If you don't watch the Dodgers on a daily basis or don't have Kenley Jansen on your fantasy baseball team, it might be easy to miss what kind of season he's having. After all, they are 27-10 and the obvious best team in baseball, sitting on an outrageous +103 run differential.
But look at the Jansen numbers now, after two years of what looked like he was in age-related decline.
Those are prime-Kenley numbers right there. He just won MLB's NL Reliever of the Month for August and given that the season hasn't been much more than August, he's back to being on the short list in the conversation for best reliever in baseball.
This coming after he had a 3.71 ERA last season and a 4.03 FIP in 2018. Entering his age-32 season, there was reason to believe he'd still be a good enough closer for the Dodgers, but not the dominant force that we'd grown accustomed to seeing enter the game to turn out the lights from 2012-17.
What happened? His velocity is the lowest it has ever been, so it's not like he's back to prime-age levels. The answer appears to be in his usage, causing more deception to the opposing hitters and inducing soft contact, when they actually make contact. For a long time, he was a bit like Mariano Rivera in that he almost only threw his famed cutter. The high point was 2012 when he threw it 91.4 percent of the time. Let's take a look at how his approach has changed just in the last three years as his velocity has continued to fall.
|Year||Cutter usage||Slider usage||Sinker usage|
This is by far the most he's ever used the sinker and the lowest usage percentage of his cutter, though it's still his dominant pitch.
The result is Jansen being in the top one percent of baseball in terms of average exit velocity and hard hit percentage while also being at the 96th percentile in strikeout percentage. Opposing hitters are slashing .120/.228/.200 against him. He's a force.
If there was any question about the Dodgers heading into the season, it was in the bullpen. There were plenty of questions behind Jansen, too. He's leading the charge, but everyone has settled in behind their leader.
With so many other teams going through bullpen woes, the Dodgers have a 2.11 bullpen ERA, best in the National League and trailing only the A's if we loop in the AL. Their bullpen ERA last season was 3.85. They are striking out 25 percent of the opposing hitters they face and only 31.8 percent of opposing balls in play qualify as "hard hit," ranking them third in baseball among bullpens.
And Kenley Jansen is back. The Dodgers are still chasing that elusive World Series ring. But bullpen is firing on all cylinders, and with that rotation (oh, by the way, Clayton Kershaw also looks like his prime self) and that offense, they have a better chance than anyone of taking the World Series title.