The most interesting thing about last night’s game was Kenley Jansen.
I mean, it certainly wasn’t that the Giants lost a 2-1 game to Clayton Kershaw with Tim Lincecum on the mound. That’s happened more times this year than I’ve had haircuts. It certainly wasn’t that Bochy loaded the lineup with right-handed hitters–guys who are more right-handed than talented. And it wasn’t interesting that Bochy went with Huff with the game on the line in the ninth instead of the Baby Giraffe, Brandon Belt–Huff grounded into a double play, in case you missed it.
There wasn’t anything astonishing about the fact that the Giants were all but mathematically eliminated, either. After all, we’ve been sort of waiting for that piece to fall for the past few weeks. It was fun while it lasted during the 8-game run, but it was going to be tough to win out.
- – - – - – - – - -
Kenley Jansen immediately became interesting when he struck out Pablo Sandoval and Carlos Beltran on seven pitches without breaking a sweat. The game was on the line, and Jansen snuffed out the small fire Kershaw’s back-to-back walks in the eighth had created in roughly two minutes. He whiffed Panda on three straight fastballs on the outside corner, all swinging. Then, he got Beltran to strike out on four–the only ball was a perfectly placed pitch. The strikeout pitch was a perfectly placed fastball on the lower, outside half that Beltran could only gaze at.
My first reaction was frustration: Seven fastballs to the Giants’ only two legitimate hitters–and legitimately legit at that, not just Giants legit. Soon after, the fact that he did it with 100 percent fastballs had me interested. It sent me to FanGraphs. He also appeared to have superb control throughout the seven pitches, so I wondered if that was usual for him.
That’s when things got really interesting. Jansen has thrown a fastball nearly 87 percent of the time in his young career, averaging between 93 and 94 on the gun. That’s a good velocity but nothing spectacular. Oh, just a minor note, he’s also striking out nearly 16 batters per nine innings. So how’s he doing it?
Well, someone on Twitter suggested that it might be do to the cutting action he appears to be getting on his fastball. I asked pitchf/x guru of Baseball Prospectus, Mike Fast, and he confirmed it. So that’s certainly part of it.
Another thing I noticed, while watching the postgame clips, is that he hides the ball extremely well. His arm hangs before he thrusts forward towards the batter, and then right at the last second it whips over and is released. The batter doesn’t see the ball until it’s on its way. When I guy can touch 95, that can be a problem for the hitter.
To make matters worse, he’s 6’6″. That further lessens the amount of time the batter has to react because the ball is typically released further from the rubber, closer to the hitter. Giants fans will recall another tall fellow that was tough to square up: Chris Young. Well, imagine if Young was throwing harder with cutter-like movement. Not fun.
[He's striking out] …more than 15 per 9 innings this year, including nearly SIXTY-FOUR percent of the batters to face Jansen in September. 64%! That works out to more than 22 K/9 this month. Wow.
The craziest part of Jansen’s month of September is the complete lack of walks to accompany this overwhelming number of strikeouts. How does one walk grab you?
One walk, twenty-three strikeouts, thirty-six batters faced. 36 BF, 23 K, 1 BB. OMG…
Jansen’s stuff is predictably nasty. He throws a fastball that cuts a little around 95 mph and a slider that comes in considerably slower. In the last month, Jansen’s only gone to the slider around 9% of the time, throwing the cutter almost exclusively. Which is to say: Kenley Jansen is the new Mariano Rivera.
Obviously, Jansen isn’t the second coming of Rivera. There will be no second coming of Rivera. That said, that someone is allowed to mention Rivera’s name in a post (without being ridiculed mercilessly) about him says it all. This guy is filthy.
In closing, this isn’t good news for the Giants. The Dodgers have had a good run of excellent closers. Eric Gagne was nearly unhittable for a time. Jonathan Broxton was extremely effective there for a while. I suspect that Jansen will take over soon, if the Dodgers know what’s good for them, and he’s certainly equipped with the tools to make ninth-inning comebacks a real tall order for the Giants.
But is he just having a good month? Has just strung a few good innings together? I think it could be more than that. Jansen threw just 64 innings in the minor leagues between A-Advanced and Double-A before coming to the Dodgers. Why’s that, you ask? Because he used to be a catcher, just like Felix Rodriguez was a catcher in the Dodgers’ system before becoming a good major league reliever. Jansen was a catcher as recently as 2009. He’s had very little time to hone his pitching skills.
If healthy, he’s probably only going to get better.