MLB

Kenley Jansen signing shakes up fantasy baseball closer rankings

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Relief pitchers amassed more innings pitched than did starting pitchers in each of the past two postseasons, a distinct shift in October strategy. It makes sense, then, that as they begin their quest to defend their World Series championship, the Atlanta Braves went all-in by bolstering their bullpen depth late Friday night.

Kenley Jansen, 13th on the all-time saves list and second among active relievers (350), with the third-best strikeout rate in history among pitchers with at least 500 innings (36.8%), agreed to terms on a one-year, $16 million contract with the Braves, where he’ll immediately take over their ninth-inning duties. With him aboard, Will Smith, the team’s 2021 closer, will drop back into a setup role, a crowded corps that also includes Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek, Collin McHugh and AJ Minter.

Jansen’s hold on the closer role with the Los Angeles Dodgers appeared tenuous over the past four seasons, to the extent that he was sometimes passed over for hot-hand relievers during the postseason during that time. Much of it was perception, however, as his 120 saves from 2018-21 were one behind major league leader Edwin Diaz (121). Jansen had a 3.07 FIP the past two seasons combined and three straight years of 30%-plus strikeout rates, illustrating that his skill set remains excellent, even if he’s no longer the hands-down No. 1 closer in baseball.

Even with the level of competition behind him in Atlanta, Jansen is a good bet for another 30-plus saves, and his apparent settling in of his skill set at his 2020-21 statistical levels says he has every chance to repeat his No. 3 Positional Player Rater finish or fourth-best-among-relievers fantasy point total. I’ve moved him up to eighth at the position, between Aroldis Chapman and Giovanny Gallegos in my 2022 fantasy baseball reliever rankings.

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Smith is the pitcher who loses the most fantasy value, as he’ll go from save-to-hold-getter, and he’s hardly guaranteed his team’s lead in that category now, either. Each of Jackson, Matzek, McHugh and Minter has a compelling case for better skill sets than Smith, so a mix-and-match approach might well be in order behind Jansen. Smith is now my No. 67 points-league relief pitcher, a precipitous drop.

So who now closes in Los Angeles? Considering the Dodgers’ willingness to trust the hot hand when Jansen was struggling or unavailable in the occasional late-season or October game, as well as their mix-and-match lineup style, a closer-by-committee might well be the answer. Blake Treinen has the most experience and the best-fitting skill set of the team’s options, but manager Dave Roberts wants to keep Treinen available to come in at any critical game moment.

Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol and Tommy Kahnle could also be involved, probably in that order of likelihood. As the most likely team saves leader, Treinen is my No. 11 fantasy relief pitcher. Hudson and Graterol are strong speculative saves picks in deep (think 15-team) mixed and NL-only leagues.

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