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Who You Got? Kenley Jansen or Craig Kimbrel

This is a golden age for relief pitching, but there are two guys head and shoulders above their peers right now. We asked a scout which dominant closer he would choose.
© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/© Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

We've all played the "would you rather" game with baseball players. If you're starting a franchise, who would you rather have? Or for one at bat with the game on the line?

What could make that hypothetical more fun? Asking actual talent evaluators who they would rather have. This season, we'll take some of the best players/groups in baseball and ask scouts and executives who they'd take in a head-to-head situation, with a breakdown of their respective tools on baseball's 20-80 scale to illustrate why.


Baseball is loaded with quality relievers right now. There are so many talented hurlers coming into games late that can not only bring desert-like heat, but have the ungodly breaking stuff that catcher in that movie was talking about on the bus. As many talented bullpen arms as there are, there are definitely two that stand out right now: Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, and Red Sox finisher Craig Kimbrel. Go look at whatever metric you want, or just go watch them pitch. They're phenomenal, and they're easily the two best relievers in baseball.

(If you're too lazy to go to some other site and look at the stats, I will provide them. In 32.2 innings, Jansen has an ERA of .054. He has allowed just one walk, and struck out 14.33 batters per nine innings pitched. He has 17 saves in as many opportunities. Kimbrel, meanwhile, has an era of 1.07 in 33.2 innings. He has struck out 16.31 batters per nine innings and allowed just one home run. He has 21 saves.)

I made an AL front-office member do something I couldn't do. Pick one.


"So, if we're just talking about pure fastball, I think Kimbrel wins. He's 97-99, he locates it to any part of the plate, and it's not straight. When Jansen throws his straight fastball, it's a fine pitch, but he doesn't have the velocity that Kimbrel does now and he doesn't command it quite as well as Kimbrel. It's better than most, but it's not as good as Kimbrel's."


Kimbrel 80
Jansen 66


"Kimbrel's curveball is nasty. It has so much power break and he can locate it for strikes. It's a true out pitch. It's one of the best breaking-balls of any pitcher, starter or reliever.

"But it ain't Jansen's cutter. Calling it a breaking-ball is almost unfair, but right now, it might be the best pitch in baseball. You have no chance on it. He could yell that it's coming and you still wouldn't have a shot. I've seen him throw a pretty nice pure slider as well with some power tilt. You combine those two and you get a top of the scale grade. Even without the slider it's top of the scales, actually."

Kimbrel 70
Jansen 80


"If we were just talking pure control, I'd go Jansen. He throws so many strikes. Last time I checked he hadn't walked a batter (note: he's walked one now). But it's not just about control, it's about command, and I think Kimbrel's command is slightly better. Jansen can miss his spots a little more with that cutter, but Kimbrel doesn't miss his spots, at least in my viewing. Can't go wrong with either one but I'd say Kimbrel is a little more advanced in this regard. I'd say both are plus, though. Maybe it should be a tie."

Kimbrel 60
Jansen 60

Pick one:

"I'm gonna go with Kimbrel, but it was really hard. Jansen is exceptional. He's getting better, too. I don't know how much better he can get, but every year it seems like he becomes more of a pitcher than a thrower. I just like Kimbrel a little more because I think he has the better body and has a little less wear and tear. I probably am in the minority on this one and wouldn't yell at anyone for taken Jansen. I just think Kimbrel is the better short and long-term bet of the two."