The Los Angeles Dodgers have in their bullpen a reliever who has a 2.58 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over the last two years, along with a 14.79 K/9 that is second only to Craig Kimbel.
And he won’t go into Spring Training as the team’s projected closer.
Kenley Jansen, by all measures you would use to evaluate a pitcher, has been one of the most dominant relievers in the league since 2011, but it’s Brandon League and his three-year, $22.5 million contract that is expected to have the inside track to open the season in the ninth inning for the drastically retooled Dodgers.
Health scares about Jansen’s heart have a lot to do with that, with the 25-year old having missed a combined 44 games over the last two years as a result. That’s one of the reasons why the Dodgers are going to be extra cautious with their talented reliever in 2013 as he will go into the season coming off heart surgery, but it looks as though Jansen is looking to put that part of his life behind him for good in 2013.
According to Bill Plunkett of the Orange Counter Register, the hard-throwing righty is “completely recovery” from the off-season procedure, and is even ahead of schedule when it comes to his throwing session this off-season.
If he can demonstrate that his heart won’t trouble his performance in Spring Training, he could very well regain the job that he had with the Dodgers last season before the season starts. Though it’s unofficially undecided at this point, there’s little doubt that the team isn’t looking to pay League $7.5 million to be a set-up man, but they would have a hard time arguing with Jansen’s skills.
Though League throws harder, Jansen is simply better across the board – he’s harder to hit, he walks fewer batters, and he struck out batters at twice the rate – all on one pitch.
Yes, Jansen does feature a slider in his two-pitches, but it’s his fastball on which he does his magic. In fact, he relied in it almost exclusively in 2012, throwing the pitch 94.5 % of the time in 2012 with brilliant results, despite a reduced velocity. The radar gun will be something to watch for over Spring Training, though the fact that Jansen had success despite the drop is a good omen for the Dodgers.
Still, it’s not as though he goes into the next month without questions. How much did his health problems have to do with his velocity? Will it continue trending downwards? Will he have to have a reduced workload post-surgery?
The velocity question is something that will be answered relatively early, but there will be keen eyes on his health over the course of the season. That said, if he can prove that he is in fact fully recovered, there is little doubt that Jansen will have no problem retaking the job he had last season.
Not even League’s $22.5 million contract will be get in the way of that.