Last offseason, the Jays signed Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch, and Jason Frasor to free agent contracts, while acquiring Frank Francisco via the trade route. With the exception of Rauch, that crop of relievers certainly pitched well for the Jays during their time in Toronto.
But there was, however, one reliever who quietly pitched better than they all did, putting together a significant season in the process and his is was Casey Janssen.
Janssen’s had an interesting career with the Jays. On top of flip-flopping between starting and relieving, he missed the entire 2008 season due to injury. At the start of the 2010 season, it was decided that he’d operate exclusively out of the bullpen, and he went on to have a solid year with a clearly defined relief role. Now, with the 2011 season in the books, Janssen certainly built on his successful 2010 campaign and managed the best season of his career, touching on a bit of Jays history in the process.
In 55 games and 55.2 innings for the Jays this season, Janssen set a new career lows with a 2.26 ERA and 2.45 FIP, allowing an identical 14 earned runs and 14 walks. Not only were the 47 hits he allowed and 7.6 hits per nine innings also new career-lows, but the California native allowed just two home runs all season while notching 53 strikeouts in those 55.2 innings, good for a career-high 8.6 K/9. Plus, he compiled an 18:4 shutdown (if he improved his team’s chances of winning) to meltdown (if he made his team more likely to lose) ratio. As I pointed out on Friday, the league average is 1.73 shutdowns for every meltdown, so he was miles ahead in that respect.
Take the top of the 10th inning of the Jays’ game against the Angels on September 19 as an example of Janssen being able to step up in big situations.
After a sacrifice bunt advanced Vernon Wells to third following his leadoff double, Janssen faced the situation of a runner on third and only one out. He dealt a first-pitch strike to Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, a switch-hitter who raked from the left side this past season. Then, after coaxing Aybar to swing at strike two, Janssen got Aybar to whiff on a dropping fastball for the strikeout. Still, the go-ahead run was 90 feet away, but after a brief coaching visit to the mound, Janssen got Alberto Callaspo to get in front of a curveball and ground out to end the inning. The Jays went on to win the game 3-2.
While you should never put any stock into a pitcher’s win-loss record, Janssen’s 6-0 mark in 2011 is actually significant in Jays history. While pitchers like Scott Downs and Paul Quantrill have gone reached the 6-1 mark in the last decade as members of the Jays, no full-time reliever (zero starts) has gone 6-0 in a Jays uniform since Duane Ward did all the way back in 1988. In fact, Janssen joins only Ward, Dennis Lamp (1985), and Randy Moffat (1983) as the only Jays relievers to ever reach a 6-0 record at some point during the season.
But the significance of Janssen’s record doesn’t stop there, as the fact that he finished the year without a loss is also special. Only five other Jays pitchers in history with at least 50 relief innings have finished the season without a loss, and none had as many wins as Janssen had, outside of Lamp’s unbelievable 11-0 season in 1985.
All in all, it’s clear that Janssen is only getting better with time, as his confidence continues to mount. His unorthodox delivery and visible intensity make you know right away when watching that it’s him on the mound, and it should be interesting to see what he brings to the table next season.