- Sept. 2, 2020: Jansen was named the National League Reliever of the Month for August.
- Sept. 5, 2020: Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen is rediscovering his dominance.
Since arriving in the league in 2010, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has shown to be one of the most dominant closers in the game. As a rookie in his first big league season, Jansen pitched to a 0.67 ERA in 25 games, striking out 37.6 percent of hitters.
Over the next five seasons as the Dodgers closer, Jansen was worth 9.9 fWAR. He posted a 39.6 percent strikeout rate with a 2.04 FIP and held opposing hitters to a .177 clip over 313 appearances, recording 138 saves in that span.
In 2016 Jansen was a part of a Dodgers squad who appeared in the National League Championship Series and the following season in the World Series. Jansen managed a 1.58 ERA to go along with his 1.38 FIP and a 41.9 percent strikeout rate across the two seasons. He was nearly untouchable.
The first half of 2018 saw Jansen continue his supremacy across baseball. Going into the all-star break, he carried a 2.33 ERA. Unfortunately, some of his numbers began to drop as his FIP and xFIP rose considerably to where they once had been. In August of that year, while on the road in Denver, Jansen suffered an episode of atrial fibrillation due to a heart condition that has been present since first discovered during the 2011 season.
Following the season, Jansen underwent his second heart surgery in November of 2018. The 2019 season saw Jansen make 62 appearances, a similar number of games to where he had been previously. His numbers did spike as he posted a career-high 3.71 ERA. The strikeouts were, however, still present, but the FIP and xFIP, respectively, ballooned.
Jansen returned this year with the goal in mind to return to his previous self. He has done that, and more, as through his first 19 games, he has recorded ten saves and, at present, has pitched to a 1.06 ERA. One of his most notable changes from previous years has been his pitch selection. Moving away from the cutter, his primary pitch, Jansen, has implemented his sinker’s high usage.
The shift has resulted in 99th-percentile exit velocity, 100th-percentile hard-hit percentage, and 98th-percentile xwOBA. Jansen has managed a ridiculous 0.88 WHIP and has seen his soft contact rate jump from 17.2 percent last season to 27.3 percent in 2020. The hard contact has significantly decreased, moving from 38.7 percent in 2019 to 27.3 percent this season.
The Dodgers have borne the National League West crown each year since 2013 and seems destined to repeat this season as long as they can keep the surging San Diego Padres at bay. At 30-10, they are the best team in baseball, having won six straight. (Logan Whaley)
|DOB:||9/30/1987||Agent:||Wasserman Media Group|
|Birth City:||Curacao, Netherland Antilles|
|Draft:||2004 - Dodgers - Free agent - Out of Curacao|
Jansen and former Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens grew up as neighbors and were teammates in youth ball in Curacao.
In March 2009, Kenley was the starting catcher for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, helping seal a 3-2 upset of the Dominican Republic by throwing out Willy Taveras trying to steal third base in the 9th inning.
In June 2009, the Dodgers moved Jansen moved from catcher to pitcher. When he was an amateur in Curacao, some international scouts preferred him as a pitcher because of his strong arm and questionable bat.
After four seasons in Rookie ball and with the low-Class A Great Lakes Loons (MWL), Kenley had played 224 games, hitting only .234 with a .319 on-base-percentage and .346 slugging percentage. De Jon Watson told Kenley the obvious: strong-armed catcher who couldn't hit more than .230 in Class A don't have much of a future.
So the Dodgers converted him. He didn't embrace the move at first, but has grown to appreciate it and love the challenge pitching provides.
"I wanted to quit, to be honest with you," Jansen said years later. "I talked to my family, to my brothers. But I wanted to quit, honestly. That's the way I felt—like I was a failure, I didn't see the bright side."
In 2011, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Jansen as the 8th-best prospect in the Dodgers organization.
Jansen said, "My whole thinking is strike one. Strike one will change the whole at-bat." The reasoning is simple: If the batter quickly falls behind in the count, it's an advantage for Jansen.
Plus, he said, "If I'm ahead in the count, I still have a lot of places to miss" with the next pitch. "When I get two strikes, that's when I have a little more in my tank and I try to sneak [the third strike] in there."
It may seem like Jansen is throwing as hard as possible, but actually he keeps an extra ounce of oomph in reserve.
Jansen was a late addition to the Netherlands national baseball team for the March, 2013 World Baseball Classic, as he was added to the roster for the semi-finals but did not appear in the game.
- When his season ends, Jansen goes back to Curacao and usually can't be found except by ship-to-shore radio. He fishes in the ocean for red snapper and tuna, and tries "to get away from baseball as much as I can, until I come back here in January and start getting ready."
He also runs a foundation that aids young basketball, volleyball and baseball players.
Kenley is one of the best closers in the game, yet he even gets lost in the mix on his own team.
Jansen's consistency and quiet nature work against his marketability. Because he doesn't have an on-field persona and doesn't get emotional, he's not as identifiable as some of the game's more demonstrative closers to the casual fan. But all that matters is what he hitters perceive, and I guarantee they don't like facing him.
Aug. 16, 2015: Long before anyone was at Dodger Stadium, Jansen was awake at 4:00 a.m., awaiting the birth of his second child. And just before 10:00, Jansen had an eight-pound, nine-ounce baby boy: Kaden Isaiah Jansen.
There was planning to the birth—an induced labor allowed Jansen to remain in Los Angeles and not miss any games. "I don't have to go on the road and fly back and miss games," Jansen said.
Jansen and Don Newcome are close. "He's my father in the United States," Kenley says.
Underneath his fedora, Newcombe brightens at Jensen's name. "I think he's a fine human being," Newcombe emphasized. "He's like a son to me, and he wants me to just be a part of his life. That's no big deal, no instructions or anything. just a part of him."
Jansen says, "Mentally, he talked to me so much. He helped me so much to become a stronger man, a better man. I feel he taught me a lot about just how to be strong out there, and be competitive—on the field and off.
"However you want to say it, he's a Hall of Famer in my heart. I know his whole life. Just think about all the stuff he went through—nobody stronger mentally right there. So he definitely helped me a lot. I feel like he just made me better."
And Newcombe said of Kenley looking up to him so much, "I don't look down to him. I look level at him and see how good he's doing, and I cheer him. My wife sends him messages all the time and if I'm watching on television and he gets on the mound. I tap him on the hill on the screen: 'Come on big fella, let's go—and get that first lady. He can't hear me, but he knows how I feel." (Dodger Insider - June, 2016)
As of June 23, 2016: Kenley Jansen has 162 saves for the Dodgers. Eric Gagne had 161. Bullpen catcher Rob Flippo warmed them both up for all 323.
The Dodgers held a pregame ceremony before June 21, 2016's 3-2 win to mark the franchise record Jansen took from Gagne on June 20, 2016, when Jansen closed out a 4-1 win over the Nationals. Gagne was there to pass the torch, entering as usual to Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."
"You guys have the greatest closer in Dodger history right here," Gagne said. Jansen followed with 2Pac's "California Love," thanking Gagne for the congratulatory postgame phone call.
"It means all the world to me to have one of the greatest closers of all-time here," Jansen said.
While all that was going on, Flippo was in the Dodgers bullpen, where he's held the job for 15 years.
"Gagne was way higher intensity," said Flippo. "When he got up, it was rapid fire. I'd catch it and throw it back, and he'd already be halfway through his next delivery. It was crazy how fast and intense he warmed up. With Kenley, a limited number of throws, but it's consistent, the same routine, the same amount of warm-ups and the inning ends and two to the plate and he's in. Gagne would just throw, as fast as he can. He was like a bull in a china shop.
"Kenley is very methodical, he takes his time. Kenley is carefree. Gagne would be talkative early in the game and then he'd get quieter. Kenley waits for the phone to ring and then he takes the jacket off and gets going. Gags, as soon as the inning was over, he's on the mound and it's like, 'I got this game.' Two very different guys, but the same success." (Gurnick - MLB.com - 6/21/16)
In July 2016, Jansen was selected for the first time to the MLB All-Star game.
2017: Jansen played for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
Kenley's off-mound personality is about what you'd expect from a laid-back big dude from Curacao.
"I don't show emotion," Jansen says. "I feel like I want to protect myself. If I show weakness, If I show weakness, I give something else up."
July 2018 : Jansen was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
Nov 16, 2018: Jansen was joined by alumni Ron Cey and Dennis Powell in the 14th annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway at Dodger Stadium. "This shows you how great this organization is, and it's awesome to be a part of it," Jansen said. "We're putting smiles on people's faces and helping them enjoy their holidays."
A total of 1,200 meals provided by partner Smart & Final were distributed. Also partnering with the Dodgers were Rep. Jimmy Gomez, California State Sen. Kevin de Leon, California State Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilmen Gil Cedillo and Mitch O'Farrell. Their offices selected recipients among their constituents.
Also selected were students in the "Community of Schools," a strategic community partnership to improve the education and wellness of children attending local schools (all Title I) and living in communities surrounding Dodger Stadium.
Beneficiaries of the program also included participants of Dodgers RBI (the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation's youth baseball and softball program), local residents from communities surrounding Dodgers Dreamfields and the Bresse Foundation, a nonprofit organization supported by LADF.
"Many of our community members are coming from underserved areas that wouldn't normally have a Thanksgiving, and because of Smart & Final and our volunteers, they're going to have a great Thanksgiving," said Naomi Rodriguez, the Dodgers' vice president of external affairs and community relations. "We are honored to be here today as part of this Thanksgiving giveaway," said Joe VanDette, Smart & Final Group's vice president of marketing. "Smart & Final is about food, but more importantly, we're about the community and we're proud to be part of this event."
While distributing turkeys, Jansen said he will undergo heart surgery on Nov. 26, but he's expected to be fully recovered by Spring Training.
"If we don't find anything, so let's say they go in and nothing happens, everything is good, I will be done in two weeks," Jansen said. "But if something is abnormal, then I'll be down for eight weeks. ... But I still can do all my [offseason work] to get ready for Opening Day." (K Gurnick - MLB.com - Nov 16, 2018)
Dec 5, 2018: The family Christmas photo is typically a time for the whole household to dress up to pose for an adorable picture to send out to all your family and friends. You gather around the tree in your best sweaters and take as many pictures as it takes to get one in which everyone is looking at the camera and smiling. Kenley Jansen's family takes a different approach. Everyone puts on a Dodger Blue onesie, stands next to the tree and lets the magic happen:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It is all year long w/my family! The Jansen’s wish you and your loved ones a very happy and blessed holiday season. While it's clearly the matching outfits that make the photo so special, the Jansen children deserve a special shoutout for truly bringing their A-game to the shoot: At the end of the day, these photos are really about preserving memories as the kids grow up. Surely, everyone will have fond memories looking back on those faces and onesies. (E Chesterton - MLB.com - Dec 5, 2018)
Feb 13, 2019: Kenley Jansen said cardiologist Dr. Koonlawee Nademanee "is the best probably in the world" and it must be true, because the surgeon not only fixed Jansen's heart but also his mind. The Dodgers closer threw a bullpen session as if he never had a 5 1/2-hour procedure performed in late November to correct a defect that caused an irregular heartbeat. Jansen's early workout at Camelback Ranch was in marked contrast to last spring, when he coasted after a grueling 2017 campaign, suffered a hamstring injury rushing into shape just before the season started and struggled on and off right through the World Series.
Jansen said his heart is fine, mechanics are solid, velocity is not as important as late movement and he's hungry again—not just because he's on a low-carb, low-sugar, non-dairy diet that helped him shed 25 pounds.
"He lost a sixth of himself," said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations. "He is extremely motivated. A lot of his struggles was the hamstring injury. Mechanically, he got out of whack. It was a good learned experience for him and bodes really well for this year." Jansen agrees.
"Something in me is like, I got to prove everybody wrong," said Jansen. "I have the attitude since we lost the World Series, I just want to get better. Compete like I'm competing for a job, instead of having a vacation. We get to the finish line, but we don't go through the finish line, and that makes me more hungry. It's that mindset and I start now. My doctor told me to just go out and play and have fun.
"If you saw my bullpen today, I think the ball is coming out of my hand better than last spring. My arm slot is late still, that's normal, but the ball is coming out without trying, easy. Last year, I had a lot of problems with the [cutter] life. Got to be honest about it, I didn't have a Spring Training last year. Got the mindset, not just be a team leader, but the mindset of when you first get to the big leagues and win a job and be ready Day One." (K Gurnick - MLB.com - Feb 13, 2019)
April 3, 2019: Working out is the worst. You get sweaty and sore and there's usually very little in the way of chocolate chip cookies. However, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen found a way to make it pretty fun: He worked out with his young child, Kaden. Is there anything cuter than seeing Kenley struggle with giant dumbbells while Kaden wanders around lifting the much smaller ones? No, no there is not.
The story of Kenley Jansen’s MLB debutKenley Jansen didn’t want to be a pitcher. In his mind, even though his bat wasn’t cooperating, his ticket to the big leagues was as a catcher. But the Dodgers were persistent, and Charlie Hough recalled them trying to prove a point.
Hough, who for the first decade of his 25-year Major League career pitched for the Dodgers, was the pitching coach for the Dodgers’ High-A partner in 2009, the Inland Empire 66ers, the team Jansen began the season with that year.“I think it might have been intentional, but I’m not sure. We sent him from Inland Empire up to Triple-A,” Hough recalled. “He wasn’t the starter (there), the regular catcher. He kind of sat, and I think he was frustrated sitting. And when they sent him down it was to pitch.
Catcher Kenley Jansen and starting pitcher Rick VandenHurk of the Netherlands talk during the World Baseball Classic at Dolphin Stadium on March 15, 2009 in Miami, Florida.
“He was down. I was thinking we aren’t going to make him more down. This has got to be fun. It’s got to be a ticket to the big league, kid.”
Jansen’s final game as a catcher was June 29, 2009. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts with the Albuquerque Isotopes. On July 30, 2009, he made his pitching debut for the 66ers. He went an inning, allowing one hit, no walks, no runs and striking out a batter.
“I thought he’d pitch in the big leagues right away,” said Hough, the man in charge of helping convert Jansen from catcher to pitcher. “I seen him pitch an inning or two and thought, this kid’s going to be all right. He’s going to get to the Dodgers. But there’s no way you can predict 10 years of this stuff. You can’t predict that. Very impressive.”
Jansen was added to the Dodgers’ 40-man roster in the 2009 offseason and in Spring Training was competing to make the big league club — though he was a longshot. One day in camp, he wore a wire and was followed around by Dodger cameras.
The cameras caught Sandy Koufax handing Jansen a baseball and saying, “Hold that. Make it your best friend.” And they caught then manager Joe Torre getting to know the project and asking him if he preferred pitching to catching.“I think it’s better for me,” he said, referring to pitching. “I learned it quicker than I learned to be a catcher. I get the learning process better on the pitching side.”
He started 2010 with Inland Empire then was promoted in mid-May to Double-A Chattanooga. On July 20, he had a 1.67 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 27 innings with Chattanooga. On July 23, the Dodgers designated veteran right-hander Justin Miller for assignment and gave Jansen his ticket.
On July 24, the Dodgers — 51–46 at the time and in fourth place in the National League West — were tied 2–2 with the New York Mets in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium.
Jansen struck out the first batter he faced in his big league career, Angel Pagán, on three pitches. He then struck out David Wright swinging on a 2–2 pitch. He went to 3–2 on Carlos Beltrán, then got him to ground out on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. That was it. It was quick — one inning, 14 pitches.
The Dodgers eventually won the game 3–2 in the 13th inning on a walk-off homer by James Loney. The very next day, Clayton Kershaw started and went eight shutout innings against the Mets. With a 1–0 lead, the Dodgers turned to Jansen. Again, he retired all three batters he faced, striking out two. He earned the first save of his career. After the final pitch that game, one in which he struck Ike Davis out swinging, he pointed to the sky.
“That’s God, you know. God is amazing. He just saved me one more time, just from a year of catching,” Jansen said after the game. “You don’t know where my future is and then everything just turned on. It’s just amazing. That’s why I just love God all the time.”
No one, as Hough said, could have predicted that Jansen would become one of the elite closers in baseball for nearly a full decade. Jansen came in as Jonathan Broxton was ending his run with the Dodgers as closer. In 2010, Jansen had a 0.67 ERA in 25 games. He served in middle relief and set-up roles to Javy Guerra in 2011. In early May 2012, after a stretch when Guerra blew three saves in six chances, Jansen took over as Dodger closer. He has held the role ever since.
Since 2012, only Craig Kimbrel (299) has more saves than Jansen (292). Jansen now has 301 saves — the most in Dodger history and 28th in Major League history. (Cary Osborne - July 20, 2020)
2004: Jansen signed with the Dodgers, out of Curacao. Scouts Camilo Pascual and Rolando Chirino signed Kenley.
February 11, 2014: Jansen and the Dodgers avoided arbitration, agreeing on a one-year $4.3 million.
January 16, 2015: Kenley and the Dodgers again avoided arbitration, agreeing on a one-year, $7.4 million pact for 2015.
January 15, 2016: The Dodgers and Jansen and avoided arbitration, agreeing on a one-year deal for $10.6 million.
Nov 3, 2016: Jansen elected free agency.
Jan 10, 2017: The Dodgers signed free agent Jansen back into their fold. He got a five-year, $80 million contract.
- Nov 3, 2019: Jansen declined to opt out of the final two years of his contract and remained with the Dodgers, executing the remaining $38 million on his contract.
In 2009, Jansen moved from catcher to the mound.
Kenley has a 93-98 mph 2-seam SINKER, and good feel for a 83-85 mph SLIDER with two-plane break.
Way back in 2011, he suddenly got a feel for a 90-92 mph CUTTER that, like Mariano Rivero, he found he had by accident. It has incredible late movement. It has made Kenley's career. (Spring, 2018)
"It's a natural fastball and it cuts a lot," Jansen said. Back when he was a catcher, his throws to the bases were straight and true—no movement. But not from the mound!?!?
"Then once I got on the mound, it started cutting. I remember (minor league pitching instructor) Charlie Hough never did quite figure it out. He just said keep throwing the ball."
Some combination of arm angle and release point, stride length and spin rate creates the late movement that makes Jansen's cutter one of the most difficult pitches in baseball to hit. His stride is so long that the all is coming out a good foot closer than everybody else.
The reason Jansen has so much success with the cutter is his natural arm action which makes the ball will be on the dead-center of the plate until it cuts away late. Swings target the middle, but the ball crosses the plate moving to the outside corner.
"I owe Charlie Hough a big thank you," Kenley said in 2017. "He kept it simple with me from Day One. That's why I have a simple delivery, simple mechanics. He said, 'You're a hard thrower. You're not a pitch. Just throw.'"
In 2013, Kenley tried to throw a two-seam sinking FASTBALL to see if it could compliment his deadly cutter. He said he could feel he was throwing in a more direct line to the plate than he does with other pitches, plus, the sinker was 94-96 mph, and has since gained velo, clocking as high as 98 mph, with sink.
"It's crazy," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "When he throws a two-seamer, because he's staying the ball better than the cutter, it actually has more velocity than the cutter.
2016 Season Pitch Usage: Sinker 5.1% of the time; Slider 6.8% of the time; and Cutter 88.1% of the time.
2017 Season Pitch Usage: Sinker 6.1% of the time; Slider 8.7% of the time; and Cutter 85.2% of the time.
2018 Season Pitch Usage: Sinker 10.3%; Slider 5.8% of the time; and Cutter 84% of the time. Average velocity: Sinker 94.5, Slider 83.4, and Cutter 92.8 mph.
2019 Season Pitch Usage: Sinker 13.4%; Slider 12.1%; and Cutter 74.5% of the time. Average velocity: Sinker 93.5 mph, Slider 82, and Cutter 92.1 mph.
Kenley's long arms and endless rocking-chair stride makes 95 mph look faster—a whole lot faster. And Jansen can touch 100 mph at times.
"I don't think you can really understand until you stand in the box against him," said Ross Stripling, just before the 2017 postseason started for the Dodgers. "He cuts down so much distance, and he throws a pitch no one else throws.
"A normal cutter is more horizontal, but his looks like it goes sideways and upward. It's very hard to describe and very strange." (Tim Keown - ESPN the Magazine - 10/02/2017)
Mike Borzello, the Yankees bullpen catcher when Mariano Rivera was in the early stages of developing his devastating cutter, moved to the Dodgers when Joe Torre did. And he was the bullpen catcher for Jansen when he discovered his cutter in a similar way late in 2011.
Borzello remembered Rivera learning the same way. Suddenly his ball started cutting and the Panamanian righty made a career out of the pitch. Jansen didn't know he had a cutter either until Borzello informed him during a bullpen session that his fastball had late movement on it.
Borzello said Jansen will eventually get to the same level of control as Rivera. But for now, the variance in where his cutter will finish and how much it will move is one of the biggest reasons he has kept hitters off balance. It is hard for a hitter to square up because it never ends up where you think it's going to be.
Kenley has good feel for pitching, having been a catcher for four years of pro ball. He knows how to work on hitters.
Kenley has a loose, easy delivery. The ball jumps out of his hand, making it that much more overpowering. He hides the ball well when coming toward the plate. His height and long arms have been measured by a MLB tracking system to show that his release point is second-closest to the plate behind only Jordan Walden of the Braves.
With Jansen's closer release point, a fastball of 93 mph would appear to be two or three mph fastball, because of the shorter distance from Jansen's finger tips to the plate.
In 2011, Jansen set a Major League record by striking out a staggering 16.1 batters per nine innings (with a minimum of 50 innings). Jansen fanned 96 in 54 innings, raising the bar from the 15.99 mark set by Cubs closer Carlos Marmol in 2011.
"And I had an 11.45 ERA in April," Jansen pointed out with equal parts pride and astonishment, a splashy 2.85 ERA at the finish, underscoring an in-season transformation almost as remarkable as the one he made in 2009 when he went from catcher to pitcher.
Kenley leaped over some pretty impressive Dodgers relievers as a one-season strikeout machine, closers like Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne (14.98) and All-Stars Jonathan Broxton (13.50) and Takashi Saito (12.29).
Jansen credits a drill overseen by bullpen coach Ken Howell and bullpen catcher Mike Borzello for the breakthrough in his command. Before each game, Jansen would throw a 15-pitch bullpen session working on hitting specific locations.
"My command wasn't good enough," said Jansen. "Then it really clicked. I straight-up remember the very first pitch and my focus was better. I was throwing through the catcher's glove, not to it. Focusing on strike one.
"This has been awesome. Growing up as a kid, you dream of just playing in the big leagues. And here you are, you're pitching in big league games, and the next thing you know you've got an all-time record? It's amazing."
Kenley knows how to pitch as a reliever. "You've got to understand the bullpen. I you want to do this job, you have to have a really short memory. If something happens in the past, you can't change it," Jansen said. "I have to tell myself the hitter's on the defense. I'm on the offense. If I become the defense, that's when I get in trouble. I always have to be in on offense and attack and do my stuff day in and day out."
HELP FROM CHARLIE HOUGH
In 2009, when Jansen was sent to High-A Inland Empire, he learned the pitching ropes from Inland Empire 66ers (San Bernadino) pitching coach and Major League veteran Charlie Hough.
"When he worked with Charlie his whole demeanor changed," De Jon Watson, Dodgers director of player development said. "He was excited about learning the craft and he immersed himself in it. When some of the major leaguers came down on rehab assignments he picked their brains. He kept getting better and better." (Doug Padilla-Baseball America-1/26/09)
Once a scuffling Minor League catcher, Jansen became the youngest Dodger to reach 100 career saves.
"I never thought I'd do that," said the 26-year-old Jansen, one shy of Ron Perranoski for fifth on the franchise all-time list and only 61 behind Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne's club record. "It's crazy. It all happened so fast."
Jansen can light up a radar gun, but mostly flies under the national radar. He's a strikeout record-breaker, but he's never been an All-Star. Jansen figures the accolades will come, just like the other achievements in his career.
"I was blessed with an arm, that's where my talent is," he said. "I believe in God and never lost faith. This was just meant to be."
When Jansen was encouraged to make the position switch, he wasn't so sure. He thought that after 4 1/2 Minor League seasons as a catcher with a .229 average, the club had given up on him as a hitter and was just giving him one more shot.
"They made me a pitcher because I couldn't hit, but I always thought I was going to hit, right to the day of the transition," said Jansen, who made the move under the advisement of Minor League vice president De Jon Watson, who convinced Jansen that pitching could be his ticket to the Major Leagues.
"I pitched a little bit in Little League in Curacao, but I thought pitching was boring and I never wanted to do it. When I made the transition, I was fighting it a little bit, because I still thought I would hit. Then I remember a 10-pitch inning in [Class A Advanced] with two strikeouts, and I said to myself, 'OK, I can do this.'"
Jansen made the switch in the middle of the 2009 season, and he said he didn't go all-in on the pitching gig until he was placed on the 40-man roster that winter. Rather than being boring, pitching had become Jansen's ticket to The Show. On July 23, 2010, one year after becoming a pitcher, Jansen became a Major League pitcher.
Jansen has overcome the typical command problems of youth, had to learn the nuances of his job on the fly, like holding runners on after being rushed. He even endured heart surgery along the way.
"Success makes it fun, and making a batter swing and miss makes it fun," Jansen said. "I just have fun with it. That's what [Minor League pitching coach] Charlie Hough taught me. He's the one that made me who I am. He made this fun, made me laugh and made me willing to learn. Thanks to him, I'm here today." (Gurnick - mlb.com - 8/28/14)
August 16, 2015: Jansen recorded four straight outs, two via strikeout, for his 24th save of the season. "It's a very exciting day for me," Jansen said. "Even though I didn't have much sleep (due to the birth of his second child), I still go off the excitement and feed off that."
With the save, he passed Jeff Shaw for second all-time in saves in Dodgers history. Jansen has 130 saves in his career, still 31 behind Los Angeles' all-time leader, Eric Gagne.
"To be second in one of the most storied organizations, it feels great," Jansen said. "I'm trying to get as many saves as possible and it's all about winning for me. You're going to be recognized for winning championships and that's everybody's goal in here. So I'm focused on winning and not too much on stats."
Jansen's best pitch is the cutter.
"It's always moving, it's never straight," Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford said. "His moves I don't know how many inches, but it moves a lot. I think that's why he's so effective."
Jansen throws a four-seam fastball and a slider as well, but his bread-and-butter pitch is his cutter, a pitch he threw over 85 percent of the time in 2015, according to Fangraphs. When a righthander throws a cutter, it breaks to the glove side, or in toward a lefthanded hitter. Chase Utley said it's hard for lefthanded hitters like himself to pick up a righthanded cutter that breaks in toward them.
"You don't see a whole lot of true cutter guys. His fastball naturally cuts," Utley said. "Depending on which side of the plate he's throwing it to, it kind of changes your game plan."
When a pitcher throws a cutter as frequently and as effectively as Jansen, it helps conjure memories of the man who made the pitch famous. "We all saw how good of a career Mariano [Rivera] had," Turner said of the former Yankees closer. "Kenley's off to a pretty good start to his."
"You got some good closers out there, but I'll take him anytime," Crawford said. "I don't want to face him. I'm glad he's on my team." (Emerson - MLB.com - 3/29/16)
A Jansen appearance starts with Kenley jogging slowly from the bullpen to the infield dirt, accompanied by the bounce of Tupac's "California Love," and then throttles down from there.
From the dirt to the mound, he really takes his. The walk is undertaken as an act of great personal courage: slow, trudging steps, the interminable lean to pick up the ball, the bayonet-charge aggression we've come to expect from closers? Nonexistent.
Baseball's best reliever (objectively) approaches his job like he's thinking, "I've got to prove this to you guys again?"
June 2016: Jansen became the Dodgers' career saves leader in June when he nailed down career save No. 162 to pass Eric Gagne. It also made him the first Dodgers reliever to string five consecutive seasons with at least 20 saves.
In 2016, Zach Britton of the Orioles and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers won their league's Reliever of the Year Awards.
May 18, 2017: Kenley finished his work and was congratulated by teammates for another first, an immaculate inning: nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts. The only problem was, Jansen didn't know what they were talking about.
"They had to explain it to me," said Jansen, who fanned Derek Dietrich, J.T. Riddle and Ichiro Suzuki to finish off his fourth four-out save this season in the Dodgers' 7-2 win over the Marlins at Dodger Stadium and the 79th immaculate inning in MLB history.
In 2017, Jansen collected his second straight Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year Award.
June 14, 2019: Jansen reached the 20-save mark for the eighth consecutive season, and with 288 in his career, he’s tied for 31st on the all-time list with Jose Valverde. He’s on the verge of a fourth All-Star appearance, motivated by the burning desire for a third World Series appearance and a first title.
September 17, 2019: Kenley recorded a four-out save in his third consecutive sharp outing after a season of struggles.
“This is the best I’ve felt the whole year,” said Jansen, who has 30 saves for the sixth consecutive season. “It took me longer this year. Too long. But everything happens for a good reason. Just learn from it, look forward and not back. It wasn’t the easiest one this year. It’s not going to get easier going through postseason.” (Gurnick - mlb.com)
Sept 25, 2019: Jansen notched career save No. 300, locking down a 6-4 Dodgers win over the Padres.
On the drive to Petco Park from Los Angeles, Kenley Jansen’s phone rang. It was Charlie Hough, the longtime knuckleballer-turned-mentor that Jansen credits for turning a failed Minor League catcher into an All-Star closer. Jansen then notched career save No. 300, locking down a 6-4 Dodgers win over the Padres.
This has been Jansen’s most difficult season in baseball since the 2009 conversion that rescued his career. Then, one week before the start of the postseason, Jansen got the call from Hough, and it was just what he needed.
“Charlie’s the man who brings happiness to me,” said Jansen, who has 32 saves and a chilled-but-unopened bottle of Dom Perignon teammates presented for his milestone.
“I was almost to the point where I was going to call it quits when they wanted me to start pitching. He gave me the opportunity to have fun. Getting that phone call from him, that was awesome. Just to hear him tell me to go out and have fun. Just to listen to his voice, it was a flashback. Kind of like relaxed me. The man just made me who I am from Day One as a pitcher. I hesitated to call him, but he must have sensed it.” (K Gurnick - MLB.com - Sept 25, 2019)
2020 Improvements: Jansen had his worst season as the Dodgers' closer last year and during the offseason, he did something about it.
Jansen had his delivery analyzed and adjusted by a data-driven assessment outfit, changed his winter throwing program and reported to Spring Training this week with an upbeat outlook made only brighter by the new player who lockers next to him, Mookie Betts, and the new one across the room, David Price.“I got to accept that I wasn’t at my best, and I’ve got to push through it to become a better pitcher,” said Jansen.
“Figured out some stuff. It went well,” said Jansen of his time at Driveline. “Learned to get back to where I used to be. My delivery changed so much, and you don’t even know that until they put all that stuff on your body and you figure out you lose eight percent on the cutter, eight percent on the rising. They give you exercise to put you back in position to fire the ball again.
“It feels like the ball has life on it. That’s what everybody’s telling me. One thing I see: It doesn’t go down, it stays in one lane.” (Ken Gurnick - Feb. 15, 2020)
As of the start of the 2020, Jansen has a career record of 30-21 with a 2.35 ERA, having allowed 57 home runs and 395 hits, with 903 strikeouts and 301 saves in 339 opportunities (88.8%) in 605 innings.
May 29-June 18, 2011: Jansen was on the D.L. with right shoulder inflammation. He had an MRI exam that revealed bursitis, but no damage to the labrum or rotator cuff. He had a cortisone injection.
- July 27-August 25, 2011: Kenley was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat after experiencing discomfort following his save in the previous night's 3-2 victory over the Rockies. It was a cardiac arrhythmia.
The 23-year-old Jansen complained after the game of a "flutter," according to manager Don Mattingly. He mentioned it to trainer Stan Conte after his seven-pitch outing. After being administered an EKG, Jansen was taken to a local hospital. He had a cardio conversion to get rhythm back to his heartbeat by shocking it with electrodes. Conte said Joe Beimel received the same treatment a couple years ago and pitched two days later.
"His heartbeat is regular now and everything is absolutely normal," Conte said. "We'll do even more testing to see what triggers this. After we find that out, we'll determine his playing status."
The reasons for the irregular beat were unknown, Conte said. He wasn't sure whether stress could be a cause, but he didn't notice Jansen feeling at all stressed. He said it could be a number of factors, such as food or drink.
Mattingly said the condition was first noticed in a physical exam during spring training.
August 29, 2012: Jansen had to be sidelined again with a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat. He went on blood thinners and was not allowed to work out because, if he were accidentally hit by a ball, he could be more seriously injured because of the medication.
The morning of September 2, Kenley was visited by the legendary Tommy Lasorda for a pep talk.
"He's been through this," said Kenley. "He told me not to worry about it. Worrying doesn't make it better. And when the good Lord calls you up, you don't have time to pack. Just don't be scared and live your life."
Jansen was preparing to have non-open-heart surgery, called cardiac ablation, with a recovery time of a month or two.
On October 24, 2012, Jansen underwent a three-hour procedure in which a surgeon identified abnormal tissue in his left atrium, which was generating abnormal electrical signals, and cauterized it.
On February 17, 2015, Jansen underwent surgery on his left foot. Based on the club's estimate, Jansen could be out until mid-May, missing one-quarter of the season.
According to the club, Jansen reported discomfort while running and underwent a series of tests that revealed a growth on the fifth metatarsal. Jansen had been working out at Dodger Stadium.
Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Hospital to remove the growth was performed by Drs. Earl Brien and David Thordarson under the direction of team Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Brien is a specialist in bone tumors and Thordarson is a specialist in foot and ankle surgery. (Gurnick - mlb.com - 2/17/15)
February 23-March 15, 2015: Jansen said doctors told him the foot problem is fixed, and it shouldn't return. On February 28, he traded the cast for a boot, when he will be allowed to slowly begin a conditioning program that will include throwing motions to help accelerate his recovery. Jansen said he didn't know if he received a bone graft to strengthen the affected area.
August 9, 2018: Kenley was hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat in Colorado, and after initial tests, he flew back to Los Angeles, where he will meet with his cardiologist for additional tests. Jansen felt the strange heartbeat at the team hotel and never made it to Coors Field.
Jansen said he will have a surgical procedure in mid-November like the one he had after the 2012 season. Both procedures were necessitated by an irregular heartbeat episode. In the 2012 procedure, Jansen underwent a catheter ablation in the left atrium of his heart to cauterize a damaged area and stop it from generating abnormal electrical signals. He will need three months to recover, but as in 2013, expects to be ready for the start of Spring Training.
Nov 26, 2018: Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen underwent corrective heart surgery and, in a video he posted on Twitter, promised he will be stronger than ever in 2019.
"Guys, I'm fine," Jansen said in the video. "The anesthesia is finally out of my system. I'm doing good. Enjoying the Christmas spirit. We'll see you guys soon in 2019, stronger than ever."
The club issued the following statement on Jansen's condition: "Dodger pitcher Kenley Jansen underwent an ablation procedure with Dr. Koonlawee Nademanee in Los Angeles. The procedure went as expected and Jansen is resting comfortably in the hospital. The club anticipates Jansen will be ready for Spring Training and available on Opening Day."
Jansen, 31, suffered an atrial fibrillation episode in August, 2018 in Denver as a result of a heart condition that leaves him vulnerable to an irregular heartbeat at high altitude. He skipped a return trip against the Rockies in September after a cardiologist advised he would be at "high risk" of another incident.
After missing time in August, Jansen allowed seven runs in four innings in his first four appearances off the disabled list, but he settled in to post a 2.70 ERA in his final 14 regular-season appearances (13 1/3 innings). He pitched 6 2/3 scoreless frames in the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series, but he gave up two home runs and blew both of his save opportunities against the Red Sox in the World Series.
Jansen underwent a catheter ablation in the left atrium of his heart after the 2012 season to cauterize the damaged area and prevent it from generating abnormal electrical signals. He expected a similar procedure would be required this time with an estimated recovery of eight weeks, in time for the start of Spring Training. (K Gurnick - MLB.com - Nov 26, 2018)
- July 17, 2019: Kenley Jansen was not available for the game against the Phillies after taking a comebacker off his right ankle in the ninth inning one night earlier. The right-hander had a significant limp in the clubhouse following the 9-8 walk-off loss at Citizens Bank Park, but he said his right ankle was feeling "better".
As for the long-term outlook, Jansen had his ankle taped and was getting treatment, but Roberts said he's confident the closer will avoid going on the injured list after tests on the ankle all came back negative.
"I don’t think so," Roberts said of a possible IL stint. "In talking to him, he was moving around much better today. It’s muscular, it’s not like the scans showed anything. So he’ll be fine."