This winter's crop of free-agent closers may be the most talented in MLB history, with Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon headlining a dominant group.All three closers are already highly coveted by multiple teams as the calendar looks ahead to the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 5. Each comes
This winter's crop of free-agent closers may be the most talented in MLB history, with Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon headlining a dominant group.
All three closers are already highly coveted by multiple teams as the calendar looks ahead to the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 5. Each comes with an impressive resume and a signature skill. For Chapman, it's his otherworldly fastball. Melancon has pinpoint command and excellent control. Jansen is a perfect combination of the two in the way he commands his high-velocity cutter to power-suffocating results.
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While the first closer to sign will likely set the market for the others, there really is no wrong answer to the question of who the top free agent closer is. Each is elite and each would lock down the late innings for whichever club signs him.
But for the team most interested in Jansen, here are five reasons why the big righty is being targeted.
1. Best in blue
Jansen was a raw catching prospect-turned reliever when he assumed closing duties in Los Angeles as a 24-year-old in 2012. He turned into the best closer in club history, saving a franchise-record 189 games in 214 chances (88 percent) over parts of seven seasons. Jansen's 2.20 career ERA is the best by a Dodgers pitcher with at least 400 innings pitched, and his 169 career ERA+ ranks ahead of Eric Gagne, formerly the club's most accomplished reliever.
2. Pitching in his prime
Jansen finished in the top 10 in the National League in saves the past three seasons. He had a career year in 2016, setting personal best marks in saves (47), ERA (1.83) and WHIP (0.67) while making his first All-Star team. Jansen was the most valuable reliever in the Majors according to fWAR (3.2), second to Chapman in FIP (1.44) and struck out 9.45 batters for every one he walked. In his age-28 season, Jansen also matched his career bests in hits per nine (4.6), home runs per nine (0.5) and walks per nine (1.9). Jansen's 155 saves since 2013 are second in the Majors to Craig Kimbrel.
3. One-pitch wonder
Jansen does it all with basically one pitch. He threw his cutter nearly 94 percent of the time this season, more than any other pitcher in the Majors. At an average of 93.6 mph, it was also the hardest cutter in the game. When Jansen does deviate, he throws a hard slider, which is really just an extension of his cutter with more bite. This makes the big, hard-throwing righty sneakily deceptive.
Jansen's cutter comes in so hard and with so much movement, it allows him to shrink the field like few other pitchers. Jansen faced 251 hitters in 2016. He allowed just 14 extra-base hits and struck out 104.
4. Power and command
Jansen was one of two relievers to rank in the top 10 in the Majors in strikeouts per nine and walks per nine this season. He walked just 11 hitters, giving Jansen his third season of 100+ strikeouts and 20 or fewer walks. That's tied with Andrew Miller for the most in Major League history.
5. Clutch when it counts
If Jansen indeed played his final game as a Dodger, he will be remembered best in Los Angeles for his gutsy performance in Game 5 of the NL Division Series this year. Jansen recorded a then-career-high seven outs to help secure the Dodgers' series-clinching win. Jansen owns a 2.66 ERA in 17 career postseason appearances.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.