Jays Pen Topics: Jesse Litsch, a Long-Term Option?

As I’m working through the Draft Pick Profile series, I’ll also be touching on another series I’ve entitled “Jays Pen Topics”. With the way Alex Anthopoulos has used his pen, as trade and draft picks bait, we’re constantly left in flux about what the future Jays pen may look like. Therefore, I think it’s important to take a more in-depth look at the pieces the Jays still have in-house and to analyze whether or not they may be part of the long-term Jays pen options.

The first subject I will cover is all about Jesse Litsch, one of the newest additions to the Jays pen. After failing to make the cut as a starter for the Jays and dealing with a few health issues this season, Jesse has been one of the brightest stars in the pen at a time when Jays fans all over are growing tired of blown leads.

#51 Jesse Litsch (RHP) 6’1″ 225 lbs – 26 years old – Native of Florida

MLB Experience

  • 2007: 20 GP (20 GS), 111 IP, 116 hits, 14 HR, 36 BB, 50 Ks, 3.81 ERA, 1.369 Whip, 9.4 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.39 SO/9
  • 2008: 29 GP (28 GS), 176 IP, 178 hits, 20 HR, 39 BB, 99 Ks, 3.58 EAR, 1.233 Whip, 9.1 H/9, 2.0 BB/9, 2.54 SO/9
  • 2009: 2 GP (2GS) – Really a lost season. Only threw 9 innings and stats were blurred by injury.
  • 2010: 9 GP (9 GS), 46.2 IP, 53 hits, 7 HR, 15 BB, 16 Ks, 5.79 ERA, 1.457 Whip, 10.2 H/9, 2.9 BB/9, 3.1 SO/9
  • 2011: 14 GP (8 GS), 57 IP, 52 IP, 8 HR, 20 BB, 50 Ks, 4.11 ERA, 1.263 Whip, 8.2 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, 7.9 SO/9

Notable Career Splits

  • vs RHB: 757 PA, 171 Hits, 30 doubles, 26 HR, 35 BB, 93 Ks, 2.66 SO/BB, .242 BA, .289 OBP, .404 SLG, tOPS 83
  • vs LHB: 938 PA, 242 hits, 45 doubles, 27 HR, 76 BB, 130 Ks, 1.71 SO/BB, .287 BA, .350 OBP, .458 SLG, tOPS 114
  • Has only allowed 2 steals in his entire MLB experience, a very important stat for a reliever who may come into a game with runners on base.
  • As a Reliever: 13.2 IP, 9 hits, 3 doubles, 3 HR, 2 BB, 18 Ks, 9.0 SO/BB, 0.805 Whip, .196 BA, .229 OBP, .457 SLG, 76 tOPS

Evaluation

Jesse did show the Jays some real promise as a starter when he broke in with the team, however, his longevity as a starter was going to depend on his being able to remain healthy, as well as his ability to go deeper into games (he averaged just over 5 IP per outing as a rookie and 6 IP per outing the following year). He did neither. His health took a turn for the worse in 2009, and he has struggled to make it through 5 innings of work since, nevermind 6 and more. Still, his peripherals during his first 2 seasons showed enough promise to have the Jays give him a shot this year despite such a lackluster 2009-2010 stretch. They signed him for $830K and decided to see how it worked out. The 2011 season has seen many highs and lows for Jesse, until we get to the end of July, at which time I gather the Jays found the role that suits Jesse best and could benefit them for the next few years. That is, the role of a dominant and sometimes long-relief pitcher.

I’d like to point out the stat that struck me the most, which is the steals against (2) over his career in The Show. Simultaneously, his SLG against is fairly high – even as a reliever – which tells me that he may actually concentrate a little too much on runners when they’re on and gets a little distracted as a result. However, when this stat is combined with a 9.0 SO/BB ratio as a reliever, I have to take notice. His 76 tOPS as a reliever is simply outstanding. Just to compare, Scott Downs has a career tOPS of 100 and has a tOPS of 72 against LHB this season – and his specialty is getting LHB out!

Jesse’s stats since July 30th as a reliever: 11.2 IP, 4 hits, 2 ER, 3 BB, 14 Ks

Stunning!

The truth of it all is that Jesse Litsch fits into the relief role very well. He doesn’t really have the “physique” to go 7-8 or 9 innings per game, so keeping him as a starter doesn’t really make sense. On top of it, he’s the perfect guy to have in the pen who can take over from a struggling SP and put it 3-4 or 5 innings of work, whether in a blow out game or not.

Salary wise, Jesse is still very affordable. He’ll likely avoid arbitration in 2012 and get right around or just over $1 million, and will get another raise in 2013 depending on his performance in 2012.

In my opinion, the Jays knew that Jesse’s role may eventually have to shift to the pen when they re-signed him to avoid arbitration pre-2011. They knew he was dominant against RHB, that he could get more Ks per 9 if he was asked to go for shorter runs, and that his throw strike mentality (and history) was going to allow him to become a great reliever. Add in his ability to hold runners and you’ve got a gem of a reliever, and one that I actually hope gets extended to cover his next 2 arbitration years (’12-’13) and his first FA season. Why not? If the Jays are willing to hand relievers like Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, and Frank Francisco hefty contracts with what we can view as very similar (or even lesser) performances than Litsch can provide, they may actually be getting a discount by extending Jesse for the term I suggest.

I know that Jesse turned a lot of Jays off fans by frustrating them with injury issues and by struggling thereafter over 2.5 years. But, you have to admit that his performance as a reliever shows a ton of promise and makes a whole lot of sense when his stats are examined closely. He provides the Jays with a reliever who can dominate RHB (83 tOPS), does an adequate job against LHB (114 tOPS), and has done better as a reliever than anyone could have expected (76 tOPS).

Conclusion

In my opinion, Jesse Litsch should become a staple and a very important piece of the Jays pen as we move on to 2012 and beyond and has done enough so far to prove that he is very comfortable with that role. He may or may not get extended, but I do expect that his performance from here to the end of September will have a whole lot to say about it. If he continues the current trend, it’s definitely something the Jays brass should consider seriously.

What do you think about Jesse Litsch and his long-term role in the Jays pen?

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- MG

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