I’m not afraid to admit that it got a little nerve-wracking watching Kenley Jansen try to close out the Cardinals in Game 5. Handed a 6-2 lead from Zack Greinke and Brian Wilson, Jansen allowed four hits for the first time all season, allowed the lead to be cut in half, and even let the winning run come to the plate. Though he did strike out the side, it wasn’t fun to watch.
It also generated about a million tweets like these:
— Infrared Rose (@BeRose_) October 16, 2013
— Philip Riegel (@Imgr8phil) October 16, 2013
And while I know a lot of that is just the usual Twitter steam-blowing, there’s a lot of fans who actually, truly think that way. (Like whatever the hell this is.) So I think we’re going to need to set them straight.
First and foremost, the “four hits” thing is total garbage, because if you remember, the first batter he faced was Matt Holliday, who “doubled” to right, by which I of course mean, “hit a soft fly to right field that is caught 99.999% of the time, except when Yasiel Puig loses it in the sun.” If you think Holliday reaching second is on Jansen, then you’re wrong. There’s no gray area here.
Jansen followed that by allowing Matt Adams to stroke what was an admittedly well-hit ball to right center:
Though as we discussed earlier, Adams generally does very well against righty pitching. (And also, no pitcher should ever be expected to be perfect.)
After striking out Yadier Molina — this is going to be a trend — Jon Jay hit a grounder to the right side. A few feet in either direction, that’s a double play, and that placement is something the pitcher has zero control over. Yes, I’m basically describing BABIP, and no, you don’t need to subscribe to advanced statistics for the common sense there to apply.
Jansen then struck out David Freese — again with the whiffness — and, after A.J. Ellis went out to remind Jansen that he is, in fact, great, Pete Kozma put a ball into right field that was also more well-placed than hit particularly hard.
With two men on, Jansen struck out pinch-hitter Adron Chambers to end the game. So what we have here is a defensive misplay, a seeing-eye grounder, a hard liner, and a bloop hit, as well as three strikeouts.
What we also have here is one of the elite closers in baseball, and yes, I’m aware that Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman and Greg Holland exist. Over the last two seasons, he’s got the fourth-highest K/9 among all relievers; he has the most valuable fastball around, and it’s not even close. We talk about the team taking off when Puig & Hanley Ramirez got hot, and that’s true, but it’s not a coincidence that Jansen took over the ninth inning around the same time, too.
You can either whine that Jansen “has a 4.15 ERA in the playoffs!”, willfully pretending that ERA for relievers in tiny samples or saves actually mean anything, or you can realize that of the 20 hitters he’s faced in October, he’s struck out ten. He’s walked one, and if Puig doesn’t blow that ball, we’re probably not even having this conversation. Including the playoffs, in 2013, he’s struck out 121, and walked 19. That’s insane. Yet people complain.
I will of course admit that Wilson has performed exceptionally well, giving us much more than we could have hoped for. But Jansen has proven himself time again, through the Javy Guerras and the Brandon Leagues, that he’s outstanding, among the elite. His only sin appears to be being a closer, and far too many suffer under the insane delusion that closers ought to be perfect, never ever allowing a hit or a run or — *gasp* — blowing a game.
Jansen’s not perfect. He can’t be; he’s human. But as far as closers go, he’s damn close to being so. And he’s good enough to help this team get a ring. That’s all you can ask for.