Following a disappointing 2019 season, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen must continue to adapt to produce. His once devastating cut fastball has steadily declined in velocity and effectiveness over the last few seasons. However, he has two other plus pitches — the sinker and slider — to lean on.
Returning to peak form is a stretch, but Jansen can still be a viable closer if he can learn to use his entire arsenal.
Kenley Jansen Average Cut Fastball Velocity (MPH)
- 2012: 92.6
- 2013: 93.1
- 2014: 94.3
- 2015: 93.1
- 2016: 94.2
- 2017: 93.5
- 2018: 92.7
- 2019: 92.1
Kenley Jansen, Insane 96mph Cutter Movement. ?? pic.twitter.com/LKFKUBEQYN
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 10, 2017
A Season of Change
For his first nine years with the Dodgers, Kenley fired a cutter at least 84% of the time. In 2019, Jansen threw his cutter just 74.2% of the time, using his slider and sinker more than ever to get outs. The stats weren’t pretty in 2019, but the stats omit a very relatable piece of the Kenley puzzle.
He had accomplished his job the same way for nine years and then, suddenly, had to make wholesale changes to his approach. Anyone in any job would initially struggle to maintain their peak output in that situation. Jansen was a lifelong sushi chef that had to learn how to make fried chicken halfway through a dinner service.
On top of implementing a completely different pitching approach in preparation for the 2019 campaign, Jansen underwent heart surgery and reported to camp 25 pounds lighter than his usual playing weight. Yet another variable that, for the first time in a decade, was far from the norm.
When professional quarterbacks switch offensive schemes, the second season in the new system is typically much more successful than the first. With a year of new pitching sequencing and strategy under his now tighter belt, Jansen could be no different.
2019 Playoffs (or lack thereof)
Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt and manager Dave Roberts had significant doubts about inserting Kenley into high leverage situations in the 2019 postseason due to his uneven regular season performance – despite his lifetime 2.01 playoff ERA. Robert’s reluctance to use Kenley in crucial stretches of Game 5 created an awkward and emotional decision to pitch starter Clayton Kershaw in relief and a wobbly Joe Kelly.
We all know how that ended.
He is not Mariano Rivera, but shying away from a healthy Jansen in favor of a less than 100% Joe Kelly while tied in an elimination game is still a baffling decision.
Jansen has earned the right to open the 2020 season as the Dodgers closer and prove that he’s better than his 2019 stats. Recently promoted pitching coach Mark Prior needs to complete the challenging remodel that Honeycutt started. If Kenley can learn to throw, sequence, and strategize with three different pitches, the one-trick pony could turn back into a warhorse.