Can Kenley Jansen be 2012’s Craig Kimbrel?

When you ask this question, the most common response is likely to be, “Who the &%*# is Kenley Jansen?” However, going into last season most casual baseball fans had never heard of Craig Kimbrel, who finished 2011 as the number one reliever in fantasy baseball.

When you look at Jansen’s stats, the comparison between the two is obvious. Kimbrel is a high strikeout pitcher (14.84 K/9) who struggles with control at times (3.74 BB/9), but is one of the hardest pitchers in the league to get a hit off of allowing only a 0.176 AVG. Jensen strikes even more people out (16.10) K/9 (a league record among pitchers with at least 50 IP), also struggles with control (4.36 BB/9) and only allowed a 0.158 AVG. Kimbrel had a league leading 1.94 xFIP; Jansen came in second with a 2.09 xFIP. Jansen led the league with an astonishing 44 percent strikeout rate; Kimbrel came in second with a 41.5 percent strikeout rate.

Jansen also has momentum heading into 2012 as he finished the 2011 season on fire. From the beginning of July to the end of the year he pitched 26.2 innings, allowing only two earned runs and 19 baserunners. He also struck out an amazing 52 batters in this stretch. His last month was by far his most impressive as he struck out 32 of the 52 total batters he faced. Despite missing nearly a month on the DL, he finished 5th among relievers in strikeouts.

There are a few major question marks affecting his fantasy value in 2012. The most obvious is that Jansen doesn’t have any grasp on the closer situation. Javy Guerra was the team’s primary closer for much of 2011 and performed well posting a 2.31 ERA and converting 21 of 23 save chances. However, Guerra’s advanced stats imply that he had a lucky year with a .261 BABIP, 83.33 LOB%, and a 4.1 HR/FB%. His 4.07 xFIP also indicates a large regression, while his lackluster 7.33 K/9 doesn’t compare to Jansen’s. Some Dodgers fans recognize that Jansen is their best reliever, but feel that instead of being the closer, he should just come in during the most crucial jams regardless of when they come in games. I doubt that they will feel this way when Guerra begins to regress and blows a higher percentage of his saves.

In the end, Kenley Jansen’s 2012 fantasy value will be decided by what the Dodgers decide to do with him this spring. If he wins the closer job outright (as he should), he instantly becomes a top 10 (possibly top 5) closer. If he doesn’t, he will be one of the top non-closers to own, as he can give a huge boost in ERA and strikeouts (think 2.15 ERA with 105+ Ks) and will have a great shot at eventually taking over the closer role. Either way he is a risk worth taking as a late-round flier in 2012 fantasy drafts.