Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel win Reliever of the Year awards

ByBradford Doolittle ESPN logo
Sunday, October 29, 2017

HOUSTON -- This year's Reliever of the Year announcements had a familiar ring to them.

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen won the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award for the second straight season, becoming the first player to be so honored in consecutive seasons.

Meanwhile, Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel won the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year honor. He won the NL version of the award in 2014 when he was with the Atlanta Braves.

"I love what you guys are doing," Rivera said, addressing the award winners. "It's great when you see those men going there and going against those hitters."

Kimbrel is the first pitcher to win the award in both leagues. The awards, which supersede past relief pitching awards such as the Delivery Man Award and the Rolaids Relief Man Award, began after the 2014 season and were named in honor of Rivera and Hoffman, who rank first and second, respectively, on the career saves list.

Hoffman and Rivera were present for the awards ceremony before Saturday's Game 4 of the World Series between Jansen's Dodgers and the Houston Astros. The awards were presented by commissioner Rob Manfred.

Jansen was present to receive his award, but Kimbrel was home with his wife because of the pending birth of their first child. Kimbrel expressed his thanks via a video message.

"I want to thank everyone who was involved in voting for this, all the legends and Hall of Famers who made this happen," Kimbrel said. "Getting respect from ex-players who have done this means a lot to me."

That left it to Jansen to do most of the talking, joined by one of his two children, who wandered up to the dais during the ceremony.

"This is awesome," Jansen said. "To be recognized as just sitting here with the best relievers in the game and to sit with Mr. Commissioner, just to be recognized as the best reliever, I mean, I've just got to thank all the relievers in the game."

Jansen has long expressed admiration for Rivera, who, like the Dodgers righty, relied primarily on a dominant cut-fastball to mow down opposing hitters. Jansen has said he wants to spend time with the Yankee great to pick his brain about the game, on and off the field.

"It's just a dream come true," Jansen said before inadvertently throwing a little verbal jab at Hoffman about his days as a San Diego Padre. "I grew up being a Braves fan and watching in 1996 Mariano come, and he was the set-up man and just crushing the Braves. And see him crushing you guys in 1998 -- no offense."

It was fitting that for the first time, Jansen and Kimbrel were honored in the same season. Since 2010, when both pitchers made their debuts in the major leagues, Kimbrel ranks first in saves (291), ahead of Jansen (230), who is tied with Fernando Rodney for second.

"Kenley, 'dominating' is definitely a word that comes to mind," Hoffman said, addressing Jansen directly. "Two years in a row to win this award is a credit to you. But more importantly, in getting a chance to talk to your manager and bullpen coach, two teammates and former teammates of mine, they couldn't talk more about the things you do as a person and off the field."

This season, both relievers were as dominant as ever. Jansen tied for second in the majors with 41 saves, had an MLB-best 1.32 relief ERA and was second in relief strikeouts behind Kimbrel and Milwaukee's Corey Knebel.

Kimbrel saved 35 games and struck out batters at a rate of more than 16 per nine innings. He finished second to Jansen with a 1.43 relief ERA.

The awards are selected by a vote by a panel of retired bullpen greats, including Hoffman, Rivera, Bruce Sutter, Billy Wagner, John Franco, Dennis Eckersley and Rollie Fingers.