Kenley Jansen was a polarizing figure for many Dodger fans in 2019. While he wasn’t bad by any stretch, he wasn’t the dominant closer fans had been accustomed to for so long. “California Love” used to be the song signaling a Dodgers win on the horizon, but the past two years it has produced mostly grunts. Fans were not afraid to voice their displeasure all season long.
Kenley Jansen yelled into his glove while the final out was being recorded. He returned to the dugout to a noticeable chorus of boos.
— Alden González (@Alden_Gonzalez) August 22, 2019
Just looking at irrational reactions does not do Kenley justice, as while not up to his standards, he did not have a shabby year at all.
|Kenley Jansen (2019)|
Kenley Jansen, Wicked 92mph Cutter. ? pic.twitter.com/vqTEebXd2R
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 20, 2019
The eight blown saves are what sticks out the most, and is the driving force behind Dodger fans’ displeasure. Kenley hasn’t been able to adjust to the new pitcher that he is, where his cutter moves at 91 MPH instead of 95. He will need to morph into a different type of pitcher this offseason, and this will allow him to bounce back in 2020.
Let’s take a look at how he can do that.
Step One: Start Incorporating the Slider
Opposing batters sported a .305 wOBA against the cutter this past season, 27 points higher than any other year in his career. It is no secret that this pitch is not what it used to be, mainly due to its declining velocity. It is very unlikely Kenley can magically regain his old pitch speed, meaning he will need to stop relying on the cutter as much.
In comes the slider. This is a pitch that Kenley has had success with, but hasn’t utilized much. It was thrown 12.3% of the time in 2019, a career-high, but not enough to leave hitters guessing. The cutter was still thrown the rest of the time, and in high leverage spots, rather than the slider mainly just being an 0-2 throwaway pitch. If Kenley can get that slider usage into the 20-25% range, hitters will be forced to stop sitting on the cutter, increasing the success on that pitch.
Step Two: Command
In Kenley’s prime, it did not matter where the cutter was thrown, as it was such a nasty pitch that hitters would struggle even if it was middle-middle. With the cutter now being less effective, his pitch location is no longer working.
As seen above, the majority of Kenley’s cutters are in the middle of the zone, slightly up. This is the sweet spot for many hitters, especially those trying to get the ball up in the air for extra base hits. It would be wise for Kenley to start putting an emphasis on working his cutter into the corners.
This is a serious problem for Kenley. His 6% walk rate usually would indicate impressive command, but for Kenley, it shows he has been too scared to work the edges. If Kenley can at least attempt to locate his pitches on the edges, even if it means his walk rate increasing, he would most likely surrender far less extra base hits, a tradeoff Dodger fans would take.
Step Three: Holding Runners
The final off-season task for Kenley needs to be working on his ability to hold runners. Base stealers have a whopping 94% (74/79) success rate over the course of Kenley’s career. While this has never been too huge of an issue due to Kenley not giving up many baserunners, this is no longer the case. Jansen has shown a shortened delivery and a few pickoff moves, but nothing yet to discourage base stealers from taking off.
Holding runners becomes especially important in the playoffs, and needs to be a point of emphasis this Winter for Kenley.
All in all, Kenley Jansen is clearly no longer the pitcher he once was. That being said, he can still evolve into a different type… one that utilizes the slider, works the corners, and holds runners. If Kenley can complete this evolution, he will regain the trust of many Dodger fans in 2020.