With Spring Training around the corner it is time to see how the players from the Kingdom of the Netherlands will do in the upcoming season. Of course there is no crystal ball and it is still up in the air, but in general you can make a decent prediction based on the performance of previous years.
Kenley Jansen started as a catcher in the Dodgers’ organization. During the 2009 World Baseball Classic, he was part of the Dutch team that ousted the Dominican Republic by beating them twice.
Jansen was signed by the Dodgers in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. As a catcher he spent time in the Gulf Coast League, in the Pioneer League (at Ogden) and in the Midwest League (with the Great Lakes Loons). After the 2009 WBC, he was promoted to the Inland Empire 66ers of the California League and that is where his career as a pitcher started.
Apparently the Dodgers were happy with what they saw as they sent him to the Arizona Fall League and placed him on their 40-man roster afther the 2009 season. In May 2010, Kenly was promoted to the Chattanooga Lookouts in the AA Southern League and was selected to the league’s All Star Game. Kenley proved that the real talents are playing at AA instead of AAA as he was called up to the MLB squad on July 23rd. One day later he debuted with a scoreless inning in which he retired the side, mowing down two. The next day he pitched another 1-2-3 inning to record the first save of his young MLB career.
He left a good mark in his first MLB season, as he posted a 1-0 record with a microscopic 0.67 ERA.
The Curacao native would become a major part of the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2011 when he posted a 2-1 record with an ERA of 2.85. He struck out 96 batters which set an MLB record with 16 1/3 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2012 he would become the Dodgers’ closer after Javy Guerra did not live up to the expectations. Eventually Kenley’s season was cut short due to an irregular heartbeat, something that he was diagnosed with in 2011.
In the preparation of the 2013 season, Kenley joined the Dutch team during the World Baseball Classic when the team reached the semi finals. As the Dutch fell to the Dominicans 4-1 he did not see any action.
After Kenley went on the DL in 2012, Brandon League took over as a closer, a role that he would keep at the start of the 2013 season. But when League faltered the role of closer was appointed to Kenley again. In 75 games he went 4-3 with a 1.88 ERA and 28 saves in 32 opportunities.
Despite the fact that his ERA jumped to 2.76 in 2014, he became only the fourth pitcher in the history of the Dodgers to record a 40+ saves season with 44. In 65.1 innings he only walked 19 and struck out 101 for a 5.32 K/BB ratio. In the 2015 season that was cut short due to foot surgery, he did not strike out as many hitters but he walked an incredible low 8 batters in 54 games, leading to a K/BB ratio of 10 (80/8).
I get the feeling that Jansen is a bit underappreaciated in the baseball media. Everyone is crazy about Aroldis Chapman for example but you don’t read that much about Jansen nationwide, even though Jansen clinched three more saves than Chapman did in 2015.
Being in the final year of his contract, Jansen may test the free agent waters after the season, unless the Dodgers can sign him to a contract extension.
Despite relying on his cutter for the biggest part of a game, his opponents do not succeed to see his pitches well. Occasionally he uses a slider or a four seam fastball. But the possibility to switch to two other pitches next to his cutter, will be his strength.
So what can we expect from Kenley in the season that lies ahead of us. Quite often you see that players at the end of their contract are eager to perform better than they are used to and have a career year. Barring injuries and other unforseen circumstances, you can expect Kenley to have an above average season (according to his standards) in which he surpasses the 40 saves mark.
But as long as he can save more than 30 games and help the Dodgers to the post season, they will be happy with him.