The Dodgers brought closer Kenley Jansen back on the richest contract the team has ever given to a relief pitcher, and he had his best season to date in 2017.
What went right
Jansen topped his incredible 2016 by having a slightly higher strikeout rate in 2017, and got even more stingy with the walks. He only walked seven on the year to go with 109 strikeouts, and started the season with a major league record 51 strikeouts before his first walk, which came on June 25, to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Even if you exclude Jansen’s first 51 strikeouts, the remainder of his season — 58 strikeouts and seven walks — would have produced the ninth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.29) in baseball.
Among major league relief pitchers with at least 40 innings in 2017, Jansen was the best in ERA, FIP, FanGraphs WAR (3.5) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (15.57), was second in xFIP (1.82), SIERA (1.48), strikeout rate (42.6%), walk rate (2.7%), and K-BB rate (39.5%), ranked fifth in Baseball-Reference WAR (2.9) and was sixth with a .476 opponents OPS (a 29 OPS+).
Jansen converted 41 of 42 saves during the regular season, tying for the National League lead in saves, and joined Eric Gagne as the only Dodgers pitchers with three 40-save seasons.
During October, Jansen posted a 1.62 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 16⅔ innings, while appearing in 13 of the Dodgers’ 15 postseason games, and opposing hitters hit .138/.206/.276.
What went wrong
This 0-2 pitch to Marwin Gonzalez in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the World Series:
Gonzalez made Jansen pay for his missed location — “It was one missed pitch, and he got me,” Jansen said — with a game-tying home run, opening the floodgates for an 11-inning Houston win to tie the series.
Before that Gonzalez home run, Jansen in his career allowed only two home runs on an 0-2 count, both in 2016. This year, opposing batters were 5-for-60 with a double, a hit by pitch, and 39 strikeouts with an 0-2 count against Jansen, hitting .083/.098/.100.
After an 0-2 count against Jansen during the 2017 regular season, opposing batters were 6-for-95 with two doubles, hitting .062/.082/.084. The major league average in that situation was .164/.195/.254.
Stats: 1.32 ERA, 1.31 FIP, 0.746 WHIP in 68⅓ IP, 109 K, 7 BB, 41 saves in 42 chances
Salary: $14 million — including $10 million in base salary and a $4 million signing bonus
Game of the year
While I’m tempted to choose Game 1 of the NLCS, when Jansen struck out all four Cubs batters to save the win, I’m going back to the regular season for June 2 at Milwaukee. Jansen pitched two scoreless innings — his longest outing of the regular season; he also pitched two innings twice in the postseason — with four strikeouts in the 11th and 12th innings in a Dodgers win.
Jansen will make $10 million in 2018, the second season of his five-year, $80 million contract. The right-hander can opt out of the deal and into free agency after the 2019 season.