Oh no! You’re not going to like this! That idiot that said “Blow up the Jays” is back at it again. Well get ready, because I have another statement for you! Stop f***ing using Casey Janssen in non-save situations! I’m beyond sick of it. I’ve seen Janssen in as many non-save situation (NSS) games as save situation (SS) games this season (15 IP NSS to 23 IP SS) and it’s driving me bat-shit crazy! So I decided to ask Blue Jays radio host, Mike Wilner, “Why is Janssen in during the top of the 9th inning, game tied at 1?” Now, the classic response is “Janssen can’t get the save, when would you bring him in?” It’s not about the save. It’s about the stats.
Janssen, prior to yesterday’s blow up, had a 3.48 ERA in NSS. The Jays have other guys in the bullpen, oh say about 9 of them. More like 8 because Esmil Rogers just got banished there and it had only been a few days since his last start. After Aaron Loup was used in the 8th inning, outside of Janssen, there were 6 other pitchers to choose from. Loup, Brett Cecil, and Brad Lincoln can all go multiple innings, but let’s be serious here… there’s no way Gibbons is using Lincoln in this situation. There’s no way Ol’ bench coach Gibby is turning his seemingly drunk eyes to Mickey Storey right? Darren Oliver is our “lefty specialist,” so he’s out of the equation. So it’s Loup, Cecil, Wagner, Santos… or Janssen. I’m thinking with the Boston Red Sox in town, I’m going to want Janssen available. Why? All games matter, but AL East games matter more!
It’s no secret that Janssen’s shoulder has been an issue throughout most of the season, but ask him if he feels his shoulder was a reason for yesterday’s poor performance and I guarantee he’ll tell you “No.” I met Janssen. He doesn’t make excuses. He wants to be relevant. He wants the ball in his hand. He’s also had his share of injuries, so he’s not dumb enough to take the mound if he’s not feeling right. If he’s in there, it’s because he’s capable. Somebody made a point to me on Twitter that he was a fresh arm. So were Loup, Cecil, and Wagner. Santos was an option, but like Janssen, the Jays are being cautious (If I have to explain why, stop reading this article and Google “Sergio Santos injury.” Or take a flying leap and do this fan base a favour. Thank you in advance!) So why use Janssen?
I’m not against the belief of using a closer in a non-save situation. I understand the theory. Your closer is suppose to be your best pitcher. The Jays have the luxury of several extremely good bullpen arms. Cecil and Steve Delabar are both 2013 All Stars. Obviously, Delabar isn’t available right now (why? Here!) so that leaves Cecil. Again, he can pitch multiple innings. Why wasn’t he called upon?
Some random, tweet deleting fella, Dan Van Houtte said on Twitter that you always use your closer in the 9th inning with the game on the line. I’d give you the exact quote, but his eclectic beer drinking ass deleted ALL his tweets… Nice work covering your tracks OJ. Maybe he realized his tweets sounded about as rational as trying to catch a skunk by running straight at it. Try it! You’ll stink, just like Van Houtte’s tweets. Tip of the Tower editor Travis Bateman actually made a great point that in 11 of the 15 NSS games, Janssen did not give up an earned run. However, after yesterday’s game, Janssen’s NSS ERA ballooned up to 5.40. He’s 4-1 in NSS with a WHIP of 1.33. Compared to the 1.96 ERA and 0.78 WHIP in SS, that’s a pretty significant drop off.
Van Houtte as well as several other Wilner followers tweeted that it’s “conventional” to use your closer in the 9th inning of a tie game. I’m sorry, but I didn’t realize baseball was a game of conformity. So if that’s the case, I guess we should go back to the days of when a starter would pitch over 300 innings, start every couple of days, abandon the idea of relief pitching, and have a starter go from start to finish. Because that WAS conventional when baseball started. Baseball is dynamic. Without change, there would be no “save” stat. Without change, there would be no Moneyball or those precious sabremetrics stats you stat nerds crave from our site, as well as FanGraphs, Blue Bird Banter, Grantland, Brooks Baseball and dare I say it… Stoeten’s Drunken Jays Fan blog. Convention in baseball doesn’t exist. A great example of going against convention is the way Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon used Grant Balfour in 2008. Balfour, far and away, was a better relief pitcher than Troy Percival at the time (click on the names and check the stats if you don’t believe me.) Maddon had the luxury of multiple “closers,” sort of like the Jays do in 2013, and Maddon would use Balfour in “special, high leverage” situations, though he knew Balfour was capable of closing out games. Out of respect for the aging vet Percival, Maddon anointed him the closer, even though Balfour’s numbers were MUCH better.
Let’s talk about high leverage situations. That’s really what distinguishes a closer for just another bullpen arm isn’t it? It’s why Jays fans would rather see Janssen in the game over Santos, even though we all know Santos has better stuff. We trust Janssen. He rarely lets us down with the game on the line. The same can’t be said of Santos. So here’s my theory. Closers relish in high leverage situations, so when they come into a game not in that situation, there’s an unintentional drop in performance. The best examples I can come up with in comparison would be taking a face off in OT at mid ice vs in your own end. At mid-ice, if you don’t win the face off, it may be less costly. When you’re a closer not closing out the game in the top of the 9th and your team has the last at bat, yea, sure you don’t want to give up a run, but it’s less costly. The saying is “Let’s get it back!” I’m sure the Jays were saying that yesterday. It wasn’t intentional obviously, but maybe there’s a slight bit of relaxation or a dip in intensity due to the situation not being what Janssen was use to: stressful.
I’m not making this stuff either. Yesterday, I said I had no numbers to back up my theory when I said, because it seemed to me through observation that closers in NSS happen to struggle rather than be their normal shut down selves. Today, I have the numbers to back me up:
2013 Top Closers in Non-Save Situations (Italicized stats means Worse than SS)
|Player||IP (Total IP)||ERA||WHIP||BAA||Better/Worse Than SS|
|Jim Johnson||9.0 (51.2)||2.00||1.00||0.188||Better|
|Craig Kimbrel||6.2 (45.1)||1.35||1.65||0.269||Worse|
|Joe Nathan||13.1 (47.2)||0.00||0.60||0.075||Better|
|Mariano Rivera||6.0 (44.1)||1.50||1.50||0.280||Worse|
|Jason Grilli||11.1 (42.1)||3.18||1.24||0.227||Worse|
|Rafael Soriano||14.1 (47.1)||3.14||1.33||0.259||Worse|
|Jonathon Papelbon||19.0 (45.2)||2.37||0.84||0.188||Better|
|Aroldis Chapman||18.2 (46.4)||2.41||0.86||0.125||Better|
|Ernesto Frieri||16.0 (48.0)||5.06||1.44||0.242||Worse|
|Fernando Rodney||15.2 (46.2)||4.02||1.53||0.246||Worse|
Some of these closers have been doing it their entire career. I didn’t think it was fair to stick solely to 2013. Here are some career stats (with some other guys you may have heard of…)
|Player||IP (Total IP)||ERA||WHIP||BAA||Better/Worse Than SS|
|Joe Nathan||289.2 (841.2)||2.58||1.04||0.202||Worse|
|Mariano Rivera||391.1 (1264.0)||2.32||1.07||0.213||Worse|
|Rafael Soriano||239.0 (549.1)||2.67||1.09||0.201||Worse|
|Jonathon Papelbon||200.1 (545.0)||2.47||1.00||0.207||Worse|
|Fernando Rodney||276.1 (551.1)||3.97||1.42||0.229||Worse|
|Billy Wagner||388.1 (903.0)||2.16||1.01||0.177||Better|
|Lee Smith||507.1 (1289.1)||3.05||1.31||0.233||Worse|
Now to be completely honest, some of stats were almost even. And to further be honest, when you look at the WHIP and BAA of some of these pitchers and how low these stats are, you might even say “Really? .202… is that really ‘worse?’” For argument’s sake? Yes. In general? No. Papelbon and Soriano aren’t really worse career wise, because their numbers are slightly worse in categories by .01 and .02. As you can see though, closers in non-save situations tend to struggle more than they do in save situations. So as far as the “conventional theme” goes, it might be time for a change. Again, closers should not just be limited to a game in its final inning trying to protect a 3 run or less lead, but when the game is on the line with other good options available in the pen, why waste the guy you want in the clutch situation to pitch to preserve a tie? These results show you may be better off going to your set up man or a multi-inning pitcher with a proven track record of doing what you need in this situation. In Janssen’s case, what if the Jays need him to close 2 of these next 3 nights against the Red Sox? Or worse! All 3! In a non-division match-up, going into a division match-up, was using Janssen really worth it?