Kenley Jansen entered 2021 looking to rebound and reestablish himself as the Los Angeles Dodgers closer after back-to-back down seasons.
In 2020, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts shied away from using Jansen in high-leverage spots during the team’s World Series run but the right-hander earned the job back in Spring Training.
“I expect him to have a great year,” Roberts said while the team was preparing at Camelback Ranch. “For me, I think he’s earned that opportunity to start out as our closer. But at the end of the day, I want the guys that are pitching best to finish the game, and Kenley understands that.”
Jansen started off the season pitching at an elite level that backed up Roberts’ belief that he earned the job. Through the first half of the season, he threw 36.1 innings with a 1.24 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 21 saves.
Despite performing at an elite level, Jansen was snubbed from the All-Star Game, which left him feeling “shocked” and “insulted.”
Coming out of the All-Star break, Jansen had three blown saves in consecutive appearances; one against the Colorado Rockies and two against the San Francisco Giants. However, Roberts stuck with his closer.
Jansen got back on track with a save two days later and from that point on continued to dominate. From July 24 through the season’s end, Jansen pitched to a 1.17 ERA and 2.35 FIP with 17 saves and 42 strikeouts.
He finished the season with a 2.22 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 1.9 WAR. 30.9 strikeout percentage, 12.9 walk percentage and 38 saves in 69 innings pitched.
Heading into the postseason, Jansen wanted to be an important part of the Dodgers’ success by throwing the final pitch of the year. While he and the Dodgers weren’t able to accomplish that, James had a fantastic showing in the playoffs.
In seven innings, he only allowed three hits with no runs and struck out 14. Roberts believed Jansen was pitching as well as he ever has.
“The scope gets a little bit more broad and the noise gets a little bit more loud and invasive,” Roberts said at the time. “So now I think that this whole year, especially after that little stumble he had after the break, he’s just really harnessed that focus and this is as good as I’ve seen Kenley Jansen pitch in my time here with the Dodgers.”
Jansen attributed his resurgence to no longer being stubborn and getting away from just relying on just his cutter. He also began a new workout program in the 2020-21 offseason and fixed his mechanics.
Jansen’s 2021 highlight
Jansen was dominant all season but in September and October, when the Dodgers were in must-win games nearly every day, he was nearly unhittable.
Jansen pitched 13.2 innings and only allowed one run while striking out 18 and picking up eight saves. He faced 50 total hitters and only allowed four hits and four walks, which gave opposing hitters a .087/.160/.152 line off him.
The one run Jansen allowed was mostly meaningless as it was a solo homer in an 8-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Currently a free agent, Jansen appears unlikely to return to the Dodgers, who don’t seem interested in spending a substantial amount of money for a closer due to having multiple needs to fill.
Jansen should sign a fairly significant contract to take over as a team’s closer, where he would likely stay until he retires.
If the Dodgers do end up re-signing Jansen, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman indicated he would remain in the closer role and have an opportunity to add to his franchise-record 350 saves.
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