CHICAGO -- Kenley Jansen has never met Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, the top closers in Major League Baseball history, with a combined 1,253 saves in 37 seasons.It's tempting to say that as good as the Dodgers' closer is right now at age 29, he hasn't even begun to make
CHICAGO -- Kenley Jansen has never met Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, the top closers in Major League Baseball history, with a combined 1,253 saves in 37 seasons.
It's tempting to say that as good as the Dodgers' closer is right now at age 29, he hasn't even begun to make the grade with 213 saves in his eighth season with Los Angeles.
But the Dodgers are running away with their fifth consecutive National League West title, and Jansen's performance is certainly one of the big reasons for all that success.
"When you're looking at those guys, you're looking at the test of time," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who played with or against both Mo and Hoffy in his 10-year career. "You're looking at Kenley in a small window. And then you look at those guys and double it. That makes it a different conversation."
This is the conversation: Jansen is the best closer right now in the NL. Craig Kimbrel has the honor this year in the American League, with Albertin Chapman a close second because of the left shoulder problems he's experienced, limiting his use this season.
At a time when closers are often injured and disposable, those three finish games for their respective teams on a multiple-season basis.
Hoffman and Rivera are on the verge of election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Rivera certainly the first time his name appears on the ballot in 2019, and Hoffman as early as next year. Hoffman missed by a mere six votes earlier this year.
Right now, Hoyt Wilhelm, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage are the only pure relievers in the Hall. Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz had stellar careers, but they served as both starters and relievers.
Hoffman and Rivera played in the same time period and will always be linked together, their names on the awards given to the top relievers each season in their respective leagues. Hoffman, who pitched for three teams (including 16 seasons for the Padres), has his name on the NL award and Rivera, who toiled all of his 19 seasons for the Yankees, has his name on the AL version.
Jansen won the Hoffman Award last season when he had a career-high 47 saves, a 1.83 ERA and 0.670 WHIP. He walked only 11 batters while striking out 104 in 68 2/3 innings. This year, Jansen has been even stingier, whiffing 62 and walking just two in 41 innings coupled with an 0.88 ERA, a 0.59 WHIP and 24 saves.
Here's the reason for Jansen's stunning success: According to Statcast™, he utilizes the cutter for 91 percent of his pitches. A stunning 77 percent of those pitches result in strikes and 31 percent of his strikeouts are the result of swings and misses on that signature pitch.
Rivera primarily used his cutter 99 percent of the time, resulting in 1,173 whiffs in 1,283 2/3 innings. His strikeout per nine-inning ratio was 8.2. Jansen, with 694 strikeouts in 449 2/3 innings, has an amazing 13.9 SO/9.
"They're the same," Roberts said. "When I say it's the same, that's as a big a compliment as you can get. Kenley's cutter is 92-94 mph with about a six-inch break. Mo was very comparable with a three- to four-inch break, but it was very late. Very comparable."
The late break makes it virtually impossible for hitters to adjust as that signature pitch moves in and around the strike zone.
It's no wonder that Jansen has an affinity for both Rivera and Hoffman.
Jansen lamented missing meeting the two top relievers last year when plane trouble forced him to skip the top reliever award presentation ceremony in Chicago during the World Series. Orioles closer Zach Britton won the 2016 Rivera Award.
"My plane was delayed and it got cancelled," Jansen said. "I was really bummed out to not meet those two guys. I would love to meet Trevor Hoffman. I would love to meet Mariano Rivera. For me playing, those are the two guys who give me the most motivation. If I want to be among the best, you have to perform at that level a long time. I'm just a short way along that journey."
In his eighth season, Kimbrel, now with Boston, has 280 saves, 186 of them for the Braves, a franchise record. He also pitched one season for the Padres. Chapman, the Cuban left-hander who throws 100 mph, has 192 in his second tour with the Yankees. He's in his eighth season, too, having won the World Series last year as a late season rental with Cubs. Chapman was signed by the Reds and played his first seven seasons in Cincinnati.
Jansen is on track to pitch his entire career with the Dodgers, and he says he doesn't want to play anywhere else.
When Jansen had a chance to be a free agent this past offseason, he turned down a lucrative offer from the Nationals. He remained loyal to the Dodgers, who signed him for five years at $80 million.
"Washington made a great run at me," Jansen said. "I thought I was going to be there. Then the Dodgers came back and got the last offer. Though the Washington offer was great, in the end, you have to think about where you want to be in your heart and where your family wants to be. And we all agreed we want to be in L.A. That's the best decision I made in my life."
At the same time, the Giants wound up signing free-agent right-hander Mark Melancon to a four-year, $62 million contract. Jansen said he was never in that mix.
"I probably wouldn't have gone there anyway because of the rivalry," Jansen said. "I love the Dodgers, man. I could see me in a lot of different uniforms, not the Giants."
There's that loyalty, again. And because of it, Jansen and the Dodgers continue to have the perfect marriage and recipe for success.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.