Signed out of the Netherlands as a catcher, Jansen possessed a great arm behind the dish but the inability to do enough damage when he stepped into the batter's box. The Dodgers saw an opportunity to convert Jansen into a flame-throwing back of the pen arm and salvage his signing, and four years later they continue to reap the benefits of that move.
Jansen quickly became one of the elite relievers in all of baseball, mostly pitching in middle relief. In just under 200 major league innings, he's posted a 2.24 ERA and whiffed 14.07 per nine innings. His career WHIP is 0.94 and he's a master at forcing batters into weak contact, inducing infield pop-ups at a clip of 13.4 percent.
Jansen's ERA is backed up by a 2.09 FIP, and he's cut down on his walks in each of his four big league seasons, issuing just 1.58 free passes per nine innings in 2013.
Jansen is tied for eighth in fWAR among all relievers since his debut in 2010. The level of success he's attained so quickly is especially impressive considering he transitioned to the mound in 2009 and has missed time on multiple occasions due to a heart ailment that has since been corrected.
One of Jansen's major weapons is his natural cutter. The pitch has fantastic movement and can be seen in action in this .gif from Chad Moriyama. Cincinnati Reds' second baseman Brandon Phillips looks foolish attempting to hit the nasty offering from the Dodgers' righty, and Phillips isn't the only hitter that has struggled to hit Kenley's cutter.
The cutter, of course, has become synonymous with New York Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera, and considering Mo has been a one-pitch pitcher for basically his entire career, if you can master the cutter you can do serious damage with it.
Kenley's cutter has insane movement horizontally as well as tremendous rise, as detailed by Carson Cistulli at NotGraphs. The pitch has been described as "emasculating" by Cistulli, and anybody who has faced Rivera or Jansen can attest that it's extremely difficult to hit even though you know it is coming.
Comparing Jansen To Rivera
Mariano Rivera is the gold standard when it comes to relievers. As noted above, Jansen's natural cutter immediately brings to mind the devastatingly effective cutter thrown by the greatest reliever of all-time.
Their first four seasons as relievers are quite comparable as well. Mo posted a ~2.81 FIP through four campaigns, while Jansen (who's in the middle of his fourth season) currently clocks in at a ~2.04 FIP. Rivera struck out roughly 8 per nine innings and allowed 2.5 free passes per nine, while Kenley has struck out far more batters (14.1 per nine) while walking almost a batter more per nine (3.3).
What has made Rivera truly great is his consistency and longevity. When he slumps, he bounces right back, and while he's hit some rough patches in recent years that made many think his career would soon be over, he's overcome them to dominate hitters.
Jansen will continue to miss bats, and if his cutter can remain lights-out, he'll continue to overwhelm hitters and give the Blue Crew an ace option in the bullpen.
Kenley Jansen is one of the most underrated relievers in all of baseball. While he made a few pre-season Top 10 lists, so many baseball fans and pundits disregarded his stellar track record, phenomenal swing-and-miss stuff, and Mariano Rivera-esque natural cutter because of an emphasis on the overvalued "save" stat.
Jansen is a true fireman and his ability to shut down righties and lefties, miss bats, limit free passes, and truly dominate hitters shouldn't be taken for granted because it might happen in middle relief.
Kenley is in a relief class with few others, and the Dodgers are thankful he throws a cutter better than he could hit one.
Greg Zakwin is the founder of Plaschke, Thy Sweater Is Argyle, a Dodgers' and sports card blog. He writes with an analytical tilt about The Blue Crew at ChadMoriyama.com. You can find and follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke. A graduate of UCLA in 2011 with a Bachelor's in History, he's been a follower of the Dodgers since birth and still mourns the loss of both Mike Piazza and Carlos Santana.
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