When Alex Anthopoulos swung a trade for pitcher Sergio Santos this past summer, he expected Santos to immediately step into the role of Blue Jays closer of the future. Santos, a converted former first round shortstop who had 30 saves for the Chicago White Sox last year, was given star billing by the Jays organization in terms of TV, print ads and jersey manufacturing.
However, things have not worked out as planned. Santos went 2/4 in his first two save opportunities with the Jays, including blowing the home opener, and was placed on the disabled list shortly after that. As a result of what has become a lengthy stint on the shelf, manager John Farrell had no choice but to place veteran reliever Francisco Cordero into the closer role, a position that he soon gave up to long reliever Casey Janssen in an interim role.
There is a debate in baseball as to whether the closer position is as valuable as many assume it to be. It seems like closers come and go every year, with about ten pitchers with ninth inning job security at any given time and the rest in a constant state of flux. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s GM (and architect of the Moneyball philosophy), is known for his strategy of putting his mid-tier pitching prospects in the closer role, having them record a season’s worth of saves, and then flipping them for prospects. He has gone on the record saying that saves are a useless stat, and he inflates the value of his closers, who are perceived by the rest of the league to be a vital piece of the puzzle. The closer position in baseball is more about the state of mind of the pitcher than the pitchers actual ability. A good closer has the confidence and mindset to pitch through their mistakes to close out a game, while a crappy closer will let the pressure get to their heads and not consistently do their job.
Casey Janssen, the second longest tenured Blue Jays reliever, has been an enigma since his ascent to the big leagues in April 2006. Known for having to take a cab from Buffalo and showing up 15 minutes before his major league debut against the Anaheim Angels, Janssen was a solid fifth starter for the Jays in his rookie season.
However, he had a recurrent tendency of coming out strong and then allowing the opposing team to catch up in the fifth or sixth inning. Janssen was soon marooned to the bullpen, where he has been a mainstay since late 2007, with rare spot starts. Janssen has never fully figured out his role in the bullpen, having worked as a long reliever, a right- handed specialist and set-up man. Meanwhile, the Jays have chugged along, not placing a premium on the closer position and bringing in the likes of journeymen Frank Francisco and Kevin Gregg to satisfy the immediate need for someone who has handled the ninth inning before.
Since Janssen took over the role, he has gone 9/9 in save oppurtunities, striking out six batters for every batter he walks, with a 0.91 WHIP and a 2.64 ERA, and the most important stat, he has not allowed a single run in a save situation. With his signature accentuated exhale before every pitch, Janssen brings everything he has every time he throws the ball. While that does not translate to success as a starter or getting full value as a reliever, after years of being one of the American League’s most reliable and used right handed relief pitchers, it seems Janssen has finally settled into a role tailor made for him.
With Sergio Santos’ jerseys gathering dust on the racks of the Jays Pro Shop, it is time for Alex Anthopoulos to declare Janssen as the Jays closer long past just the interim.