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Jansen's dominance, leadership key for LA

Closer says he's 'all-in' on winning championship
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- Kenley Jansen signed an $80 million contract in December and followed it by being the most dominant player on the most dominant team in baseball.

Dodgers free-agent history is littered with first-year busts, from Dave Goltz and Darren Dreifort, to Jason Schmidt and Manny Ramirez, to Andruw Jones and, well, you get the picture.

LOS ANGELES -- Kenley Jansen signed an $80 million contract in December and followed it by being the most dominant player on the most dominant team in baseball.

Dodgers free-agent history is littered with first-year busts, from Dave Goltz and Darren Dreifort, to Jason Schmidt and Manny Ramirez, to Andruw Jones and, well, you get the picture.

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Jansen promised himself not to fall into that trap.

"I've seen it a lot of times, and I was nervous in the beginning," said Jansen. "But my parents taught me growing up that when you owe somebody, you give it all you got and that's what I did. All my focus now is on winning a championship."

The Dodgers re-signed free agents Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill, keeping intact a nucleus that just won a fifth consecutive National League West title and opens the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile tonight against the D-backs.

Now in his eighth season, Jansen holds a franchise-record 230 saves. The 41 saves this year tied Colorado's Greg Holland for the NL lead and meant Jansen matched Eric Gagne as the only Dodgers with three 40-save seasons. His 1.32 ERA and 0.75 WHIP led the NL and a 15.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio led MLB.

Aside from the reliance on an explosive cutter, reminiscent of his role model, Mariano Rivera, 12 saves of at least four outs is just one example of why Jansen pretty much breaks the traditional mold of the one-inning closer.

"Whatever it takes to win a championship, I'm all-in," Jansen said of his usage. "I just believe in my strengths."

Video: SF@LAD: Jansen fans Jones to clinch the division

A native of Curacao, the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Jansen was a World Baseball Classic catcher for Team Netherlands before being shifted to the bullpen by Dodgers farm director DeJon Watson when it became clear his bat wouldn't get him to the Major Leagues.

Jansen, who turned 30 last week, was tutored in the Minor Leagues by knuckleballer Charlie Hough; during his early Major League seasons by bullpen coach Ken Howell and Rivera's bullpen catcher Mike Borzello (now with the Cubs); then with bullpen coaches Chuck Crim and Josh Bard. Jansen also has overcome 2012 heart surgery for atrial fibrillation to emerge as the heart of the Dodgers' bullpen.

If there is one match-up against Arizona the Dodgers are confident about, it's the reliability of Jansen (41-of-43 save opportunities, 5-0, 1.32 ERA) compared to Fernando Rodney (39-of-45 save opportunities, 5-4, 4.23 ERA).

How does Jansen do it? According to Statcast™, he keeps it simple.

To get 109 strikeouts with only seven walks in 68 1/3 innings, Jansen threw three percent of his pitches in three-ball counts, the lowest percentage for pitchers with 750 pitches. His 88.4 percent usage of cutters was the second-highest in the game for any single pitch type, behind the Royals' Scott Alexander. And he made 72.8 percent of his pitches in the strike zone or on the edges, fifth among pitchers with a minimum of 750 pitches.

While he doesn't rely on trickery, he's now confident enough to throw an improving slider or an occasional backup cutter.

Tweet from @kenleyjansen74: we're desperate for that 💍... #step1 let's get it right @Dodgers #postseason pic.twitter.com/BNqU6DVHFy

And accepting a challenge from manager Dave Roberts, Jansen has emerged as a bullpen and clubhouse leader like Jamey Wright and J.P. Howell were to him. Jansen gave the post-clinch team speech and he took the initiative to help Pedro Baez work out of his recent slump.

"Since Doc got here he's made me a better person and better player," Jansen said. "I never thought I'd be a leader in the clubhouse and here I am. He's gotten me where I am today." 

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Kenley Jansen