Los Angeles Dodgers: The greatness of Kenley Jansen

May 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) and relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) celebrate after defeating the Miami Marlins 7-2 at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
May 18, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) and relief pitcher Kenley Jansen (74) celebrate after defeating the Miami Marlins 7-2 at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Los Angeles Dodgers closer is something of a behemoth, especially for a baseball player.

Listed at 6’5″ and 275 pounds, the 29-year old right-hander from the Caribbean island of Willemstad has a physique befitting a catcher, his original position. Kenley Jansen was the backstop on the 2003 Senior League World Series team from Pabao, the Willemstad island powerhouse in his native Curacao.

He was a plate blocker when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers in November of 2004, and he wore the tools of ignorance until a sojourn to San Bernardino in 2009 where he ran into a pitcher that parlayed mastery of one-pitch into a 25-year major league career.

It was knuckleballer Charlie Hough, a converted position player himself, that was tasked with turning Jansen into a pitcher. The arm strength from the Curacaoan was not a surprise, but the smooth delivery and darting nature of his fastball were revelatory.

After only 61 1/3 dominating innings in the minor leagues, he was called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers, earning a save in his second appearance. The save was in a game started by Clayton Kershaw, which would become a familiar theme for Dodgers fans.

Now in his eighth season, the Dodgers rely on the herculean Jansen as a true closer. If the closer seems to be nearly unhittable, it’s because he is – the career 0.88 WHIP would be first on the all-time major league leaderboard if he qualified. And there’s also this gem:

To extrapolate, Kenley Jansen has allowed 257 hits and walked 119 batters in 424 2/3 career innings. He’s also struck out 664 batters, or an unfathomable 14.1 per nine innings. That will also rank first all-time if Jansen maintains this pace for 1,000 innings.

Kenley Jansen saved 180 games in his first five seasons as Dodgers closer, earning a five-year, $80 million contract, the second-highest-ever for a closer. Though closers are largely fungible, the club felt confident enough in his performance and health to take the risk. He already ranks in the top-50 of all-time saves leaders, and it is his equanimous demeanor that inspires confidence throughout the clubhouse and organization.

After the signing, Dodgers stalwart third baseman Justin Turner quipped, “Kenley’s the leader of the bullpen down there… his leadership, his experience, his willingness to be unselfish and take the ball whenever the team needs him to take it… That sets an example for those guys down there.”

It also sets a standard that has Jansen living with comparisons to the game’s all-time greatest closer, Mariano Rivera. With a career .171 batting average against and a cut fastball that bores in on left-handed batters and dives away from right-handers, the performance parallels to Rivera both analytically and artistically.

Though Rivera did not switch positions, he also was converted to the relief role that would come to define his career. And Rivera was renowned for the calm confidence he espoused on the mound, especially during the highest leverage situations during a game.

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One key difference, thus far, is that Jansen has not been to the World Series. He’s visited the postseason five times, each ending with a heartbreak intimately familiar to Dodgers fans. His 15.5 strikeouts per nine are ratcheted up from his regular season performance, but his 2.66 ERA and otherwise fabulous 1.033 WHIP are less impressive than his normal numbers.

But his breakthrough performance in the 2016 playoffs, when the big man plowed his way through multi-inning performances against both the Nationals and Cubs, proved that Jansen really is the most dominant closer in the game.

The National League Division Series game five clincher proved that Jansen is a workhorse as well, hurling 2 1/3 scoreless innings on 51 pitches, both career highs.

But one thing was different that game – he was the setup man, much like Mariano Rivera in his early career postseasons. And the man he set up, Kershaw, only had one other career save. The catcher? A young, burly Curacaoan named Kenley Jansen.

It has been quite a journey for the Colossus from Curacao, but he is only getting started. His quiet dominance is underappreciated by those that live outside of Los Angeles but his numbers ensure that he will be appreciated throughout baseball lore, potentially culminating with a plaque in Cooperstown.

Next: The Dodgers big four that will win the World Series

Here’s hoping that they have a plaque large enough to capture the greatness of Kenley Jansen.