Fantasy Baseball: Breaking Down Newly Appointed Closer Kenley Jansen's Value

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Fantasy Baseball: Breaking Down Newly Appointed Closer Kenley Jansen's Value
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Kenley Jansen can celebrate on the mound after the game with his teammates now that he is the Los Angeles Dodgers' closer.

Rejoice, Kenley Jansen owners; the Los Angeles Dodgers finally enacted the switch we have all eagerly awaited for two months.

Don Mattingly tolerated Brandon League's spotty ninth-inning production for a while, but the 30-year-old reliever pushed him one step too far after surrendering four runs in a blown save against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night.

The 30-year-old with the 6.00 ERA is out, and in his place comes Jansen, a 25-year-old sporting a 2.45 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 12.55 K/9 ratio.

As one of the many patient gamers who stood by the electric reliever's side, I can vouch for USA Today's Steve Gardner's expected reaction to the news from the fantasy community.

Jansen currently remains available in 29 percent of Yahoo! leagues, all of which presumably contain 10 or 12 owners on vacation. ESPN owners are a little sharper, as his ownership rate is 84.5 percent and growing. If Jansen is still lingering on the waiver wire, stop reading this and pick him up. Now.

Does that ever actually work? If so, let's hope you were kind enough to return here after acquiring a major coup for your team.

If not, and you don't trust me, then at least take B/R lead writer Jason Catania's word for it.

Any reliever with the chance to attach saves to his stat line is immediately worth a look in fantasy circles. It just so happens that Jansen is much more than your ordinary reliever. Now that he can help us out in the saves column, Jansen reclaims his positioning among the pantheon of elite closers. He could even become the best. 

Which begs the question, why did it take the Dodgers so long to pull the plug on League if Jansen is so darn good?

This isn't Jansen's first rodeo. He excelled as the Dodgers' closer last season, notching 25 saves, a 2.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 99 strikeouts through 65 innings pitched. Those rousing numbers led him to finish seventh on ESPN's Player Rater among closers, and that's if you still accept Fernando Rodney's inexplicable season as something that actually happened.

Unfortunately, Jansen missed time toward the end of 2012 with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that caused him to undergo a procedure during the offseason. Although Jansen was cleared in time to start the season, Mattingly still decided to keep League, who converted all six save opportunities last September, in charge of finishing games.

Before obliterating Mattingly as an old, out-of-touch manager riding with experience over talent, consider his rationale for employing Jansen as a setup man. Closers are often saved exclusively for save opportunities, unless they're about to embark in an extra-innings affair at home, and therefore often enter games in moments of less importance than a middle reliever.

According to a Los Angeles Times report from Kevin Baxter last month, the skipper did not want "to save his best pitchers to protect a ninth-inning lead they may never have."

You have to get there somehow. If we're getting there all the time, we're getting to the ninth consistently and everybody's pitching well and everybody's doing their thing, it's a lot easier to set a role. Right now we haven't gotten there consistently and we've had to use Kenley probably in some ways we don't like using him.

He may have been right to employ Jansen in earlier innings, where his flame-throwing prowess could be called upon to escape a jam or face the opposition's big bats. This move, although not Mattingly's intent, is mainly for those of us at home managing our fake teams. Relief aces without saves hold some value in leagues with daily lineup changes, but they can't elicit the same damage as a closer.

Now that Jansen again belongs in the exclusive club of ninth-inning specialists, can we automatically resume regarding him as a top-five stopper?

Let's see how he has lined up so far among the elite, as sorted by the top rankers from ESPN's Player Rater with stats as of Wednesday, June 12.

Player IP ERA WHIP K BB SV FIP WAR*
1. Jason Grilli 27.2 0.98 0.76 46 6 23 0.50 1.7
2. Joe Nathan 26.1 1.71 0.80 26 8 20 3.10 0.6
3. Aroldis Chapman 28.0 2.25 1.07 48 12 16 2.42 0.8
4. Edward Mujica 27.2 1.63 0.61 25 1 18 2.30 0.7
5. Mariano Rivera 24.1 1.48 1.11 23 4 23 2.33 0.9
6. Addison Reed 31.0 3.48 1.06 26 9 19 2.55 1.0
7. Sergio Romo 25.0 2.52 0.88 26 3 16 2.38 0.7
8. Craig Kimbrel 24.1 1.85 0.99 34 6 18 2.86 0.6
9. Jim Johnson 31.1 4.31 1.21 25 7 23 3.67 0.3
10. Glen Perkins 23.2 2.66 0.89 35 6 14 2.09 0.9
34. Kenley Jansen 33.0 2.45 0.97 46 6 3 2.67

0.6

*WAR courtesy of FanGraphs.com

There are tons of interesting takeaways here, so long as examining charts with baseball data is your thing.

For starters, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, while great, are not eons ahead of the pack as advertised, so anyone who invested a premium selection on one of them likely overpaid.

Saves are one-fifth of the game in most leagues, and they bear even more weight for closers since wins are rare and innings to accumulate other numbers are scarce. Nevertheless, it's odd to see Jim Johnson slotted this high despite an ERA 1.79 higher than the second-to-last guy (Sergio Romo). Jonathan Papelbon, Tom Wilhelmsen, Greg Holland and Bobby Parnell are having much better years despite receiving fewer chances to tally saves.

A year after Rodney—who, shocker, is not on the list—came from nowhere to dominate, Jason Grilli is now this year's unexpected superstar. (Seriously, wait on closers next year.)

Yet look who shares identical postings in the strikeout and walk columns as this year's gold standard from the ninth inning.

Jansen will keep doing this, except in the ninth inning instead of the eighth.

Walks plagued Jansen, who initially was a catcher before someone eventually realized how amazing he was as pitching. He made a big splash in his first few appearances by striking out 41 batters during his first 27 innings, but it came alongside 15 free passes. 

In his first full season, Jansen still struggled to find the strike zone, recording a 4.36 BB/9 ratio that represented the one black eye on an otherwise spotless rookie campaign. But when handed the closing duties last year, Jansen mitigated the issue by posted a passable 3.05 BB/9 ratio.

His walk rate now stands at 1.64, allowing the same amount of walks as Kimbrel despite tossing 8.2 more innings. The Atlanta reliever made similar strides eliminating walks last year, and it led to one of the best seasons anyone has ever seen from a reliever.

Want even more reason to get excited? Jansen's production actually can get better going forward. His .319 BABIP is well above his career .263 rate, and he's on pace to allow the most homers in his career despite generating his lowest fly-ball rate (via FanGraphs). 

Where would you rank Kenley Jansen as a closer for the rest of the season?

Submit Vote vote to see results

His success so far has certainly not been in a fluke. If anything, he's a tad unlucky to hold only a 2.45 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. If we're reshuffling the draft board and starting over today, I'd only take Kimbrel, Chapman and Grilli ahead of Jansen. Maybe Mariano Rivera on account of his unblemished track record. 

It's possible that even a jubilant Jansen owner does not know what a gem he or she possesses. You might be able to trick someone into thinking you're overpaying for him when you're actually stealing him before his value skyrockets even more.

And for those of you in leagues where nobody has taken 30 seconds out of the day to claim Jansen, come on. Make the move already.

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