MLB Pitchers Already in Midseason Form When It Comes to Whining

Kenley Jansen is blaming his control problems on slippery baseballs

Kenley Jansen of the Boston Red Sox walks off the field after a win.
Kenley Jansen complained after getting his fourth save of 2024 on Sunday.
Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty

Following pitchers Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, Atlanta’s Spencer Strider and Miami’s Eury Pérez going down with elbow injuries earlier this month, the head of the baseball players’ association took it as an opportunity to blast the two-second shortening of the pitch clock that was implemented by MLB in an effort speed up the pace of play and cut down the length of games. MLB reduced the pitch clock from 20 seconds to 18 with runners on base this year.

“Despite unanimous player opposition and significant concerns regarding health and safety, the commissioner’s office reduced the length of the pitch clock last December, just one season removed from imposing the most significant rule change in decades,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “Since then, our concerns about the health impacts of reduced recovery time have only intensified. The league’s unwillingness thus far to acknowledge or study the effects of these profound changes is an unprecedented threat to our game and its most valuable asset — the players.”

Clark’s statement ignores that data from last year when a similar complaint was made shows that there was not a significant increase in injuries to pitchers following the implementation of the pitch clock. Also, most believe that an increase in velocity and an emphasis on spin rate is what’s to blame for more pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery than in the past.

In 2008, the first year MLB had a consistent pitch-tracking system since 2008, the average fastball then was clocked at 91.1 mph. Last year, it was up to 93.3 mph. “We’ve done studies in the biomechanics lab that have proven what is assumed to be true. If you throw faster, it’s more torque on your elbow,” said Glenn Fleisig, research director for the American Sports Medicine Institute and injury research advisor for MLB.

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Seems logical enough, but that’s not good enough for Clark and the hurlers he represents. One of those hurlers, Red Sox reliever Kenley Jansen, hasn’t landed on the injury list yet this season, but he voiced another complaint after collecting his fourth save in four chances against the Angels on Sunday. Jansen, who tied John Franco for fifth place on the all-time saves with his 424th on Sunday, had an issue with the slickness of the baseballs he was given to use.

Following a warm-up session in the bullpen, Jansen entered the game and hit a batter, surrendered a single and then gave up a walk before recording three straight outs to notch the save. Speaking to reporters after the game, he blamed game balls that weren’t scuffed enough for his control issues.

“First pitch, get out of my hand, I don’t know where it’s going. Second pitch, the same thing. Then, I tried to throw a ball down the middle, just keep going down. It’s tough trying to make an adjustment and also you have the clock ticking,” he said. “I don’t hit guys, I don’t walk people this much. And I start to get frustrated. Any balls that came, I just throw it back till when I find a good ball. And it’s just brutal. It’s embarrassing.”

What’s embarrassing is the way Jansen and his teammates have handled the baseball this season as the Red Sox are averaging a full error per game to lead the majors, up from the 0.63 per game Boston averaged in 2023. Personally, Jansen has been sloppy on the mound this season and has given up eight walks in just 5.2 innings of work. Is it possible the quality of the baseballs he’s been using has played a part in his control problems? Sure. But there’s no way they can be blamed for all the walks he’s given up or for the Red Sox chucking the baseball around, and out, of the diamond like the Bad News Bears. But this is baseball and the name of the game is to blame someone or something else for your problems. Clark, Jansen and many others are pros at playing it.

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