It’s probably safe to say that Kenley Jansen has finally freed himself from the shackles of setup relief duty. Since entering the league in 2010, Jansen has been comparable to the historically excellent Craig Kimbrel with one exception, the Dodgers keep blocking him at closer. In 2013, it was the recently re-signed Brandon League who stood between Jansen and fantasy reliever gold. Of course, League asploded and hemorrhaged runs all over the field, so Jansen was called back into action. He was worth over $14 according to Zach Sanders, a value that was held down by just 28 saves.
Jansen is the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera in that he throws cut fastballs almost exclusively. Jansen does mix in a sinker to left-handed batters and the occasional slider when ahead in the count, but he mostly just hammers batters with cutters 90 percent of the time.
Interestingly – and this really doesn’t have any bearing on fantasy analysis – Jansen’s sinker has slightly less vertical drop than his cutter. His slider has the same horizontal movement as his cutter, but it’s slower and has more vertical drop.
Jansen is entering his age 26 season and has grown into the total package. Early in his career, he struggled with command and control which led to a walk rate near 14 percent. He’s trimmed that rate every season, down to just 6.2 percent in 2013. His strikeouts have been declining, but he still sat down 38 percent of hitters last season and his whiff rate was stable the past two years. In addition to his 111 strikeouts, fantasy owners surely enjoyed his 1.88 ERA and 0.86 WHIP.
As superlatively excellent as Jansen has been, we should expect some level of regression, if only because history has taught us that for every Rivera there are two score of players like John Rocker. Superlative excellence usually regresses, whether it’s due to luck, league adjustments, injury, aging, arbitrary performance decline, or some other reason altogether. That said, a regressed Jansen remains exceedingly useful to fantasy owners since he would still contribute positively to four categories.
A past concern with Jansen is injury, but he seems to have overcome the worst of it. All pitchers face injury risk, but Jansen had a particularly frightening scare with heart trouble in 2011 and 2012. After the 2012 season he had surgery to fix the issue and was totally healthy last season. Jansen himself stated that the condition was “finally fixed.” He hasn’t shown any other signs of injury, but he did throw 81 innings in 81 appearances last season between the regular season and playoffs. That kind of workload can presage reliever injury.
As far as what you should pay for Jansen, he’s in the same boat as Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman – one I’ll explore in more detail tomorrow. The short of it is this: he’s an excellent addition for a team that isn’t excessively active on the waiver wire. With health, he should guarantee elite four category production. However, he’s likely to cost in the neighborhood of $15-20 in an auction, which means that some owners will prefer to use their funds elsewhere. Alternatively, any owner who fails to acquire high quality starting pitching could target Jansen as a means of making up ground in rate stats.
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