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Why the Dodgers may have a Kenley Jansen problem this postseason

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Thursday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers will look to complete the best-of-three Wild Card Series sweep over the Milwaukee Brewers at Dodger Stadium (GameTracker). The Dodgers won Game 1 on Wednesday (LAD 4, MIL 2) thanks to two first inning bases loaded walks by Brent Suter. One more win and Los Angeles advances to the NLDS in the Texas bubble.

Longtime Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen closed out the Game 1 win but he was not especially sharp. His velocity was down and his command was not all that good even though the box score (1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K) makes it look like a fairly routine appearance. The final pitch to strike out Christian Yelich felt like a getting away with a bad pitch more than a dominant put-away offering.

The look on Jansen’s face says it all. Even when he was getting outs, he wasn’t happy with himself. The fact he threw only eight cutters among his 16 pitches tells us he wasn’t happy with the pitch. Jansen typically throws about 75 percent cutters these days, and in recent years it was up over 80 percent cutters. Even in a one-game sample, only 50 percent cutters is telling.

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Here is Jansen’s game-by-game cutter velocity since Opening Day 2019:

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Kenley Jansen’s velocity has dipped noticeably lately.
Brooks Baseball

Jansen’s velocity was way down earlier this season, though we can blame that on the shutdown and the unusual three-week summer camp. (Jansen also dealt with COVID-19 in June.) He was not the only veteran pitcher to come out of the gate missing velocity this year and Jansen did eventually get back into his usual velocity range as the season progressed.

In Game 1 though, the cutter averaged 88.2 mph, the lowest ever in a single game in Jansen’s career. His velocity was down at the end of the regular season too, sitting in the 89-90 mph range in his final three regular season appearances. That’s after sitting in 90-93 mph range most of the summer. That’s a significant drop in a short period of time.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts expressed some concern about his closer following the Game 1 win. From Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:

“It was good to see him get the job done,” manager Dave Roberts said afterward. “It just didn’t seem like the stuff had the teeth that I’ve seen in recent outings. I’m going to go back and look at the video.” 

“The cutter, there were a couple throws that had some life, but it just didn’t have the life in the zone,” Roberts said. “The breaking ball was cast more than I’ve seen it. So we’ll see. Again, I don’t know as much until I really look at it.” 

We’ve seen Roberts avoid Jansen in high-leverage situations in the past — he pushed Joe Kelly into a second inning rather than go to Jansen in Game 5 of the NLDS last year, most notably — and he may do so again if he doesn’t feel good about Kenley’s velocity or command. Blake Treinen had a strong regular season and is the obvious closer alternative.

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This is the deepest bullpen the Dodgers have had in years and, in theory, that makes it easier to avoid a compromised Jansen. The best case scenario would be his velocity and command returning in short order. Short of that, the Dodgers may have to make a change in the ninth inning. The games are too important and Jansen has not been sharp his last few times out. 


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