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.
(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).
(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.