the closer role.
Kenley Jansen has been saving games for the Dodgers since 2010. The all-time saves leader for the franchise has been one of the best to ever do it, however, he hasn’t quite been his old dominant self over the last few seasons. This we know.
The three-time NL All-Star showed flashes of brilliance in an otherwise fine 2020 season, but his command slipped late into the season and in October, once again, he all but lost his job. As his control numbers continue to wane, Jansen looked to right the ship with his command.
“The last few years, my command wasn’t there,” Jansen told media last week. “So that was my number one priority to work on this offseason — to put my body into position where I can have great command again.”
Looking back at his best years, Kenley was one of the stingiest relievers in baseball. From 2015-2017, he walked a little over a batter per 9 innings (1.2 BB9) while striking out close to 14 batters per 9 (13.9 SO9). Since then, his walks per 9 doubled to 2.4 BB9 while struggled to keep the ball in the yard (1.4 HR9).
Those numbers translate from a dominant 1.81 ERA 2015-2017 to a servicable-at-best 3.34 ERA since 2018. Fine numbers but they don’t instill that warm, fuzzy feeling fans once felt before.
So now, in an effort to regain his command, Kenley said he changed his workout routine, adding more running in lieu of “heavy lifting all the time.” And so far, the results are showing in the Cactus League. In 6 spring outings, the Dodgers’ closer has struck out 10 batters while walking only 1. He’s also only allowed 1 earned run on a solo home run.
Spring Training numbers usually don’t mean all that much, but for Kenley Jansen, these numbers so far have to offer some feeling of relief. As it should for fans too.
If Kenley should happen to falter, Dave Roberts has options to pitch the 9th. LA brought in former All-Star closer Corey Knebel this winter and re-signed one-time MLB closer Blake Treinen. Plus, dominant left-hander Victor Gonzalez has proven he can record some of the biggest outs in a ballgame. But, Doc wants Jansen to take the reigns. This Dodger club is at its best with Kenley getting outs in the 9th.
Hopefully, this is the year Kenley Jansen is finally back to being himself.