Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Kenley Jansen, bringing down the hammer.
It's not quite an official statistic yet, since the season has a few days left to run, but Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers' big converted catcher from Curacao, is looking like a lock to join a very small coterie of relief pitchers who have achieved the upper reaches in what might just as well be known as "K-ology."

As of today, Kenley is sporting a K/9 ratio of 15.87, which places him second on an all-time list of nine pitchers (a total of eleven pitcher-seasons, all since 1992) who've been able to generate a K-rate of fourteen or more per nine innings.

Jinx Falkenberg: a lefty, but no leftist...
Jansen came up in 2010 after a whirlwind conversion from the crouch to the slab and was lights-out in his 27 innings (0.67 ERA and 13.7 K/9). 2011 featured a rough start and a hospitalization for an irregular heartbeat, but Kenley's somewhat abbreviated second half has been downright surreal in terms of its breeze-making: since the ASB, his K/9 is 18.8. In September, he's struck out 23 batters thus far in just 9.1 innings, which ought to be record even if it isn't.

All this is, naturally enough, pretty unbelievable--not to mention unsustainable. Which is the probably the greatest shame of all, that someone can't blaze through the sky for not just a fortnight, reducing grown men into a nattering chorus of pop-eyed, teeth-gnashing bewilderment. Operating at such a level of domination is accompanied, or so it seems at least, with a curse, a jinx that's not nearly as shapely as lanky, leggy, more-than-slightly horse-faced (and all-too-often draped on the arm of some potatoe-head precursor of Dan Quayle) Jinx Falkenberg, here seen doing some whitewashing of her own.

As the chart below shows, the year after a pitcher flies through the roof in terms of striking out the side with almost comic frequency, he starts what is most often a swift descent to earth. Pitchers with such a superabundance of stuff seem to be subject to what my old pal C.O. Jones likes to call the "aiyee" curse (sometimes referred to for purposes of "clarity" as the "I.E. curse": injured and/or erratic).

It is probably inevitable that one or the other of these results will issue from such extreme performance. Only Billy Wagner was able to escape it over any great length of time. All of the high-octane K guys here who've had a "year after" (not yet the case for Jansen and the Braves' young closer Craig Kimbrel) have wound up in one of C.O.'s two categories with a depressing regularity of swiftness.

Stan to DM: "I'm not sending you a copy of
my book, because you'll just decide to
rewrite it!!"
Dibble, Benitez, Gagne, Marmol--all these guys inspired head-scratching awe at their rarified K/9 numbers. They don't seem to be able to sustain it: being a flamethrower seems to have a seed of fiery self-destruction embedded in the first five letters of the term. These guys are what our old pal Stanley Fish (as a scholar, Stan remains the master of off-speed junk) would call "self-consuming artifacts."

W(h)ither Kenley and Craig? Or can we get lucky and get a little Wagnerian echo from one or both of 'em? Baseball needs its extremes a lot more than American politics, so a little role-reversal would be more than welcome. Here's hoping that at least one of these two blazes a path across the sky that stays visible for the better part of the next decade.