Atlanta Adds to Formidable Bullpen With Signing of Kenley Jansen

Jansen ends his twelve-year run in LA to join the World Series champs.

After 12 seasons and 350 saves with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kenley Jansen is moving on to the next chapter in his career after signing a one-year, $16 million contract with Atlanta on March 18.

The move came as a surprise to most fans and pundits, who assumed Jansen would return to the Dodgers after last season. In articles published following the completion of the move, it came out that the luxury tax is to blame for the separation.

Per Juan Castillo of the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers were willing to commit to a two-year contract with Jansen, but their plans were upended by the $162-million contract handed to Freddie Freeman.

Due to the added costs, the Dodgers asked Jansen to wait for them to shed payroll before signing. Instead, Jansen was approached by Atlanta with the one-year, $16-million deal, and he took it. Now, he will look to extend his already Hall-of-Fame worthy career on the East Coast.

The 34-year-old Curaçao native’s approach is defined by a single pitch: his Mariano Rivera-esque cutter. It’s worked for him so far. Jansen boasts a career ERA of 2.37 with 1022 Ks across 705 innings. For perspective, that’s the third-lowest ERA for any pitcher with at least 700 or more innings pitched in the live-ball era, behind Rivera and Billy Wagner.

The peak of his dominance to date came in 2017 when he posted a 1.32 ERA and 1.31 FIP with a 15.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio with 41 saves in 68.1 innings of work. However, the velocity on his cutter declined steadily from 2018 to 2020, falling to an average of 90.9 in 2020 from an average of 94 in 2016.

That decrease in velocity was accompanied by an uptick in walks, with a steady increase in walk rate from 2.7% in 2017 to 13% last season. That increase is also reflected in a plummeting strikeout-to-walk ratio that has fallen from 15.57 in 2017 to an anemic 2.39 last year.

Those trends raise some questions about how much longer he can remain in a closing role moving forward, but there’s also reason to believe they’re more benign indications that he is evolving as a pitcher and will continue to thrive for seasons to come.

As Zach Hayes points out in his article on Jansen’s evolution as a pitcher, one plausible reason for the spike in walks is because he’s learning to avoid the heart of the plate with his weakening cutter and pitch to contact more frequently. He may leave his overpowering stuff in Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean Atlanta is getting a less potent Kenley Jansen.

For his part, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos’ interest in signing Jansen stemmed from a desire to stock more righties in the bullpen. The team relied heavily on their “night shift” in late-game situations last year: Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, and Luke Jackson. That core group of relievers limited opponents to 12 earned runs through the entirety of the postseason last year, but only Jackson is right-handed.

In addition to being another right-handed arm, Anthopoulos made it clear Jansen would be taking over the closing role with the team. In a response that speaks volumes about his character, Smith, Atlanta’s closer in 2021, gave the signing his blessing.

In addition to Jansen, Atlanta also acquired Collin McHugh from the Rays this offseason, giving manager Brian Snitker one of the deepest and most talented relief corps in baseball. It, along with the team-first attitude exemplified by Smith, will serve Atlanta well in its pursuit of another championship.


Featured image: photo by Icon Sportswire, adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)

Colin Fong

Colin lived near Cooperstown and collected signatures from Hall of Famers for his Dad's collection every summer as a kid. He thought it was super boring at the time, but thinks it's incredibly cool now. He's an A's fan and loves writing about the beautiful, absurd, infuriating, and inspiring world of baseball.

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