It was announced yesterday that Casey Janssen signed a two year contract extension with Toronto, keeping him with the club through 2013 (with a team option for 2014).
On the surface, the deal doesn’t appear to be groundbreaking. Janssen isn’t a closer – he isn’t even a regular set-up man – so why should fans be excited? Signing a bullpen arm, unless they are a big name closer, rarely makes waves. It rarely even makes ripples.
But Janssen is different. In my opinion he is Toronto’s best reliever. It might shock some to hear me say that. After all, you’re not going to see him on the highlight reels. He doesn’t pile up saves. He doesn’t throw 100 miles-per-hour. He doesn’t strike out a ton of guys like other relievers.
So why do I think he’s the best? It’s precisely because you don’t see him on the highlight reels. Relief pitchers are an awful lot like referees and umpires – you only hear about them when they do a bad job. For the most part, the only baseball umpires, or hockey/football/basketball/soccer refs that make the news are those that blow calls, miss offsides, etc. Similarly, the only time non-closers really make the highlights are when they are falling apart and blowing games.
Janssen doesn’t do that. In the past few years he has developed into a model of consistency. And coming out of a Blue Jays bullpen that has featured guys like Kevin Gregg, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, and Shawn Camp the past few years, consistency is VERY important.
After missing the entire 2008 season due to injury, Janssen has slowly clawed his back into relevance. From ’09 (when he was tested as a starter for five games) to ’11, his ERA has dropped each year (5.85 to 3.67 to 2.26). That 2.26 ERA was second best out of Toronto’s bullpen last year, only bettered by Carlos Villanueva’s 1.60 – but CV only pitched 33.2 innings out the ‘pen.
In terms of the entire American League, Janssen ranks favourably as well. There were a total of 55 relievers who threw a minimun of 50 IP in 2011. Janssen’s 2.26 ERA was 10th best (7th best among non-closers). His 1.10 WHIP ranked 15th (11th among non-closers), and his K/BB ratio of 3.79 was good enough for 8th in the AL (4th among non-closers):
For the devils advocates out there, there is an easy counter-argument to the above tables, and it is this: guys like Uehara, Robertson, Rivera, Papelbon, League, and the rest, are closers and set-up guys. As such, they inherently face higher leverage situations, meaning the innings they pitch are more difficult. For a lot of situations this is true, but it also doesn’t mean that Janssen simply pitches in blowouts. Looking at Baseball Reference’s leverage index, about a third of the batters that Janssen faced were in high leverage situations. Yes a typical closer will face about 45% of batter in high leverage situations, but the difference isn’t as pronounced as you might think. Sometimes the key moment in a game is in the 6th or 7th innings.
In those high leverage situations, Janssen was outstanding: 8.00 K/BB ratio, .123 Batting Average Against, and a .412 OPS against. Nails.
But at the end of the day, the main reason I’m so excited to have Janssen on board for two + years is his consistency. In 2011, he made 55 appearances. He allowed an earned run in only nine of those appearances, and he allowed more than one earned run in only three of them. That means that 84% of the time, Janssen made a scoreless appearance. For a guy responsible for
bridging the gap between starter and closer, that’s all you can ask for.
Welcome back Casey.