Kenley Jansen Is Suddenly The Worst Closer In Baseball, Or Something

jansen_sanfrancisco_2014-04-15Oddly — or, I don’t know, maybe it’s not — the tenor of discussion following last night’s extra-inning loss is less about Brandon League being terrible than it is about Kenley Jansen being unable to hold onto a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning.

For clarity, here’s what Jansen did. He struck out Hector Sanchez on four pitches. Then, he got Angel Pagan to hit a grounder, which is fantastic. 80 percent of the time (-ish), that’s an out. This time, it happened to bounce off Jansen’s foot, from where he was unable to make the play. This is a nothing play. It happens a million times a season:

Then Brandon Belt grounded one down past third base, where Juan Uribe was unable to get to it since he had been playing off the line against the lefty hitter. Pagan wasn’t going with the pitch, but he did have a substantial lead, and since the ball bounced off the bullpen mound and the short wall, delaying Andre Ethier from retrieving it, he was able to score all the way from first:

Jansen then struck out Pablo Sandoval, and (after an intentional walk to Buster Posey) got Hunter Pence to fly to center. The Dodgers didn’t score over the next few innings while Jamey Wright locked it down, and then League coughed it away.

But of course, in the box score this morning, what you see is that Jansen allowed two hits, including a double, and blew the save. I’m hoping I don’t need to tell you how ludicrous “blown saves” can be — hell, Chris Withrow got slapped with one in the sixth inning for giving up an unearned run on a sacrifice fly, thanks in part to a Hanley Ramirez throwing error — but that completely ignores the truth of what happened. Jansen gave up two groundballs. With better luck or positioning, one or both are outs. With better luck, the ball in left bounces in a way that Ethier gets to it more quickly and gets Pagan at the plate. None of those things happened. This does not make Jansen a bad closer.

I’m not trying to be an apologist. I’m not totally blind to the fact that this has happened in a few games for him already, and that there’s a certain point where you have to ask some questions. But really, BABIP is one of the simplest, easiest to understand tenets of sabremetrics. Sometimes a grounder goes where you want it to, and sometimes it doesn’t. The pitcher really has little control over that. Those same balls could have been 1-3 and 5-3, and suddenly we’re not talking about any of this. Those who complain about it have a completely unrealistic expectation of what a closer should be, that he is required to be 100 percent perfect at all times and never allow a bat to make contact with a ball. That’s never happened. It never will happen. Nor will Jansen carry a .556 BABIP on him all season long.

Now, as for why League still exists on this roster…

This Is What A 100MPH Cutter Looks Like

Kenley Jansen did something very notable last night. The accomplishment occurred on this cutter, which struck out Mark Trumbo:


GIF Link

Per Brooks Baseball, the cutter was thrown at 100.1MPH, the fastest pitch of Jansen’s career. He threw a 99.6MPH cutter to Miguel Cabrera last week, but as Grant Brisbee noted, the pitch was actually the most hit-able of the at-bat.

Per a different source, Daren Willman’s excellent searchable Pitch FX database, this cutter was the second fastest ever thrown in front of a Pitch FX system. The database registered the pitch at 99.3MPH. The velocity on Willman’s site is slightly lower than Brooks’ because Brooks’ measurement point is slightly closer to where the pitcher releases the ball (55 feet from the plate, Willman’s data is 50 feet) and the two sites apply slightly different offsets to account for “hot systems.”

In Willman’s database, Jansen has thrown three of the six cutters which have been clocked above 99MPH. All three of Jansen’s pitches at that velocity have occurred in the last week. The only faster cutter on record is a Daniel Webb pitch which registered at 99.5MPH last season.

In contrast to the cutter against Cabrera, the pitch to Trumbo had him badly fooled (despite missing the target by a fairly wide margin). Overall, it had about 2.5″ of horizontal movement (compared to an average of 3.3″ last season):
Kenley_Brooks_HorizMovement041314

The pitch had about 10″ of vertical movement (just about matching last season’s average):
Kenley_Brooks_VertMovement041314

Horizontal movement is what visually defines the cutter, and the fact that the pitch broke a bit less than usual might be something to keep an eye on. Even so, Kenley is averaging more horizontal movement this season than last, despite the increase in velocity. During last night’s outing, Jansen missed a few spots pretty badly, but so far he’s inducing his highest whiffs/swing percentage since 2011 and he’s struck out nearly 40% of the batters he’s faced.

As Dustin found last week, we still don’t really know what the increase in velocity actually means. But at the very least, it gives us something fun to talk about on an off day.

No reason for Dodgers, fans to be worried about Kenley Jansen

jansen_dustin

Kenley Jansen will be OK. Promise. (By: Dustin Nosler)

It seems Kenley Jansen always “struggles” early in the season. In 2011, he gave up four runs in a 10-0 opening day loss against the Giants. He gave up five runs against the Braves in a 10-1 loss on April 19 of that year. He finished the month with a 7.42 ERA.

In 2012, he gave up four runs in his first six innings, including two home runs. Last year was better, as he only surrendered two runs in the month. But in his first 5 2/3 innings in 2014, Jansen has allowed three runs and two home runs, causing some folks to worry about Jansen. I say, back away from the ledge.

The source of Jansen’s problems lie with his cutter, which is also his moneymaker.

Granted, he’s thrown just 20 non-cut fastballs this season (86 of 106, or 81.1 percent), but opposing hitters have yet to get hits off his slider and sinker/2-seamer. He’s allowed a .529 batting average against his cutter, mostly due missing location badly. But that doesn’t mean he’ll start throwing more non-cutters because you never want to get beat on anything than your best pitch.

His showdown with Miguel Cabrera was epic, but he also got lucky in that at-bat. Tim Brown had a great breakdown of the confrontation. But Jansen missed his spots. That could be due to the adrenaline flowing, as Jansen threw cutters as hard as he’s ever thrown them, regularly touching 98 MPH and even registering 99.6 MPH on the gun.

This was a situation that won’t come up often. Every time Jansen pitches, he won’t be facing the best hitter in baseball with the game on the line. However, it underscores the point that his command has been a little off early on.

Jansen’s early season struggles can’t really be attributed to anything, when looking at the advanced data. If anything, he’s been relatively consistent with his release points.

Jansen HRP brooks 4.10.14

Horizontal release point

Jansen VRP brooks 4.10.14

Vertical release point

(Charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball)

As you can see, not a lot of variation in both the horizontal and vertical release points from each month last season and the first two this season. His horizontal release point this month is just a tad higher than it was last September, but he’s still within his release point ranges from last season on both axes.

He has also been quite unlucky, allowing a ridiculous .571 BABIP this season, thanks to a decrease in fly ball rate (blue) and an increase in line drive rate (red) and a generally flat ground ball rate (green). That number will, eventually, regress to the mean (and probably less than it), seeing as his BABIP has never been higher than .273 in a season (2013).

GB/FB/LD rates

Jansen’s GB (green)/FB (blue)/LD (red) rates

(Chart courtesy of FanGraphs)

Something else that is an outlier is his OSwing percentage. Jansen got batters to swing at pitches outside the strike zone 33.3 percent of the time last season. In his previous seasons, that number has never dipped below 24.1 percent. This season, he’s at just 19.1 percent. Either teams are figuring out his cutter (not likely) or he’s not throwing it where he wants to (more likely). But something that kind of goes against that is his swinging strike percentage (SwSt), which is at a career-best 16.5 percent (SSS).

Things will normalize for Jansen. He’ll probably stop throwing as hard as he is right now (95 MPH on average), and that will likely lead to more command from Jansen, who took a big step last season with his command (2.1 BB/9).

The Dodgers aren’t overly concerned with Jansen’s struggles

“‘His stuff is good. I’ve seen a lot of guys, they have trouble one night it’s always two in a row,’ Mattingly said. ‘I’ve seen Mo (Mariano Rivera) do it many times.’”

… which probably means he’s be due for season-ending surgery in a few days, as the Dodgers’ training staff has a less than stellar reputation in the last 6-8 years (more on that in a future post).

I’m inclined to believe Jansen will be just fine. There’s no pitcher I’d want out there — Dodger or otherwise — with the game on the line in the ninth inning.

Clayton Kershaw starts season off right, Dodgers prevail 3-1 in opener

MarkTrumboFail

The Dodgers led off the 2014 MLB season with a 3-1 victory over the D-Backs on Opening Day in Sydney, Australia.

Clayton Kershaw gave the Dodgers the quality performance that’s become routine when he takes the hill, striking out seven in 6.2 innings while only allowing one run on five hits and a walk.


GIF Link

The run given up by Kershaw was his first allowed in 25 Opening Day innings, and his Opening Day ERA is now 0.35.

As for the offense, it started with Adrian Gonzalez, who wanted to walk more in 2014, and he led off the top of the second with a four-pitch walk. Then things got weird, as Mark Trumbo Trumbo’ed a Scott Van Slyke fly ball to left in glorious/hilarious fashion.

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Projected 2017 Dodgers’ pitching staff

If you thought projecting the 2017 lineup was tough, you haven’t seen anything yet. While you’ll recognize a lot of the names listed here, the pitching projections are a lot more unstable than the position player projections.

Without further adieu, here is who you should expect to see Opening Day 2017.

Starting Pitcher 1
If Clayton Kershaw isn’t the Dodgers’ No. 1 starter in three years, it’s highly likely he’s been abducted by aliens.

Options
Clayton Kershaw: Will be in his age-29 season and rolling around in his millions of dollars he’ll have already earned.

2017 SP 1: Kershaw

Even with the opt-out clause in his 7-year deal (after the fifth year), Kershaw will still be owed $33 million for the 2018 season, with a $65 million due the next two seasons — which will be his age-31 and 32 seasons. Odds are he’ll opt out, and the Dodgers will sign him to a new mega deal.

Starting Pitcher 2
This is a situation similar to Kershaw’s, as Greinke is clearly the second-best starting pitcher the Dodgers have now (and probably will have) in 2017.

Options
Zack Greinke: Will be 33 and will likely have been re-signed to a new contract (opt-out after 2015).
Hyun-Jin Ryu: Will be in the fifth year of a 6-year deal and entering his age-30 season.
Julio Urias: Almost preposterous to include him, seeing as he’ll be 20 years old and could conceivably be in his second full season.

Dodgers
Reds
6:05 p.m. PT
Goodyear, Ariz.
CF
Gordon
CF
Hamilton
DH
Crawford
2B
Phillips
RF
Puig
1B
Votto
1B 
Gonzalez
LF
Ludwick
3B
Uribe
RF
Bruce
LF
Pederson
3B
Frazier
2B
Guerrero
SS
Cozart
C
Federowicz
C
Pena
SS
Rojas
DH
Duran
P
Ryu
P
Bailey

2017 SP 2: Greinke

Greinke is probably going to opt out of his deal in 2015. He’s such a good pitcher, has such good mechanics and is one of the smartest pitchers in the last 15 years that the Dodgers couldn’t possibly pass on bringing him back. He figures to age well as he doesn’t rely on elite velocity to be successful.

Starting Pitcher 3
Here’s where things get a little murky — in a good way. There are two or three guys who could realistically lay claim to this spot in the rotation.

Options
Chad Billingsley: Will be entering age-32 season and could be on a different team by this point.
Zach Lee: If he reaches his potential, this could be his spot — even in his age-25 season.
Hyun-jin Ryu: Only figures to get better; certainly doesn’t figure to get any worse.
Julio Urias: The most potential of anyone on this list.

2017 SP 3: Ryu

Ryu figures to have some really solid campaigns behind him by this point. He’s the best pitcher of the four listed above and could be one of the game’s best left-handers by 2017.

Starting Pitcher 4
This spot almost seems reserved for a certain 20-year-old, as he has some of the most pure talent in the Dodgers’ farm system.

Options
Chris Anderson: The 2013 first-rounder will be 24 and probably one of the best prospects in the system, if he’s still eligible.
Chad Billingsley: Probably on a different team by now.
Zach Lee: More likely the No. 5 starter — or a No. 3 or 4 on another team.
Ross Stripling: Will be 27, unlikely after Tommy John surgery, but still has a starter’s repertoire/build.
Julio Urias: This is his spot.

2017 SP 4: Urias

This will be just the beginning for Urias. He’ll be 20 years old and on his way up. He’ll eventually be the Dodgers’ No. 2 starter — at least, as long as Kershaw is still around.

Starting Pitcher 5
This spot will likely be filled from within the system — and could even be a player who isn’t yet a member of a Dodger (i.e. a draftee).

Options
Chris Anderson: While it’d be nice to see him make it as a starter, he could be dominant reliever.
Chad Billingsley: Love ya, Chad, but I’m sure you’ll be in Cincinnati by this time.
Zach Lee: Hoping that $5.25 million bonus pays off by this time.
Ross Stripling: Might be a reliever or with another organization.

2017 SP 5: Lee

Lee could end up being a Kyle Lohse-type, which would be a fantastic No. 5 starter in this game (at a fraction of the cost). His stuff could be average at this point and he’d still be a great No. 5 starer.

Closer
At one time, everyone thought Eric Gagne would never break down and he’d go down as one of the greatest closers ever. He had the best 3-year stretch of any reliever, but he eventually broke down. Kenley Jansen is great, but there’s a chance he could — eventually — break down. Not because of anything he has or hasn’t done, but because of the position itself.

Options
Chris Anderson: Has the arsenal to do the job, but makeup/poise are unknown.
Onelki Garcia: Has a potentially devastating 2-pitch combo that gives him a closer’s ceiling.
Kenley Jansen: Will be 29 years old and be making crazy money.
Chris Withrow: Has the best stuff of this quartet, but control/command are question marks.

2017 Closer: Jansen

Provided Jansen’s cutter is still as filthy as it is now, I don’t see him breaking down physically (as long as his heart is OK) and I see his control/command holding up just fine. But it’s nice to see the Dodgers have some legitimate options if things change dramatically in three years.

Relief Pitchers
The most volatile of any player on the baseball field, don’t expect to see a lot of veteran presents here, as the Dodgers should fill voids in the bullpen from within.

Options
Chris Anderson: Heavy fastball and slider combination should play up out of the ‘pen.
Jose Dominguez: Elite fastball velocity should be sustainable as he enters his age-26 season.
Onelki Garcia: Will be in age-26 season and could find himself traded by this time.
Yimi Garcia: Will be entering age-26 season, and despite fastball spin, lack of plus-velocity could hold him back.
J.P. Howell: Will be 34 and a free agent, likely not brought back.
Matt Magill: Will be 27 and needs to keep command/control in check to have a long-term career.
Chris Reed: Only on here because of his prospect ranking, I have no faith in him — even out of the ‘pen.
Paco Rodriguez: Should have established himself as one of the best lefty relievers in the game at age-26.
Tom Windle: Will be 25 and a cheaper option than a guy like Rodriguez.
Chris Withrow: Should start getting expensive at age-28, could be a trade candidate.

2017 RPs (6): Anderson, Dominguez, O. Garcia, Rodriguez, Windle, Withrow

Aside from Howell and, to a lesser extent, Rodriguez, these are all power arms and all should do quite well setting up the Dodgers’ 2017 closer. The only problem is, guys like Rodriguez and Withrow figure to start getting expensive — perhaps too expensive for the Dodgers (as funny as that sounds). That’s where the next tier of reliever prospects comes in — Victor Arano, Ralston Cash, Jharel Cotton, Scott Griggs, etc.

Player Position
Clayton Kershaw SP 1
Zack Greinke SP 2
Hyun-Jin Ryu SP 3
Julio Urias SP 4
Zach Lee SP 5
Jose Dominguez RP
Onelki Garcia RP
Tom Windle RP
Chris Anderson RP
Paco Rodriguez RP
Chris Withrow SU
Kenley Jansen CL

Dodgers sign Kenley Jansen to $4.3 million deal, avoid arbitration

jansen_2013-05-25And just like that, all is right in Dodger camp. Word came down on Tuesday the Dodgers and Kenley Jansen agreed to a 1-year, $4.3 million deal that allows the two sides to avoid arbitration.

Jansen had asked for $5.05 million, while the Dodgers offered $3.5 million. The midpoint was $4.275 million, which is a “win” for Jansen.

Jansen’s arbitration hearing had been scheduled for Feb. 18, but it was widely believed the two sides would come to an agreement before that time. No one really likes going to arbitration to let an independent third party determine the value of a player (just watch for the fireworks from Cincinnati with Homer Bailey). It was obvious the Dodgers and Jansen wanted to get this done sooner rather than later.

Jansen gets a raise from the paltry (by baseball standards) $512,000 he made last season. He has established himself as one of the best closers in baseball and is worth every penny of his new deal. Considering what the Dodgers are paying Brandon League and Brian Wilson (at least he’s good), Jansen is an absolute steal.

It’s likely the team will continue to go year-to-year with Jansen, as relievers are the the most volatile baseball players. A long-term extension would be nice, but it might not be prudent at this point. That isn’t a knock on Jansen’s ability by any means. It’s a commentary on relievers in general. But don’t worry, Jansen is still three years away from free agency.

Provided Jansen stays healthy, the Dodgers figure to have one of the best bullpens in the majors and one of the franchise’s best since the days of Takashi Saito-Jonathan Broxton, or even Eric Gagne-Guillermo Mota.

With the deal, the Dodgers avoid going to their first arbitration case since 2007, and push their projected payroll north of $260 million.

Dodgers, A.J. Ellis avoid salary arbitration

ajellis_sanfran_2013-05-04I woke up entirely too early on a Saturday morning. After mustering the strength to get out of a warm, cozy bed and take the dog out, I naturally checked to see if A.J. Ellis and the Dodgers came to a contract agreement.

Lo and behold:

Update: Sherman tweeted he had it wrong and Ellis is set to make $3.55 million as his base salary, plus incentives. Ken Gurnick had that number in an earlier tweet.

Good. The Dodgers and Ellis avoided the none-too-pleasing process of a salary arbitration hearing. The midpoint was $3.8 million, so this is a “win” of sorts for the Dodgers. It isn’t like they’re hurting for money, but there was no way Ellis was going to get a 130 percent raise from his 2013 salary ($2 million), especially since players last year received, on average, a 119 percent salary increase last year. Despite the Dodgers’ riches, players must still be paid what they’re worth, otherwise the system gets unbalanced.

Ellis had a down year (.238/.318/.364) compared to his breakout 2012 campaign (.270/.373/.414). He’s capable of being 2012 Ellis more than he is 2013 Ellis, but somewhere in the middle is probably where he’ll land this season.

The Dodgers haven’t gone to arbitration with a player since 2007, when Joe Beimel (who signed with the Brewers in the last couple of weeks), a case the Dodgers won, thanks mostly to Kim Ng, but also because it was with Joe Beimel.

Next up is Kenley Jansen. He asked for $5.05 million, and the Dodgers offered $3.5 million (midpoint $4.275 million). It’d be really surprising if the sides didn’t agree before the hearing (date unknown). The process isn’t a fun one, and I think there’s a strong chance the Dodgers could lose. I mean, have you seen Brandon League‘s contract?

While the two don’t have a lot to do with each other (League was a free agent, Jansen is still under team control), it’s probably a good idea to keep the big fella happy. That’s already started by the Dodgers not bringing in inferior pitchers to be the closer. I could see them settling in the $4.3-4.5 million range.

Salary arbitration hearings are scheduled for Feb. 1 through 21.