8:00 PM ET – Boston (2) vs. Detroit (2) – Jon Lester (3.0 rWAR) vs. Anibal Sanchez (6.3 rWAR)
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Casey Janssen, if you look at the overall numbers, had his third straight tremendous year in 2013. An ERA of 2.56, a WHIP below 1.00, 34 saves compared to just two blown (if you’re into that sort of thing), and using FanGraphs’ WPA-based metric, 36 shut downs compared to just six meltdowns.
By every standard, he’s been terrific. Over the last three years, by FanGraphs’ ERA- stat, his mark of 59 in the top ten in all of baseball among pitchers with more than 150 innings. That’s just a shade ahead of Clayton Kershaw– which isn’t a great comparison, granted, given that Kershaw provides boatloads more value by pitching so many more innings, and has a much tougher task by having to turn lineups over multiple times… but still!
Among relievers, he’s comfortably among the elite ones by that metric, behind Kimbrel, Koji, David Robertson, Greg Holland, Sergio Romo and Brad Ziegler, and ahead of Aroldis Chapman, Mike Adams, Joe Smith, Kenley Jansen, and many, many others.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Janssen cementing himself as one of the top relievers in the game: many Jays fans, myself included, started having trouble believing what they were seeing.
Janssen just doesn’t feel quite like a dominant reliever. It doesn’t look like it should come so easy– he doesn’t throw hard, he lives on the corners, and his overlong stride towards the plate makes it look like it takes tremendous effort to get his pitches across.
He also has a history of shoulder problems, missing all of 2008 due to labrum surgery, and having a procedure last off-season as well. Coupled with the fact that he wasn’t particularly impressive in his first couple of years following the surgery, and in watching him you just tend to get the feeling that everything could come undone at a moments notice.
Maybe that’s only natural when it comes to any closer who doesn’t have dominant stuff. Maybe that’s also why we tend to think he looks shakier than he really is. I certainly wouldn’t have though his second half stats were as sparkling as they actually look. They don’t quite match his first half, where he held opponents to a wOBA of .229, but… actually in some (admittedly less telling) ways they do. His second half ERA, for whatever little that’s worth for a reliever (though it’s maybe worth more for a guy coming in to pitch clean innings than a guy having to deal with inherited runners), was 2.31, as opposed to 2.71 during the first half.
In fact, even if he was “just” the guy he was in the second half, you’re talking about a tremendous reliever: he held opponents to a .271 wOBA, striking out 24 and issuing just five unintentional walks over 23.1 innings.
This was the first year in the last three in which Janssen had a reverse platoon split, holding right-handers to a .203 wOBA, while “struggling” against left-handers, who hit him to the tune of a .275 wOBA. Of course, being a reliever, we’re not talking about particularly compelling single-season samples when you’re talking about splits. Janssen’s 22.1 innings against right-handers, for example, represent less than a tenth of the innings pitched this season by R.A. Dickey. So… what is there to read into that, really?
Mostly, like I said, it’s that Janssen is a tremendous, tremendous reliever. Or at least he has been over the last three seasons, and with an option for 2014 priced at just $4-million, it’s an absolute no-brainer that the Jays will pick it up.
The question, of course, is will he remain with the Jays through the winter, as his price, his talent, the length of his contract, and the fact that the Jays have a number of quality relievers who’ll be cheaper for longer already under contract, make him a very obvious trade candidate, who should be able to net the club close to as much in return as you’d think a reliever possibly could. That’s not necessarily a tonne, given that he’s only going to give a club 50 or 60 innings, but a team with a dearth of bullpen arms and a surplus in an area of need for the Jays could certainly see a lot of value there.
Is it time to sell high on Janssen? I would have said that two winters ago. I would have said that last year, too. But he keeps going out and proving that what he’s been doing is no fluke. Still, though… I’d probably do it. I might end up regretting it, but I’d probably do it. Just a reliever, after all. Right???