After posting career worst numbers in 2018, Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen is trying to correct whatever his troubles were.
An underlying cause may have been a drop in the quality of his pitches. To try and correct that, Jansen “has become infatuated with spin rate,” according to an article from ESPN writer Alden Gonzalez.
The 31-year-old reliever is coming off a season in which he saw his ERA and BB/9 more than double, his K/9 dropped by 4.06, and his HR/9 rose by almost 1. Ideally, you want your star, highly-paid pitcher trending in the opposite direction of all those.
So why is he so focused on increasing his spin rate? It’s pretty simple, higher spin rates tend to lead to more strikeouts. The higher the spin rate, the more your pitch is going to break; Unless it’s a fastball. A high spin fastball doesn’t drop as much as a normal fastball, giving it the appearance that it’s rising.
On the other side of the spectrum for fastballs, lower spin rates tend to get more ground ball outs, since they break more. The place to avoid being is in the middle because that’s what’s perceived as “normal” and hitters have an easier time squaring the ball up.
Looking into his spin rate
Of course, just having a high spin rate doesn’t make you an effective pitcher either and there is a possibility a declining spin rate wasn’t even his problem.
Since pitch tracking technology isn’t perfect yet, Jansen’s spin rates differ by the source. According to Gonzalez’s story,
ESPN’s statistical database, which might differ from what the Dodgers carry internally, had Jansen with an average spin rate of 2,302 RPMs in 2017, ranked fourth among the 274 pitchers who compiled at least 60 innings. In 2018, Jansen’s RPMs dropped to an average of 1,867, ranked 61st.
Yet according to Baseball Savant, the MLB statcast database, Jansen’s spin rate remained elite last season. His average was 2570 RPM in 2018 and an only slightly better 2581 RPM in 2017.
Baseball Savant is probably more trustworthy than ESPN since they work directly with MLB Advanced Media.
If a declining spin rate was his problem, then it looks like Jansen is well on his way to correcting the problem. If his spin rate isn’t a problem, he may have some more work to do.
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