After last night’s third straight blown save, the Toronto Blue Jays have removed Francisco Cordero, or Coco as he’s lovingly called by his manager and derisively called by his team’s fans, from the role of closer and made Casey Janssen his temporary replacement.

With Sergio Santos already set to begin a rehabilitation program on his injured right shoulder (which should take two weeks), Janssen’s ascension to the role promises to be brief. Frankly, I don’t really understand what Janssen has done to earn the promotion, but it’s not as though there are a myriad of candidates that should feel hard done by because of this decision.

So far this season, Janssen hasn’t pitched nearly as poorly as his 5.23 ERA might suggest. He’s felt the sting of a very unlucky 25% home run to fly ball rate, which is nearly the opposite of the very good luck he experienced last year with a minuscule 4.3% HR/FB.

I think that last number is important because Janssen’s new status in the bullpen has a lot to do with last year’s performance, in which he struck out a career high 23.8% of the batters that he faced, while maintaining a very decent 6.3% walk rate. His ERA, WHIP and FIP for the season were all the best of his career, and a large improvement over the numbers he sported one season earlier.

However, if we dig a little bit deeper, we see that his biggest improvement between the two seasons was found in his results against left handed batters who went from having a .360 wOBA in 2010 to a .235 wOBA in 2011. This change in results for Janssen occurred despite little difference in approach, as we see after comparing pitch selections in different counts between years. There is however, a noticeable difference in BABIP for the right handed reliever, suggesting that it has much to do with luck.

Janssen’s true talent is probably closer to something in the middle of his 2010 and 2011 numbers, which in my mind is still surprising given the absolute lack of anything to get excited about from his six pitch repertoire. Note to right handed batters: Try to avoid swinging at Janssen’s breaking pitches, they don’t usually land for strikes.

But as I suggested in a previous paragraph, there really isn’t another bullpen option to get excited about, and we’ve already documented Francisco Cordero’s declining velocity ergo declining strike out rate issues. I suppose you could make a case for Darren Oliver, who surprisingly has reverse splits over the course of his career when you look at opponents’ wOBA.

Frankly, I like Oliver outside of a set role because he’s exhibited a comfortability over the last few seasons being used whenever a manager sees fit. He seems like the perfect pitcher to have for a variety of high leverage situations outside of the ninth inning.

Which brings us back to the bigger issue here, which is the role of the closer.

In a vacuum, it seems ridiculous to roll out your bullpen according to what’s essentially a meaningless counting statistic in the save. However, studies have shown that specialized bullpens offer a slight improvement over how relievers used to be managed before the save became a thing to be counted. Teams that wait to use their most valuable relievers for save chances win approximately one extra close game every two years. That’s not a lot, but it’s something.

If you ask players and managers, they’ll tell you that relievers want to have a set role in the bullpen, be it seventh inning guy, left handed specialist, set up man or closer. This seems like bullshit to most of us, who see how a certain handed pitcher has done in the past against a certain handed batter and question why that pitcher wouldn’t be brought in to face that batter regardless of inning.

It’s probably a tired narrative, but I’m not certain that it’s without any merit whatsoever. What I don’t like is an equally unfounded argument that’s often cited by the other side of this debate. We hear all the time about how Major League managers, outside of Joe Maddon, are afraid to try new things at the cost of looking stupid. This seems as equally presumptuous to me as any argument defending the need for a “proven closer.”

It seems to me that good managers are willing to sacrifice pride on a daily basis and I don’t think it’s absurd to suggest that there are a lot of face saving stories baseball skippers keep to themselves for the sake of the team. Ultimately, I have a very hard time believing that a manager who pinch hits for J.P. Arencibia with Omar Vizquel would be at all worried about our precious perceptions in how he also manages a bullpen.

Managers believe that what they’re doing will give them the best chance of winning, not only the day’s game, but the next and the next after that. This is the manager that a front office has hired, and whether the best reliever should have a defined role or face the opposition when leverage is at its highest, the decision that a manager makes is unlikely to be persuaded by what we collectively are going to think of it.

Right or wrong with their actions, it’s insulting to suggest that the motivation behind the management of  a bullpen is about anything other than finding success.

Comments (16)

  1. I think if Jansen blows it then they should really consider Laffey, he thrives under pressure and has closing experience. He can also get a key strikeout

  2. All the Jays need to do is stop bringing in guys who are at the ends of their careers. Maybe Anthopolous should grow a god damn nut sack and spend some money on real pitchers who will be there for a few years. Stop taking in has beens. Jays fan’s are getting sick of disappointment. Can’t win with has beens. Cordero is a bum and Antholpolous is really starting to look like an even bigger ass.

    • Thanks for speaking for all of us. There’s no way a team with has beens like Darren Oliver in their bull pen could ever hope to reach the World Series.

  3. “I think that last number is important because Janssen’s new status in the bullpen has a lot to do with last year’s performance, in which he struck out a career high 23.8% of the batters that he faced, while maintaining a very decent 6.3% walk rate. His ERA, WHIP and FIP for the season were all the best of his career, and a large improvement over the numbers he sported one season earlier.”

    And as you were told the last time you brought up this nonsense, it couldn’t be further from the truth. In the 2 years Janssen has been used exclusively as a reliever, he’s had a K% of:

    2010 – 21.1%
    2011 – 23.8%
    And for 2012 = 26.2%

    You make it sound like he fluked a 23.8% K rate in 2011, but it’s really no different than the K rate he had in 2010.

    Also, Janssen dropped his walk rate from 2.75 BB/9 in 2010 to 2.26 per 9, which isn’t insignificant.

    And I don’t know how you can ignore the fact Janssen increased his cutter usage in both 2010/2011, while cutting back on the use of his curve and change up. in 2010 he threw cutters 30% of the time, whereas in 2011 it was 37%.

    If you’re looking for a reason why Janssen was so successful against lefties in 2011, it’s because prior to that he had a walk rate between 3-3.5 per 9 (and even at 5) while his K rates were typically between 3-4. In 2010 it was up around 8, and in 2011, his career year, it dropped down to 6.98K/9. So why was he so successful against lefties? Simple, he cut down the walks. In 2010 he walked 5 per 9, and in previous years he walked 3 – and yet in 2011 he walked lefties at a rate of 2.12BB/9. That, is the main reason why he owned lefties in 2011.

    It’s funny you claimed to dig deeper and found no change in Janssen’s success against lefties. The fact his wOBA dropped isn’t nearly as relevant as WHY it dropped. And it dropped because he significantly improved his control against lefties, lowering the walk rates while putting up respectable strikeout rates.

    So yeah, Janssen has been pretty awesome as a reliever, and he’ll continue to do so. He wasn’t made the closer because he had a flukey HR% in 2011, he was made the closer because since 2010 he’s been a dominant reliever.

    I don’t know what you’ve got against Janssen, as this is the second time you’ve incorrectly argued that he’s not an effective reliever (the first being his contract extension being a bad idea). But there is no rational evidence to suggest that Janssen was a poor choice, and there’s no evidence outside of a flukey HR% to suggest that Janssen will struggle in the bullpen whether as the closer or a set up man in the future.

    • Well stated.
      Tip of the cap to you.

    • 1) That’s why I said: “His ERA, WHIP and FIP for the season were all the best of his career, and a large improvement over the numbers he sported one season earlier.” Nothing about K%. But I suppose it’s fun to argue against straw men.

      2) You can talk all you want about his tiny improvements in BB/9, which are rather meaningless unless you want to take about BB% where the change is even more minuscule, but it’s rather humours that you put so much weight on that without talking about typical luck numbers like BABIP, HR/FB and strand rate.

      3) I’m talking about pitch selection in individual counts and pitch chains against left handed batters. You’re using overall pitch types. It’s apples to oranges.

      4) You mention his success against lefties without mentioning a 70 point drop in BABIP, but I suppose this is what happens when you cherry pick stats to try to prove something you already believe.

      • 1) You said: “I think that last number is important because Janssen’s new status in the bullpen has a lot to do with last year’s performance, in which he struck out a career high 23.8% of the batters that he faced”

        Note the fact you said his success was based on last year’s performance where he had a career high 23.8% of the batters he faced. So yeah, you did argue his success was based on the high K rate. In addition to the low HR rate.

        Nice try though. Just because you don’t like an argument doesn’t make it a straw man. And as an aside, who uses WHIP or ERA? Use FIP or BB/9 or BABIP. WHIP and ERA are worthless for the most part.

        2) I wouldn’t call a drop from 5 BB/9 or 3 BB/9 to 2 BB/9 a minor drop. And those are significant reasons for his struggles against left handed hitters. It’s also worth mentioning that even with a normal HR rate his XFIP would have been 3.49. Which is still a pretty strong number.

        That’s why the HR:FB or HR% doesn’t matter as much, even with a 10% HR rate (as opposed to the 4.3%) he still wouldn’t have been that much worse off.

        And his BABIP was 296 last year – why would I bring it up? Or the fact that his BABIP was 273 last year vs LH. What BABIP are you referring too? Neither of those is lucky.

        Yes, his strand rate was higher, but you’ll note I talked about his FIP (which doesn’t care about strand rates). The only reason to care about strand rates in this case is for the purpose of ERA, which I don’t believe I brought up.

        3) Alright, if you say so. I don’t know where to check for pitch information based on the count, but I don’t see how that would be the same when he’s throwing more cutters and less of his other offspeed pitches.

        4) Janssen’s career BABIP vs lefties = 303
        Janssen’s BABIP in 2010 vs lefties = 342
        Janssen’s BABIP vs lefties in 2011 = 273

        First of all, using BABIP on such a small sample size (vs LH hitters for a reliever) isn’t a good idea. But if you do use it, you compare the BABIP to his career numbers, as opposed to what it was the previous year.

        For the record, the 2010 BABIP vs lefties is more out of line with his career (+39 points) than his BABIP vs lefties in 2011 (30 points).

        Also, do you realize what you’re effectively arguing? We’re talking about the difference between 32 hits in 28 innings (2010) vs 24 hits in 28 innings. If Janssen allows 2 extra hits vs lefties in 2011 he’d be right in line with the career BABIP.

        Sometimes it’s important to put these things in perspective. An extra 2-3 hits allowed by Janssen doesn’t magically turn his season into a disaster. That’s what you’ve basically accused me of cherry picking.

        I think in this case, it’s an example of your lack of understanding of some of the more advanced stats. Realistically, these outlier BABIP’s you’re complaining about are 2-3 hits. Is that really the difference between Janssen being a dominant reliever and pitching like Cordero has the past few days?

  4. I was going to say exactly that but he beat me to it!

  5. You used the word “myriad” improperly in this article. You can’y say “a myriad,” that is like saying “a many.”

  6. Oh also you are an idiot.

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