The offseason following the 2016 season marked a turning point in Kenley Jansen’s career. Coming off a year in which he posted a 1.83 ERA and was a key piece in the team’s run to the NLCS, it was finally Jansen’s turn to get paid for his efforts.
That January Jansen signed a five year, $80 million dollar contract which was the second largest contract ever for a reliever, only trailing the five year, $86 million dollar contract signed by Aroldis Chapman with the Yankees that same offseason.
After years of dominance in Dodger blue, Jansen deserved that money. Since his rookie year in 2010, he was virtually unhittable late in games. Also, Jansen seemed to prove his contract’s worth in the 2017 season, posting a 1.32 ERA in 68.1 innings pitched. Once again, his presence was key to a late postseason run for the Dodgers as he helped them break a 29 year World Series appearance drought.
Memorably, however, Jansen struggled during a few moments of that World Series, most notably in game two when he allowed the Houston Astros to tie the game and send it to extra innings. The Dodgers would lose that game, and eventually the series, but after such a stellar year from Jansen, with just a few postseason mishaps, it was easy to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, though, Jansen’s 2018 campaign seemed more reminiscent of those postseason mishaps than the 2017 season as a whole.
Jansen’s pitching was different and less effective in 2018. His velocity was down and his cutter, for the most part, stopped cutting. Sure his numbers could have been worse—he posted a 3.01 ERA and was a 2018 All-Star selection—but he was visibly less dominant than years before.
Heart issues also slowed him down late in the regular season, and while he worked his way back and was not completely awful in the postseason, his performance wasn’t necessarily one to remember either.
The same sentiment seems to have carried over to this season as well. While the year is still young, Jansen’s ERA currently sits at 2.61, a far cry from his stronger years.
Kenley Jansen HR allowed 2015-17 regular season: 15
Kenley Jansen HR allowed 2018-19 regular season: 14
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) April 19, 2019
So, what will the Dodgers do if Jansen never returns to his pre-2018 form?
In order to answer that, I’d first like to offer a message to all Dodgers fans: relax. It’s true, Jansen does not appear to be what he used to be, but that doesn’t mean he is completely useless to this team.
For most other relief pitchers, a 2.61 ERA would not be considered bad by any means. He’s definitely not where he used to be, but Dodgers fans can take comfort in the fact that Jansen does at least seem committed to returning to form.
Jansen showed up to spring training in February looking healthier than he did in years. He had lost weight and dropped jersey sizes from an XXL to an XL. This was the first step forward in order to have a more successful 2019 season.
And truthfully, while Jansen has looked shaky at times this season, he is pitching much better than he was at the beginning of last season. He’s already recorded seven saves in seven opportunities, so isn’t he pretty much doing his job?
Many Dodgers fans seem to have already written Jansen off and called for the front office to sign Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel would definitely be a welcomed face in this bullpen, but he isn’t absolutely necessary. And if the only motivation for signing Kimbrel is to replace Jansen, then he’s truly not needed.
Also, it’s important to remember that once the starting rotation is fully healthy, both Julio Urias and Ross Stripling will be headed to the bullpen. Both have looked good in the rotation, and will likely have a positive impact on the Dodgers bullpen going forward.
So, what should the Dodgers do if Jansen doesn’t return to form? Right now, nothing. If he doesn’t reach his pre-2018 form anytime soon, the Dodgers will probably be alright. Signing Kimbrel would be great, but the move is not vital for this team to succeed.
Jansen is still a valuable reliever, and he still has a lot to offer to the Dodgers. The front office does not need to panic just yet, and neither do the fans.
What do you think the Dodgers need to do in regards to Jansen? Let us know below!
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