Over the years, a look at some Kenley Jansen stats will leave people wondering: will he end up in Cooperstown? The 35-year-old righty racked up the 400th save of his career on Wednesday night in Atlanta, reaching the milestone against the team he grew up rooting for. With so few relievers in the Hall of Fame though, fans still question whether Jansen should receive the honor. Between his stats and accolades, there’s a compelling case for his enshrinement.
Kenley Jansen Stats: The Hall of Fame Case
An Unlikely Transition From Light-Hitting Catcher to Lockdown Reliever
Jansen’s career is even more remarkable when considering the fact that he wasn’t even a pitcher for the first few years of his professional career. He was signed as a catcher at the age of 17 and he showed prowess behind the dish thanks to his strong throwing arm. However, he never hit very well and by 2009, the Dodgers convinced him to try being a pitcher. At first, Jansen struggled with his command, issuing 11 walks in 11 2/3 innings. However, he struck out 19 batters in that time and only allowed one home run.
A year later, Jansen was so dominant at High-A and Double-A that the Dodgers called him up to the majors that summer. While he wasn’t the team’s primary closer yet, Jansen dazzled from the day he was called up, striking out 41 batters and allowing just two earned runs, racking up four saves in 27 innings. Jansen still was a little wild, walking 15 batters, but he didn’t allow a single homer.
In 2011, Jansen served as the primary setup man for close Javy Guerra, and despite his ERA rising to 2.85, the right-hander continued to show progress. In 53 innings, Jansen struck out a whopping 44 percent of the batters he faced, and his walk rate dropped from 13.8% to 11.9%. Jansen again excelled at keeping the ball in the yard, allowing just three homers, and his FIP of 1.74 was actually lower than his mark from his debut season. He finished seventh in the Rookie of the Year balloting and seemed destined to take over the closer’s role going forward.
Kenley Jansen Stats: Consistent Excellence
There are many Kenley Jansen stats that show that he was consistently one of the best relievers in MLB. In 2012, Jansen was the Dodgers’ closer for the first time in his career. He racked up 25 saves, recorded a 2.35 ERA, and struck out 99 batters in 65 innings (13.7 K/9). Excluding the Covid-shortened 2020 season, Jansen has recorded at least 25 saves in every full season since he began closing games regularly.
Furthermore, 2012 began a stretch of nine straight seasons where Jansen walked under 10 percent of his opponents. From 2010-2018, Jansen struck out at least 37 percent of the batters he faced, topping the 40 percent mark four times. Jansen made three straight All-Star Games from 2016-18, winning the Trevor Hoffman Reliever of the Year Award in 2016 and 2017. In 2016, he saved a career-high 47 games and held opponents to a minuscule .446 OPS in 68 2/3 innings. That season, Jansen passed Eric Gagne to become the Dodgers’ franchise saves leader.
After getting a five-year, $80 million contract, he followed that season with an even more impressive year. In 68 1/3 innings in 2017, Jansen recorded a career-low 1.32 ERA, striking out 109 batters and walking just seven, giving him an eye-popping 15.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He began that season by striking out 51 batters before issuing his first walk of the season, setting a new MLB record. Jansen also only blew one save chance in 42 opportunities. While Jansen’s numbers declined between 2018-2020, he bounced back by recording a pristine 2.22 ERA/3.08 FIP with 38 saves in 69 innings in 2021.
Much like Mariano Rivera, Jansen has heavily relied on his cutter throughout his career, and even in his down seasons, it remained a very effective pitch. In the pitch-tracking era (2017-present), Jansen’s cutter has never had a positive run value and has had a mark of negative-10 or better four times, topping out at negative-19 in 2017. In 2023, Jansen’s cutter already has a negative-4 run value, and RV/100 of negative-2.8, which is a better rate than it had in his lights-out 2017 season (-2.2). Furthermore, Jansen is averaging 94.9 miles per hour on his cutter and 95.9 MPH on his sinker, the highest his velocity has ever been, and over two MPH faster than his 2022 averages.
Impressive Postseason Numbers
Thanks in large part to the Dodgers’ success during his tenure in Los Angeles, Jansen has appeared in 21 postseason series. He’s largely been strong under the bright lights, racking up 20 saves and recording a 2.20 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings. Jansen ranks second in saves in postseason history, trailing only Rivera. Among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in the postseason, Jansen’s 0.796 WHIP is the eighth-best mark. Furthermore, his 4.684 hits per nine innings rank fourth-best among qualified postseason pitchers.
Kenley Jansen Stats Compared to Hall of Fame Closers
Getting into Cooperstown as a relief pitcher has been proved as a steep task. Of the six players with more career saves than Jansen, only three have been voted in – and only eight relievers overall have received the honor. Lee Smith, who ranks third all-time with 478, had to wait until he was voted in by the Today’s Game Era Committee in 2019 for his enshrinement.
There are some signs that Jansen’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame are bright. Billy Wagner, who’s currently on the ballot, has seen his votes increase every year since 2018 and received an encouraging 68.1 percent of the vote this past year. Francisco Rodríguez, who ranks fourth on the all-time saves list, was able to garner enough support to remain on the ballot.
Compared to the eight Hall of Famers, Jansen has a lower career ERA all of them except Rivera. Jansen’s ERA+ of 161 also clears all of the Hall of Famers other than Rivera. While Jansen has pitched far fewer innings than them, he has a higher strikeout rate than all of them. Even more impressively, Jansen’s 5.8 H/9 and 0.940 WHIP are lower than that of all eight of the relievers in Cooperstown.
Jansen still has another year left on his contract with the Red Sox, and there’s a decent chance he passes both Wagner and John Franco in the saves rankings this year. By the end of his contract, Jansen seems likely to pass Rodríguez and even has a shot at passing Smith.
Verdict: Kenley Jansen is a Hall of Famer
This glance at many Kenley Jansen stats shows just how dominant the right-hander has been throughout his entire career. Even if he tails off a bit over the course of his current contract, it’s hard to find a case against him making it into Cooperstown when his playing days wrap up. By many measures, he’s been better than almost all the relievers that are already enshrined, and the only one who clears him in most categories in the consensus greatest closer of all time.
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