Kenley Jansen Calls the Tigers His Daddy

It’s nothing to worry about, Dodgers fans will agree. Closer Kenley Jansen simply had a bad stretch in the last two days, giving up a one-run lead in the first game and losing the second game in extra innings. Tigers DH Victor Martinez was the man who beat him both times. The two had never faced each other before, but Martinez drove in Ian Kinsler with a single on Tuesday and homered to right field on Wednesday. Might as well look at the latter in slow motion.

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Solid contact, for sure. This and the other hit came off Jansen’s famous cut fastball. That pitch alone will not be enough against good left-handers, guys who can keep the hands close to the body throughout their swing. Notice how Martinez’s hands stay inside the ball. The angle isn’t straight-on, but you can see the hands take no detours, and his arms do not extend. Not many hitters can pull a ball out of the yard all short-armed like that, but enough do that this problem may resurface in the playoffs. Jansen does not need another pitch to get by; the last two seasons have shown that average hitters fail miserably against him, as do good right-handed hitters. He might, however, regret not coming up with an alternative pitch for the good left-handed hitters of the world. The margin of error for closers is so small, and all their weaknesses are magnified in the biggest moments. Opposing managers usually know how to exploit these things.

Here is Martinez’s single from Tuesday. Disciplined hitting, following the pitch to the opposite field, just as Kinsler did to start the inning. (By the way, you should really click on these gifs, the resolution gets so much better in the gifs’ normal engorged state.)

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I tried to deduce Jansen’s adjustments between this single and the home run that followed. Before the home run, Martinez saw six pitches. Half were cutters, one was a slider and two were regular fastballs. For the first pitch Jansen threw a cutter right where Martinez hit the last one–a challenge pitch that sailed a bit up for a ball. Then he varied his offerings, but Martinez kept making good contact, fouling them away. The pitch that ended up in the seats was probably a time-tested strikeout pitch: low and in, running even further inside, a pitch that tantalizes the stereotypical lefty with his stereotypical knee-high wheelhouse before ultimately darting in further than the lefty could ever hope to hit, except, if he’s lucky, off his own foot. I must reiterate: good pitch, better swing.

Really, Jansen didn’t even have any bad at bats. He was wild against Don Kelly, but immediately after that he outdueled Miguel Cabrera with a brilliant display of the heater. (Take as an example this 99 mph fastball on the corner that Cabrera somehow fouls straight back. Yes, I got a little gif-happy today.) Don’t worry about any possible ownage Victor Martinez might have over Kenley Jansen. The Tigers and Dodgers probably won’t play each other in the World Series. And don’t worry about Jansen in the long term. This is just a blip on his season, and most of the hitters he faces will be beneath him.

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