The Atlanta Braves have a Kenley Jansen problem, but now is not the time to demote the closer.
Although Kenley Jansen has struggled mightily of late in save situations, now is not the time to consider demoting the Atlanta Braves closer.
While the former Los Angeles Dodger has 33 saves on the year, he has blown saves in three of his last seven opportunities. Although he pitched well in his most recent outing for Atlanta, it was not a save situation in the Braves’ 5-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants on Sept. 13. In a tight NL East race with the New York Mets heading into the stretch run, what are the Braves to do here?
Even if things have looked awful optically, it does not make sense to demote Jansen at this time.
Atlanta Braves: Why demoting a struggling Kenley Jansen is a bad idea right now
There are three reasons why pulling Jansen out of the closer’s role this late in the game is such a bad idea: One, the Braves are still playing great baseball, even amid his struggles. Two, the other strong pitchers in Atlanta’s bullpen (Raisel Iglesias, Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, etc.) all have well-defined roles at this point. And three, Brian Snitker was right about Will Smith last postseason…
With Iglesias under contract well beyond this year and Jansen hitting free agency this winter, Iglesias projects as Atlanta’s closer going forward in 2023. While he did close games with the Los Angeles Angels, the Halos are not a competitive team. Plus, Iglesias has thrived in his new role of being the Braves’ setup man, effectively taking over that key role for Smith after he was traded.
Even if the Braves do not overtake the Mets in the divisional race, they will presumably be the No. 4 seed in their NL Wild Card Series. That means they will host a three-game series vs. the No. 5 seed at Truist Park. The Braves will want the first-round bye that comes from winning the NL East, but Jansen’s struggles have not totally derailed this team, despite them being so painfully obvious.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Snitker knows he is going to need to count on Jansen in October if the Braves are to repeat as World Series champions. Jansen has ample postseason experience from his lengthy career in Dodger blue. While Smith struggled mightily throughout much of last season, he did save his best baseball for when it mattered most: October 2021.
Ultimately, Jansen’s mechanical issues can be solved over the course of a few bullpen sessions. He is at his best when he uses his herky-jerky motion to his advantage to effectively hide his cutter and slider. Jansen may not throw super hard anymore, he may not induce ground balls and he sure as hell cannot hold a runner on. However, Jansen is known to punch out a guy or two in the ninth…
Atlanta has options to replace Jansen internally, but let’s hope he works his way out of his funk.