Kenley Jansen channels Mariano Rivera

Denis Poroy

Kenley Jansen is dominating with the same cutter-heavy approach that has long made Mariano Rivera the best closer in baseball.

It would be shortsighted and irresponsible to call Kenley Jansen the next Mariano Rivera. After all, Rivera is the greatest closer ever, having dominated MLB hitters and shattered opponents’ bats with an unparalleled consistency during his 19-year MLB career. The long-time Yankee reliever is, quite literally, without peer.

But Kenley Jansen resembles Rivera in more ways than one. The Dodger right-hander is a great reliever in his own right, possessing a 14.2 K/9 and 1.98 FIP during his four years in the majors. Jansen also relies heavily on the same offering that has brought Rivera such renown and reverence across baseball, a cutter that confounds opponents with its sharp, late break.

So far in 2013, Jansen has thrown his cutter 89.6% of the time, which is only slightly below Rivera’s 90.5% mark with the pitch. Averaging 92.9 mph, Jansen’s cutter has been every bit as good as the long time Yankee closer’s, holding opposing hitters to a .184 batting average against and an .082 ISO this season.

A closer look at the 25-year-old’s pitch usage throughout his career reveals that Jansen has only increased his reliance on the cutter during his career, while throwing less and less off-speed pitches over the last few years.

This simplified approach has led to the best season of Jansen’s career, with the right-hander posting a stellar 13.1 K/9, and a career-best 1.36 BB/9 in 58.1 innings pitched. He also ranks within the top three among MLB relievers in FIP (1.82), strikeout rate (38.5%), and WHIP (0.82).

As the 2013 season has stretched into summer, moreover, Jansen’s performances out of the Dodger bullpen have grown more and more remarkable. He has given up just four earned runs since June 1st, while striking out 50, walking three, and allowing a .383 OPS against during that span. Prior to the single he gave up to David Freese on August 8th, Jansen had not allowed a baserunner in eight straight innings.

Like Rivera’s famed offering, Jansen’s cutter has a deadly amount of break for a pitch traveling so fast, often leaving hitters helpless in trying to square up the ball, much less even make contact. This GIF of a Jansen cutter from back in June demonstrates just how much sharp, sudden movement he generates with the pitch. That Paul Goldschmidt, one of the National League’s best hitters this season, looks so foolish in this at-bat is quite telling.

None of this means, of course, that Jansen is on pace to match Rivera’s multi-decade dominance. He has, however, been able to excel with the same approach that makes the Yankee reliever so unhittable, which is no small feat given how we view Rivera as this unique and incomparable phenomenon.

What Jansen has done in recent seasons is simply rely on his best pitch, knowing opponents will, more often than not, be unable to make solid contact against an offering with so much velocity and movement. Such a strategy has paid clear dividends for the Dodgers, who now have the privilege of trotting out one of the best closers in baseball whenever they need him.

For Los Angeles, Jansen's cutter-heavy approach has been a revelation, even if the right-handed hurler's opponents would disagree.

. . .

All stats courtesy of Brooks Baseball and FanGraphs.com.

Alex Skillin is a Staff Editor for SoxProspects.com and writes, mostly about baseball and basketball, at a few other places across the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.

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