NORTH PORT, Fla — The Braves added one of the best closers in baseball by signing free-agent right-hander Kenley Jansen to a one-year, $16 million contract Friday night.
Jansen’s credentials are impeccable. The 34-year-old ERA is the third-lowest for a pitcher with at least 700 career innings in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), behind only Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, and no one in that group comes close. to match his identical 2.37 FIP (which focuses on the things a pitcher can control the most — strikeouts, walks and home runs). Jansen also leads the pack in strikeout rate (36.8%).
Then there are the saves. Jansen’s last in the 2021 regular season was his 350th, making him the 13th pitcher to reach that milestone, as well as the second active pitcher (along with Craig Kimbrel). A three-time All-Star and two-time winner of the Trevor Hoffman Award for best NL reliever, Jansen has saved at least 33 games in seven straight full seasons (excluding the shortened 2020). He has also been a workhorse as one of only three pitchers to have made at least 62 appearances in eight different seasons since 2012.
It was an unlikely journey for Jansen to get to this point. A native of Willemstad, Curacao, Jansen signed with the Dodgers as a 17-year-old catcher in November 2004. But it wasn’t until 2009 that the Dodgers turned the strong but offensively challenging Jansen into a pitcher. By September of the following year, he was already in the big leagues and never looked back.
Jansen’s first eight seasons were really dominant. That run culminated in a 2017 campaign in which he placed fifth in the race for the NL Cy Young Award after posting a 1.32 ERA, saving 41 games in 42 chances and posting an absurd strikeout-to-walk ratio. from 15.6. That success was largely due to the strength of an infallible pitcher who threw 80-90% of the time, but after 2017, Jansen’s speed waned, as did his overall effectiveness.
Jansen’s cutter speed in 2021 (92.5 mph) was slightly higher than it was in 2020 (90.9 mph), but it was barely what it was five years earlier (94.0 mph). He made up for it by decreasing his cutter usage to 58% while putting more emphasis on his sinker and slider. The tweaks seemed to have worked in 2021, with Jansen posting his lowest ERA (2.22) since 2017 and then raising his game in eight postseason appearances for LA (seven innings, three hits, no runs, one walk, 14 strikeouts). .