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Remaking Dodgers Closer Kenley Jansen

Kenley must use more than his cutter to be successful in 2020.



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

Source: FanGraphs

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. 

2020 Outlook

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.

Dodgers Relief Pitcher Blake Treinen Talks About 2020 Expectations

Written by Eric Eulau

Born and raised in Ventura, not "Ven-CH-ura", California. Number one fear in life is dying without ever seeing a Dodgers Championship. Host of The Series Sweep Podcast - link on my Twitter (@EEulau).

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  1. Jansen and Kershaw are going through the same thing. They have both lost velocity and spin rate on their breaking balls. They both need to adapt with pitch selection and location as well modifying their existing pitches and even throwing pitches they have seldom used before (like a change up). It’s not easy easy to change. Everyone who’s had success in the past resists change, until they are forced to change. But that’s where Kershaw and Jansen are now.

    Kershaw is the number two guy behind Buehler, especially in the postseason. Buehler has heat and nasty breaking stuff. And he’s still experimenting with what he can do to be more dominant. Jansen should still close some games. But others should be given opportunities from day one of the 2020 season, so that the best man can rise to the top in time for the postseason. I have near zero faith in Kelley, but he should be given opportunities as well as others. Nobody, including Jansen, should be ordained as closer. Open it up. See who rises to the occasion.

  2. KJ & CK are way passed their dominant years. If counting on them to win the WS, we will be exactly where we are…no rings baby!! It is that simple.

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