Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect bottom of the ninth inning against the Orioles for his 29th save on Thursday night, and it was the sort of uneventful outing that typically only gets a mention in the “Quick Hits” section of this column. Yet it was notable, not for what happened in this particular appearance, but how it fit into a larger trend.
The Dodgers’ closer threw 18 pitches, and only seven of them were in the strike zone. That 38.9 percent Zone% gave Jansen a string of eight outings in which he has recorded a Zone% below 40 percent in all but one appearance. Six of those eight performances have resulted in Jansen throwing no more than one out of every three pitches in the strike zone, and his cumulative Zone% over this eight-inning span is just 29.0 percent. To put this into perspective, no qualified reliever between 2014 and 2018 finished with a rate below 32 percent.
Even over a sample as small as eight innings and 155 pitches, this is an odd achievement for a pitcher who has recorded four of the nine highest single-season Zone% rates among qualified relievers between 2014 and 2018. On the surface, the trend does not look like a troublesome one for Jansen, and he has allowed seven hits and three walks over those eight innings with nine strikeouts. If there is a warning sign (beside the extremely low Zone% itself), it’s that four of the seven hits Jansen has allowed during this stretch have been for extra bases.
Because Jansen’s newfound lack of control has occurred over so few innings, it’s hardly a reason to drop him in any format. However, with pursuits of fantasy titles getting down to the wire, should we be concerned enough to at least consider our alternatives for the next few days in daily lineup leagues or for the coming week in weekly lineup leagues? Because what Jansen is doing is extreme, there are almost no recent comps. Two pitchers do come close, though.
Tim Mayza has done something close over his entire 2019 season that Jansen has been doing over the last 23 days. The Blue Jays’ lefty has barely cleared the 30 percent Zone% threshold while inducing whiffs and chases at well-above-average rates. The overall results, including a 4.91 ERA, have not been encouraging. The closest comp from the previous five seasons would be Zach Putnam’s 2015 campaign, which resulted in a 4.07 ERA. Then again, Putnam’s control was considerably better than Jansen’s has been, and he was also better at getting swinging strikes.
These comps show us that, if Jansen does not improve his control in the coming days, he could be a threat to give up too many runs and walks while not compensating for it with his strikeout rate. If you have enough alternatives to help you with saves, especially if ERA and WHIP still matter for your team, it may be worth your while to bench Jansen for now.
With Brad Hand out indefinitely with arm fatigue, the Indians’ closer situation is wide open, and it may be getting one more potential participant. The team is promoting James Karinchak from Triple-A Columbus on Friday. Given his dominant performance in Columbus and in Double-A Akron, where he combined to record 66 strikeouts over 27.1 innings, he would appear to be an instant candidate for high-leverage work.
In tallying his 31st save of the season against the Marlins on Thursday, Josh Hader extended his consecutive scoreless appearance streak to nine, covering 11.1 innings. Even more notable, though, were the two innings of setup work that Freddy Peralta contributed. He was perfect in both the seventh and eighth innings, striking out three Marlins. Since getting called up on Sept. 1, Peralta has 11 strikeouts in 5.1 innings, as well as 20 swinging strikes in 86 pitches for a 23.3 percent SwStr%. He could be a good source of strikeouts and holds over the remainder of the season.
For those looking to speculate on Shaun Anderson, who recorded a save for the Giants against the Pirates on Tuesday, you should first consider this update for incumbent closer Will Smith. The lefty is scheduled to play catch on Friday, and he may be able to return to game action this weekend against the Marlins.
Quick hits: Aroldis Chapman (37), Ian Kennedy (29), Felipe Vázquez (28), Héctor Neris (26), Liam Hendriks (21) and José Leclerc (13) all recorded saves on Thursday…Tommy Kahnle hurt his finger after slamming it against a container of sunflower seeds. The altercation with the snack container occurred after Kahnle was removed from the second game of the Yankees’ doubleheader against the Tigers…Joakim Soria last pitched on Sept. 6, and he did not appear in the Athletics’ 3-2 win over the Astros on Thursday night.
Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.