What happened in 2016: Kenley Jansen, in a contract year, had his best season as an MLB pitcher. He led all relievers in wins above replacement.
We all knew Jansen was good, but his 2016 season was about as good as it gets for any reliever. And he did, basically, with one pitch — his cut fastball. He threw it 88.1 percent of the time, with the other 12 percent split between his slider and his sinker, which is a thing, according to Brooks Baseball.
Things got off to a great start, as he allowed just one run in the first month of the season. Not only that, the rest of the bullpen struggled early, so it highlighted just how important Jansen was to the Dodgers and the bullpen.
“Baez, Garcia, Hatcher and Howell were to be the main cogs in the Dodgers’ attempt to get the ball to Jansen. So far, they have all fared poorly. Baez is doing Baez things by giving up home runs and having little command in the strike zone. While his slider and changeup have shown flashes of greatness, he’s far too inconsistent to be trusted. Garcia’s fastball velocity is down a little bit and his slider isn’t yet working for him. Hatcher is making terrible pitches in hitters’ counts (Paul Goldschmidt might disagree) and is relying far too much on his fastball.”
“The events of the first eight games of the season should be evidence enough — analytics or no — that Jansen is a premium reliever and should be extended. It probably isn’t going to happen, unfortunately. But at some point, the team with the highest payroll in the sport has to put that to use. Paying Jansen $15 million a season isn’t going to hamper the ability to make other moves (especially with future monies coming off the books). The cheap way of bullpen construction hasn’t worked thus far. The bullpen isn’t as bad as it has been early on — that’s just impossible. The numbers begin to even out, but there’s a lot of volatility with the Dodgers’ bullpen.”
Despite a sparkling track record devoid of any pitching-related injuries/health concerns, the Dodgers’ front office opted to not hammer out a contract extension for Jansen in the offseason. Chad wrote about the curious decision.
“I cringe at paying relievers a premium as much as anybody, but that apprehension doesn’t carry over to dominant relievers. And while it’s possible the Dodgers simply want to use this off-season to further gauge his value and then let the qualifying offer tank his market (much like Howie Kendrick), surely that scenario could’ve been brought up in extension negotiations. But that scenario wasn’t brought up and nothing was proposed because negotiations never happened, and the apparent unwillingness to even let Jansen’s people know they want the 28-year-old closer around in the long-term is simply puzzling and, quite frankly, more than a bit worrisome in terms of what might transpire in the off-season.”
His second-worst game (statistically) of the season came on June 11 in San Francisco. He allowed four hits and two runs in one-third of an inning pitched after the Dodgers had taken a 4-3 lead in the 10th inning. Before that appearance, his ERA was 1.12. After, it jumped to 1.85 and almost derailed his season (not really).
Jansen became the Dodgers’ all-time saves leader on June 20, breaking Eric Gagne‘s record. Some opined he was “struggling” because that record was on his mind, but I don’t believe it, mostly because he wasn’t struggling, save that one game (literally).
A month later, I wondered if the Dodgers could entertain trading him after all-around bad person Aroldis Chapman was sent from the Yankees to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres (a global Top 25 prospect) and three others. Jansen and Chapman were in the same situation (elite closers, contract year), so I took a look at the logistics of trading him.
“Why would a team like the Dodgers want to trade Jansen? They probably don’t. But if they could pry a Top 10 MLB prospect and another spare part or two for a guy who, in all likelihood, isn’t coming back, then why not roll the dice? It would bolster and already deep farm system while also allowing them to make a play for a big-time player on the trade market by either including the prospect acquired for Jansen or by making a guy like Julio Urias available, as much as it would sting. Like I said, this probably isn’t going to happen, but it’d be foolish to think the conversation hasn’t already happened among members of the front office like it has on social media and in the comments. If this is the market for an elite reliever — and the price has always been high for elite relievers — then it’d fit this front office’s MO to trade Jansen.”
I kinda whiffed on that whole “not coming back” thing, but I was working with the evidence in front of me at the time. I’m happy he didn’t get dealt and even happier he came back.
Jansen went about his business as one of the best relievers in the game. He was more valuable than some starting ptichers, and that would become clear in October.
Jansen was asked to expand his role by not only pitching more than one inning, but by pitching whenever Dave Roberts needed him. That was no more evident than in the National League Division Series against Washington. He threw 1 2/3 innings in Game 1 to lock up a Dodger victory. He got rocked a bit in Game 3 only to come back in Game 4 and pitch in a more traditional role. Then came Game 5. The Dodgers called on him to pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning after Grant Dayton didn’t retire any of the three hitters he faced. Jansen pitched a then-career-high 2 1/3 innings, allowed one hit, walked four (one intentionally) and struck out four. The walks were, obviously, a bit high, but these were uncharted waters for him, and it all ended up well.
He also pitched the final three innings of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series in Chicago after Clayton Kershaw struggled. It didn’t result in a win, but it showed an expanded skill set for Jansen that won’t necessarily be utilized in during the regular season (at least, not to this extent), but it shows he might be able to do it come October.
Jansen got married in the offseason and the now-famous story is that Justin Turner (also a free agent) and Jansen were convinced to come back by each other and after some lobbying from Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke.
2017 status: Signed a 5-year. $80 million free agent deal with the Dodgers. It has an opt-out after Year 3.