The Boston Red Sox have some holes to fill in the bullpen once this miserable lockout comes to a close. The 2021 Red Sox bullpen ranked 13th in ERA, and players like Adam Ottavino and Hansel Robles are no longer on the roster (for now, at least). The Red Sox are stacking up starting depth, which should strengthen the long relief/early relief options, but the team still lacks high-leverage bullpen arms.
One problem the team had for the entire second half of the season was a lack of clarity for save situations. I’m still very comfortable with Matt Barnes pitching in high-leverage roles, but he showed that he cannot be relied upon as a closer. He would likely excel, however, as a setup man that is comfortable in save situations if needed, the exact role Adam Ottavino held in 2021.
The Red Sox could use a full-time closer, and Kenley Jansen happens to have the 13th highest save total in MLB history with 350. In 2021, Jansen converted 38 of his 43 save chances while finishing the year with a 2.22 ERA in 69 innings pitched. The veteran righty has spent 12 seasons at the MLB level and has a career 2.37 ERA.
The advanced analytics for Jansen are some of the most interesting results I have seen. Jansen is elite at limiting contact in general but gets hit as hard as anyone in the league when contact is made. His results, however, speak for themselves, and the Red Sox could absolutely use a late-inning reliever of Jansen’s caliber.
The longtime Los Angeles Dodger has increased value because he was not given a qualifying offer this offseason, despite being a player whose value exceeds the threshold for receiving the offer. This was because he was extended a qualifying offer in 2016, and players can only be tied to those contracts once in their careers. In other words, the Red Sox would not lose draft compensation by signing Jansen this winter despite his elite production over his career.
I would expect the 34-year-old reliever to receive a lucrative, relatively short-term deal, but not so expensive that Chaim Bloom would lose sleep over signing him. True Blue LA found projections for Kenley Jansen’s next contract from all over the sports world ranging from $9 million to $20 million AAV’s. I would anticipate that the Dodger legend signs for somewhere towards the middle of those estimates.
While Chaim has (unfairly this early into his Red Sox tenure) been given a reputation of avoiding the big dollar contracts, I do not expect Bloom to shy away from high-priced free agents if they are looking for short-term contracts.
Jansen has a three-pitch mix, but he’s well-known for his devastating cutter while also featuring a heavy sinker and a wipeout slider. His three-part combination led to a 90 percentile whiff rate in 2021, making him elite at avoiding contact. His batting average against stats for his cutter (.176), sinker (.147), and slider (.093) are all elite, and his chase rates are on par as well. Jansen’s spin rate has been at the top of the charts since Baseball Savant started tracking this information in 2016.
The biggest flaw over Jansen’s career has been his consistently high hard-hit percentages. His career hard-hit percentage is 24.7, meaning one out of every four balls hit off of the former Dodger are smoked. He has finished the last five seasons in the top one percent of hard-hit balls allowed.
Despite having a historically high percentage of hard contact, Jansen is still one of the best relievers on the market and has had one of the most successful and consistent careers of all relievers in this current era of baseball.
One problem that haunted Jansen in 2021 was an uncharacteristically high walk rate. His 12.9 percent walk rate was in the bottom eighth percentile in baseball. His career walk rate, however, is only 6.3 percent including two seasons in the top five percentile in 2016 and 2017 with walk rates of 4.4 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.
His walk rate has increased each season since 2017, but 2021 still appears to be an anomaly. If he can regain consistent command of his pitches, Jansen will continue to be a problem for opposing batters well into his late thirties. His frame and spin rate are positive signs for continued success during the latter half of his career.
Kenley Jansen would be a phenomenal addition to a Red Sox bullpen that has been forced to ride the hottest hand available and pray in high-leverage situations since the departure of Craig Kimbrel. Even if for some reason the team went in another direction with the closer role, Jansen surely would be an upgrade over the current late-inning options in Boston.