The Mets look like a postseason contender again in 2017, and having a relief ace available for use in the playoffs is something that can really pay off in October. Dominant relief pitchers can throw a much higher percentage of their team’s innings in the playoffs than they can in the regular season. Andrew Miller pitched 14% of the Indians’ playoff innings in 2016, up from 5.5% in the regular season, and comparable to the workload of a 200-inning starter. Jeurys Familia pitched 10.6% of the Mets’ innings in the 2015 playoffs, up from 5.3% in the regular season. Kenley Jansen pitched 11.3% of the Dodgers’ innings this past postseason, up from 4.7% in the regular season. Part of this is because of more built-in off days during the postseason, and part of it is a high-leveraged sprint to the finish.
The Mets are reportedly not in the high-end reliever free agent market going into the winter meetings. Maybe the Mets’ front office wants to be in on a high-end reliever, but they don’t have the financial resources to make a competitive offer. But if this is a philosophical decision rather than a lack of financial resources, it’s something I disagree with in this particular instance.
It’s understandable to be wary of giving a relief pitcher a long-term deal. Relief pitchers are notoriously volatile, and there can often be uncertainty with what you’re paying for. After all, you acquire a player’s future, not his past. But if there were ever a relief pitcher to give a long term deal to, Kenley Jansen would probably be that player.
At 6’5, 270 lbs, Jansen is built like a brick house. He uses his tree-trunk-sized legs to power his delivery and take a lot of the strain off his arm. After throwing 51 pitches in the divisional series clincher over the Nationals, Jansen said his legs were fatigued the next day, not his arm. He’s also a converted position player, with his first stint as a pro pitcher coming in 2009. The mileage on his arm likely isn’t high.
He’s been consistently excellent year to year. The highest ERA he’s posted in a season in the big leagues is 2.85, in 2011. He misses bats at an extreme level, with a strikeout rate of 41% last season to go with a career strikeout rate of 40%. His cutter is very difficult to square up because of how it moves, and the pitch generates a lot of weak contact. He had no signs of decline in his free agent season, posting peripheral statistics and run prevention either better or in line with what he’s done so far in his career.
Jansen has been a historically great reliever for his age group to this point in his career. He made his major league debut at age 22 and just finished his age 28 season. Among all relief pitchers in the live ball era who threw at least 300 innings in their age 22-28 seasons, Jansen’s 2.20 ERA, 1.93 FIP, and 39.8% strikeout rate all rank in the top five.
And since Jansen is getting long-term financial security, he might be open to being used in a non-traditional relief role in the regular season. Using Jansen as a relief ace during the highest-leverage moments of the game rather than only the 9th inning would help justify using huge resources on him.
I’m not saying that the Mets have to sign Jansen at all costs. But if the financial resources are there, they should at least be seriously involved in the bidding. Jansen is not the typical relief pitcher, and he would be one of the team’s most valuable weapons in the postseason if the Mets can make it back there.