Dodgers: Examining Kenley Jansen’s Struggles

If we are being honest – Kenley Jansen is probably making you nervous with each ninth inning appearance. To be sure, it’s been this way for a while. While all of us will always love Jansen, it’s fair and objective to state that his pattern is becoming the art of making things interesting.

For everyone, there is a moment that you might point to as the start of ‘something wrong’ in Kenleyfornia.

I refuse to post a video clip of Marwin Gonzalez tagging Jansen in that 2017 World Series game. To me – that seemed like the Greek God falling off Olympus for the first time. Instead, I will replace that clip with a simple question.

Does Kenley Jansen feel dominant to you currently? If the answer is no, why do you think that is? That’s what I have spent the last few hours trying to uncover. While it seems factual to state that he is a solid, but not superstar closer; the reason behind it seems confounding.

Is Declining Velocity the Cause? Or Silent Partner?

Indeed, Jansen blew another save on Sunday in San Diego. However, it was a 93 MPH cutter to Hunter Renfroe that left the building. Moreover, it wasn’t a case of Jansen throwing a 90 MPH cookie. Jansen has shown the ability to still get it up there at an effective speed.

But I wanted to look at the data – the same data I haven’t checked on since last April when his velocity was really down.


Unfortunately, Jansen’s velocity is slowly dropping to a point that it looks like it isn’t coming back to his golden years. In fact – currently sitting at 92.1 miles per hour on average – it would be the lowest average cutter velocity of his career.

What does this cause?

To start, I am willing to throw out 2018 due to health issues and the blip in velocity coming off a 2017 World Series that gassed the big man. Even then, Jansen’s 34.9% K-Perecentage (the rate at which he strikes out a hitter) pales in comparison to his elite years which were in the low 40-percent range.

One could say that Jansen is allowing more contact then ever before. Equally important – it’s hard contact. This is evidenced by his 1.63 HR/9 ratio over the 2018 and 2019 season. What is Jansen’s career HR/9 ratio? About half that number at .81, sitting anywhere from .52 to .83 during his elite seasons.

Kenley Jansen, finding barrels

Further evidence that Jansen is getting hit harder – and possibly not locating as well – is his barrel percentage found at Baseball Savant. Jansen has seen an uptick in the number of hard contact at-bat’s from 2016 and 2017 when he was still considered among the vaunted ‘elite’.

Indeed, Jansen currently has allowed a ‘barrel’ at 10.3 percent of the time in 2019. Looking back at 2018, he was at 7.4 percent.  Now whether this is a cause of lowered velocity, bad location, or both (I am inclined to say both); one cannot argue that two facts exist.

  1. Kenley Jansen is allowing more contact than ever before
  2. Hitters are doing serious damage when they make that contact

And that my friends, is not a good combination.

Of course, none of this is to say that Jansen cannot be a still-effective closer for the Dodgers. Certainly, he can close out games and find stretches where he makes you say ‘alright, the guy has found it again’. If you look back through his game logs from last year until this point, you will uncover decent rashes of ballgames.

While we can’t zero it in to one main culprit, it simply looks like Jansen is a 31-year old closer with a lot of high-stress mileage on him. Definitely, he’s hedged his bets by doing things like taking care of his health and losing weight. However, even in the best shape of his life; that 95 MPH cutter isn’t walking through those bullpen gates again. When you throw three miles per hour less than you did at your peak, and you locate about the same; big league hitters are going to get to you sometimes.

More at Dodgers Nation

Twitter Responses on Level of Concern for Jansen

We asked our followers their level of concern for Kenley Jansen. Here are some of the responses:


What is your Kenley Theory?

Since none of us are a big league pitching specialist, it’s important to have the conversation. There’s a reason we all have the nerves going like never before when Jansen takes the ball in ninth inning. No, you haven’t developed an anxiety disorder. The Dodgers employ a closer who spoiled all of us with a near-Hall of Fame beginning. Now, he’s experiencing the normal issues that all the great ones face eventually when they battle the game of time.

Why is Kenley struggling in your opinion? And what remains as the best solution to move forward with him as the full-time closer of the Dodgers?

Become part of the conversation in the comments section!

Staff Writer

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  1. Absolutely love Kenley. And although I believe overall that our Closer is doing alright, I am concerned EVERY TIME the game is tight. Obviously, there is far less room for error and the inning needs to be shut down. MLB opened its show this morning with Renfroe’s walk off grand slam home run….ouch! The only thing more frustrating than watching that was listening to the fever pitched, obnoxiously incessant, “Beat LA” chant that Padres fans have apparently also adopted. If not for the Dodgers offense, we’d have a lot more to worry about as the bull pen gets it together. As it is, I am more concerned about Kelly.

  2. Velocity obviously is important however pitchers can flourish if they have great control it’s all about location. Watch closely when Jansen is pitching, a majority of the time he is not hitting the catcher’s target. The last few years he has lacked pinpoint control but he has been able to survive because the cutter is that good. Now with the velocity and lack of control he is not as effective.

    I have not seen a comparison on spin rates. Are his spin rates dropping also? His cutter visually does not appear to be moving quite as much. The lack of movement and location leads to solid contact, fewer strikeouts and walks and he is trending for that dubious trifecta.

  3. I have, in fact, noticed that Kenley is frequently not hitting the catcher’s target. I agree with everything you’ve analyzed….and I wonder how challenging it will be for Kenley to rectify (so that he can effectively shut down the ninth.) Again, when our Offense is on and the game is not as close, I am not as concerned. But this series against the Padres should be yet another wake up call that we need to contemplate some changes (and I am not solely speaking of Kenley) in order to successfully compete for (and through) post season.

  4. Here’s a tip, throw more than one pitch you’re too predictable especially now that velocity is down and location is more inconsistent than in previous years.

    1. I would love to know how Mo Rivera survived for so long – and re-invented himself to be dominant until the end. I was not tied in enough with the Yankees during that era to know what he did to maintain excellence.

  5. He simply isn’t using his breaking pitches enough. In the past, he
    put away the batters with sliders down. Now it’s another story if he’s
    having trouble controlling it. But he’s become too predictable with pitch
    pattern & with his reduced velocity, the batters can ‘sit & feast!’

  6. Kenley Jansen is not what he used to be he is still effective but the simple answer is sign Craig Kimbrel and utilize both based on game situation and usage.

  7. Dave went with loyalty yesterday instead of the numbers, which in a way is refreshing in today game but unfortunately ended with a loss. 3 straight days is a reach. Kenley was unfortunate on the two bunts after the base hit, but he was hit hard by Hozmer, and Refro is a career .300 hitter against him. Give credit to Andy Green for holding onto him for the pinch hit appearance. I’m also sure one of Dave’s many advisors passed this to him. He almost got out of it and that was a feat in its own. A strikeout, popup with bases loaded and he missed location.. Believe it or not, Pedro Baez is stepping up right now and yes Pedro Baez. His velocity is way up and now with his changeup working I have no problem letting him close it out yesterday. Dave was out-managed yesterday it doesn’t happen a lot but…. This Dodger team is good, real good, we won the series and almost pulled the sweep. Give the Padre fans something to cheer about, it sounded like a Dodger home game yesterday at Petco.

  8. There are a couple of issues that I see with Jansen.

    As some have indicated above, he is not hitting his spots as much as he used to. With diminished velocity / movement on the Cutter, this leads to more balls being barreled / hit harder.

    He is entirely too predictable. This year he has thrown 95.4% FB/CT and only 4.6 % SL. He has a good SL and needs to use it more. All pitchers go through this. As velocity declines, a secondary pitch ( off speed / breaking ball ) becomes more important.

    His command and control are good, but no longer elite. On top on not hitting his spots, which many of us have noted, his BB% has doubled since its peak in 2017.

    2015 – 4.0%
    2016 – 4.4 %
    2017 – 2.7%
    2018 – 5.9%
    2019 – 5.6%

    Another thing that I have noticed is that he tends to like to throw the cutter in the mid to upper reaches of the strike zone and above.
    When you group your pitches in that area, lose velocity, lose command, lose control ( more BB, more hitter’s counts ), you are going to be hit.


    – Throw the SL more often (10% – 15% of the time)
    – Vary the location of pitches more often ( use the lower half and corners better )
    – Improve command of the FB/CT

    Even without these things, he is still a good closer … just not the elite closer his salary suggests.

    1. It’s amazing to me how slow the Dodgers are at realizing things. They obviously have all of the information you just shared with us but we continue to see no change. The FO, pitching coach and bullpen coach need to address this with Jansen.

    2. Great post. Curious if they ever mess around with the slider this late in his career.

  9. Location – Location – Location………Back in 2014, 2015 & 2016, when Kenley came in the game, it really was GAME over……….not anymore……..and you are asking why? IMO the current regime has Kenley throwing/locating/targeting the TOP of the strike zone and up…………but when Kenley was DOMINANT the catchers used to setup at the bottom of the strike zone……..not anymore…..someone should ask Rick Honeycutt what he thinks it is and he will probably tell you it’s movement…….but the movement he (Kenley) used to get when he targeted lower strike zone does not seem to be the same when he tries to shave the upper top of the strike zone……..but I’m not a pitching coach………that’s just what it “looks” like to me on the tube.

  10. Location , location is a huge reason for KJ allowing more HR’s now than ever before , starting with those 13 he served up last year. But by no means is Kenley the only ‘culprit’ on this team. Are we not glad to see the power Dodgers display? Because if not for that we would NOT be on top of division because this WHOLE STAFF of ours, which includes CK, Hill, Maeda have served up the long ball with consistency this year and last few years,
    Dodger pitching has now allowed 47 HR’s so far and only 4 teams in the NL have allowed more. We are lucky to have won even 1 game in this series with the Padres because in each 1st inning, our pitching served up a HR to put team in the hole right off the bat.

  11. The manager did us no favors by utilizing KJ for three consecutive days. Yes, his velocity is down; but I am more concerned with his recent heart surgery. Kenley will rebound, but if Roberts uses someone in the BP for 3 consecutive game appearances again, , he should be spoken to by the FO. Go Blue!!!!

    1. Agree Lou. Would be helpful if we could get someone in here with closing experience (Kimbrel?) and still utilize Kenley when something in the match-ups dictate it. Closer by committee has gained steam and worked in baseball. It’s no longer necessarily a one-man job.

      1. I totally agree with you on the addition of Kimbrel to the BP. His presence on Sunday might have alleviated a loss, and more importantly, given KJ a chance to rest. Go Blue!!!

  12. Hope Roberts and the geek squad upstairs finally realizes that come playoff time, we don’t see him in the eight inning, trying to get more than 3 outs. That hasn’t worked the past two post seasons. Come the trade deadline, Dodgers can’t be afraid to give up talent to nail down that difference maker come playoff time. We didn’t pull the trigger for Chapman and Verlander….both the Cubs and Astros took home the WS titles. Front office better get it done this year. All on them.

  13. From the high skill vantage point of my easy chair the problem is glaringly obvious. His cutter doesn’t cut anymore, period.

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