Of the players that truly made an impact on the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays, the usual names of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Marcus Stroman get the most upfront credit. In the shadow of those players, it is sometimes easy to forget some of the “little guys” that played a crucial role when the team badly needed them to.
Included in those forgotten is one soft-spoken sinker-baller named Chad Jenkins.
It is easy to forget about Chad Jenkins and what he meant to the 2014 team. After all, one of the most important contributions Jenkins made was his roster flexibility that allowed the Blue Jays to option him back and forth between Triple-A Buffalo and Toronto nearly all summer, to the point where it was tough to remember when he was on the roster and when he wasn’t.
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Then there is the fact that Jenkins, a former 1st-round pick in 2009, has never really established himself as a high-ceiling prospect and never really had a defined role mapped out for him at the Major League level.
However, it was what Jenkins was able to get done on the pitching mound for the Blue Jays that not only made him valuable to the 2014 squad. After figuring out his best role would be eating innings in the bullpen, Jenkins flourished, drastically increasing his stock as a member of the evolving 2015 Blue Jays relief corps.
Never a guy to rack up many strike-outs, Chad Jenkins plays to his strength, which is inducing ground balls. He did that in abundance over the 31.2 innings he pitched in Toronto this past season. With a 57.3% groundball rate, Jenkins surrendered a .264 batting average against and a .294 BABIP. However, he used that ground-ball tendency to also strand 81.2% of the runners that reached base against him
The end results were exceptionally pretty. Jenkins parlayed his work into a solid 2.56 ERA, a 3.48 FIP, and a 3.47 SIERA and surrendered just 2 home runs on the season.
Despite the back and forth between Buffalo and Toronto, Jenkins was actually significantly better at the Major League level than in the minors (4.70 ERA, 4.29 FIP). That might be due to the limited work he received between call-ups, but it showed he was comfortable at the game’s biggest level.
At 5.12 K/9, Chad Jenkins posted the highest strike-out rate of his three-years making the trek to Toronto. That said, Jenkins isn’t a swing-and-miss pitcher, instead getting the most value out of his two-seam fastball and his slider, both of which are thrown more to induce bad contact than they are to generate whiffs. His change-up was almost completely abandoned in his new bullpen role, with Jenkins only throwing it 3.9% of the time and getting a -19.62 runs above average value out of the pitch according to FanGraphs.
Additionally, Jenkins will be 27-years-old by the time he reports to Spring Training in 2015. That means the Chad Jenkins we are seeing now is likely the Chad Jenkins we’re going to get. Even in the bullpen role, he profiles as a long-man, as he simply doesn’t have the overwhelming stuff you would want from a late-inning reliever. At the game’s highest level, he is now correctly labeled for mop-up duty. While that has its value to every team, it is also no pitcher’s idea of a great role to have, and is likely the most replaceable role should a roster move be needed.
If anything, Chad Jenkins proved he belongs in a Major League bullpen, and should set out of Spring Training with a role to call his own next season. That’s one role the Blue Jays will be able to cross of this winter’s shopping list, which includes a closer, a center fielder, and a second baseman (or third baseman), among other things.
Not yet arbitration eligible, Jenkins will also give the Blue Jays some payroll flexibility this winter. That will give the team some time to assess him a bit further, possibly stretching him out for spot starts as needed, similarly to how they’ve used Todd Redmond over the last few season.
Regardless of the sexiness of the role, Chad Jenkins has proven that he’s willing to take on the workload and do what the team needs. He’ll just take the ball when handed to him and give what he can on the mound.