The Toronto Blue Jays bullpen has been a mess lately. Part-time closer Jon Rauch is on the disabled list, and current closer Frank Francisco might join him too. Regardless of whether or when they return, both pitchers will be free-agents after the season. Unless the Blue Jays sign a closer during the off-season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them hand the job to Casey Janssen.
Janssen’s success in 2011 is hardly shocking. The right-hander debuted as as a reliever back in 2007, and was quite the workhorse–hurling 72.6 innings, while owning a 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 1.95 K/BB. He also saved 6 games. But the then 25 year-old endured a torn labrum in the beginning of 2008, which forced him to miss all of 2008, and hampered his 2009 season.
In fact, after posting a seemingly dismal 5.85 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, and 1.71 K/BB in 2009, most people assumed Janssen was toast. To Janssen’s credit, his peripherals told a different story. His .367 BABIP suggested too many of his groundballs–which he rolled out at an elite 49.7% rate–resulted in hits. In addition, despite posting a bloated 5.85 ERA, the reliever’s more down-to-earth 4.38 xFIP illustrates how unlucky 2009 was, overall, for Janssen.
Unlike 2009, Janssen’s 2010 was world’s different. The righty, now two seasons removed from his torn labrum injury, hurled a 3.67 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 3.00 K/BB in 68.6 innings. After dealing with an elevated BABIP the year before, Janssen enjoyed a more sustainable .327 BABIP in 2010, which resulted in a respectable ERA that was on par with his xFIP (3.49). The only real hurdle preventing Janssen from elitehood was his gopheritis (1.05 HR/9 and 12.3 HR/FB).
So far in 2011, Janssen has more than cleared that hurdle (0.20 HR/9 and 2.9 HR/FB). The 29 year-old has posted a sensational 2.03 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 3.58 K/BB in 44.3 innings. His control (2.4 BB/9) has been the best its been as a reliever, and he’s never been so dominant too (8.7 K/9). Even though Janssen’s 2.99 xFIP suggests he’s closer to a 3.00 ERA pitcher than a 2.00 ERA one, no one would argue with the worse end of the stick. The best part about Janssen’s 2011 season has been his completely rock solid .300 BABIP. How can one not love that?
Without a doubt, Casey Janssen has been the Toronto Blue Jays best reliever in 2011. His success in the setup role has prompted three save opportunities, and he’s converted two of them–including a recent three-inning save. The real question is whether Janssen’s limited closing experience (eight saves total) is enough for the Blue Jays not to sign a more veteran option. Given the ups-and-mostly-downs with both Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco in the role, it only makes sense to give Janssen a shot, as he’s ironically been the most closer-type of the three.