The Mockingbird

Mighty Casey on the Mound

with 13 comments

mighty-casey-advancing.jpg

During a conference call this morning (check out BDD for the complete details) J.P. Ricciardi said the team still sees Casey Janssen as a starter, and he has a good chance to crack the rotation in 2008 as long as the bullpen isn’t going to be a total disaster without him.

That explains why the Jays have been stocking up on mediocre reclamation-project relievers, even though the bullpen is stacked, and the two guys who were supposed to anchor it last year are on their way back. Based on J.P. having about 4 million left before signing David Eckstein and Rod Barajas, it seems the Jays are done with the free agent market and content to fill the 5th rotation spot from within with some combination of Jesse Litsch, Gustavo Chacin, and Janssen.

This is music to my ears. Janssen just screams starter:

  • He throws four mediocre pitches. Relievers need to come in with runners on base and blow guys away. You need to be able to mix things up the second and third time through the order to be an effective starter. Remember what happened last year when Shaun Marcum started throwing his changeup that had been gathering dust in the ‘pen? In 2006, Casey’s numbers actually improved the second time through the order (284->259 BA).
  • He doesn’t have the “bounce back” arm of a reliever. Last year he had a 8.44 ERA in 15 appearances when appearing for the second day in a row (this is grossly overstating the case- see comments). How is that even possible? Give this man some rest.
  • He’s done it his entire career and feels comfortable there. If a guy can start, he should start. Except for closers pitching in high-leverage situations, if you can get 180 innings out of a guy instead of 80, that’s worth way more to the team, even though ERA’s go up by about 25% in the rotation.
  • Our bullpen doesn’t need him. If one of Ryan/League returns to be a closer/setup guy ahead of him, he’ll be fighting for 7th inning scraps with Scott Downs. If they both make it back, he’s the 5th option and will be mopping up a good part of the time. What a waste- Wolfe/Frasor/Tallet are plenty good enough for semi-critical innings.

I know…he sucked in 2006 and then improved into the best setup men in the league last season. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But he didn’t suck in 2006. He was a phenom. Rushed unbelievably quickly through the minor leagues for a middle-range prospect, Casey was thrown to the wolves and after his first 8 starts had a 5-3 record (which should have been a lot better), a 3.07 ERA, and a 0.91 WHIP. Then he fell of the map because he was hiding a back problem from the team (they were so ticked he wasn’t called back up in September though he was perfectly healthy). There’s no magic bullpen dust that was sprinkled on him as long as you’re comparing one healthy Janssen to another.

That being said, here’s what’s going to happen if he wins the role. First, he’s not going to get as lucky as he did last year. There are two stats, BABIP and Strand Rate that are considered measurements of a pitcher’s fortune, and Casey was off the charts in both of them. I don’t care how plucky you think he is, or if you hate stats as much as Richard Griffin- no pitcher in the history of time strikes out as few guys as he does and has maintained an ERA of 2.35. A more realistic (but still very generous; Bill James puts him just above 4- but any projection is bound to be high because of his injury) is his ERC (an estimate of what his ERA should be based on his WHIP) of 3.10. Add that 25% to that and he could put up a 3.88 ERA as a starter.

Cue the mouth-breathers calling in on the radio to abuse J.P. for turning an all-star setup man into an “average starter”, even though an ERA of 4 is average for a #2 starter. But for the last man in the rotation, that is great. It’s better than Jesse Litsch will ever do again. It’s better than Gustavo Chacin and his 5% chance of becoming Rocky Biddle after Labrum surgery. It’s better than any of the free agents we could waste money on. And it seems to be what J.P. has in mind.

Ok, enough words. Time for a pretty picture. Here’s where’s Casey’s pitches went last year and why he is so effective. Command of the strike zone to spare:

picture-2.pngRight handed batters just can’t hit that pitch low and away if it’s on a tee, and the hot spot low and two inches off the plate is money. He also almost completely away from down and in, which is where fastballs go to die and explains his low HR rate.

Now here’s the contact he induced:

picture-1.png

Can’t say I’m so happy with that one, but you get the idea. Lots of grounders by pounding the strike zone away, away, away, and he very rarely gets hurt by leaving something down the middle or coming inside. continue to hit his spots like that.

hype it up!

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Written by halejon

January 25, 2008 at 10:22 pm

13 Responses

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  1. You do realize it’s 2008 right? Last year and last season are extremely confusing.

    Mike

    January 26, 2008 at 9:49 pm

  2. No, I had no idea it was 2008. Boy, that sentence was just impenetrable!

    halejon

    January 26, 2008 at 11:56 pm

  3. Halejon, that was an excellent piece on the Mighty Casey! I had forgotten about the injury. I live in BC, but was in TO in April of 06 for a nine game homestand and saw Casey’s first game. I remember, he had a pitch where he dropped and drove and the ball seemed to actually go up.

    I’m very confident with Litsch as the number five guy. It’s nice to know that Janssen will get the opportunity to beat him out. If healthy, I think he’ll do it. As you say, Janssen as a number 5 guy is pretty outstanding!

    Starters and Pen both look really really good. Is it April yet?

    Mylegacy

    January 28, 2008 at 6:11 am

  4. Wow, I didn’t remember/realize at all that he was up in April of 2006. That makes it even more of a rush job that I thought. Anyone know a way to find his numbers when he was called up?

    I was sold on Litsch at the end of last season, but after having nothing to do but comb through stats and learn more about pitching peripherals this winter, have been converted to the camp that says he was really, really, lucky and is due for a massive correction. Still, I think he was getting better and better as the season went on, and heck- even a 5ish era is not terrible for a 5th starter. Either way, it’s a nice problem to have. We WILL need more than five starters at some point and Chacin doesn’t count.

    April, heck! Even pitchers and catchers reporting is going to have me doing a jig…

    halejon

    January 28, 2008 at 6:45 am

  5. “He doesn’t have the “bounce back” arm of a reliever. Last year he had a 8.44 ERA in 15 appearances when appearing for the second day in a row. How is that even possible? Give this man some rest.”

    This is ridiculous. You are nitpicking and looking for things in stats that don’t really exist. Having ONE bad game is not indicative of his bounce back abilities – it means he had a bad game, that’s it. If you take out the Dodger game where he gave up 6 runs, he wasn’t all that bad pitching on consecutive nights.

    Ari

    January 28, 2008 at 8:27 pm

  6. Ok, not a great use of stats (kind of Griffinesque, really). That one game makes exaggerates everything…but it’s not a “ridiculous” claim. Even him a mulligan against the Dodgers, his numbers were:

    0 days of rest: 3.38 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 4.22 K/9
    1+ days of rest: 1.30 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 4.94 K/9

    Might be meaningless…might not. That sure looked like what was happening out there on the second day.

    halejon

    January 28, 2008 at 10:34 pm

  7. Right but then you still need to go one step further and evaluate the toll on his arm from the previous week before he pitched on consecutive nights – 8 innings is hardly indicative of anything, it’s way too small of a sample size. I hope you don’t think Accardo isn’t a reliever either because of his 7.88 ERA in 8ip last year on 0 days rest.

    I’d imagine ALL relievers get a little worse pitching on consecutive days, and that Janssen’s sample size is too small to show the marginal difference that would occur over a few season’s worth of data.

    Ari

    January 28, 2008 at 11:50 pm

  8. Ok, but that’s a totally different issue: “Are Casey Janssen’s back to back appearances preceded by a week of relative overuse?” I would assume the opposite, but there’s nothing wrong with assuming that week is a random sample for the purpose of comparing back to back appearances with the rest of the year.

    I absolutely do think that Accardo has some endurance/rebound issues at this point in his career. He was much more effective when not pitching on back to back days and seemed to fade when called on to pitch more than one inning. That doesn’t make him “not a reliever”, but it does impact his value out of the pen and it might be something to consider if there was any question of what role he should be in, which obviously there isn’t.

    Probably on average pitchers are worse on back to back days. I know some guys like B.J. Ryan actually do better, and from personal experience I know some pitchers come out stronger the second day.

    100% agree that 10 2/3 innings doesn’t prove anything. But the numbers are far enough apart it’s worth thinking about. Next time I’ll make sure to quote an r-squared value or something.

    halejon

    January 29, 2008 at 2:23 am

  9. Regardless of who they use in the set-up role. The Jays staff is among the best in the American league. It won’t matter who they use.

    ghostrunner

    January 29, 2008 at 4:23 am

  10. An important factor in Janssen, is that he currently has four mediocre pitches, but shows signs of improving on them. If he can adjust his curve release a bit later, and stop flashing it at the batter, I think you’ll see his break deepen, and it start to look more like a long power curve with a late break. Do that with his ability to locate the fastball, and you’ve got a legitimate 2nd/3rd starter in him.

    Personally, I’d also forgo his slider from the mid-count. He gets a nice break on the cutter, and if he makes the correction, he’s better off mixing the curve with the heater than sending a dangerously unremarkable slider through the zone.

    As for Jesse Litsch, yes, the stats don’t lie and he did get lucky. But, like the saying goes, luck favours the well prepared. What I really like about Litsch is much the same as I do about Marcum; strategic sense and attitude. Both have mostly average stuff, but they stick with it. Marcum athleticism off the mound, willingness to pound the zone even when hit and ability to focus on the hitter is what made him successful. I saw much the same in Litsch, with a nasty sinker/cutter duo with identical arm motion, unphased willingness to stay down and force the hitter to come to the top of the plate, to me shows someone with an understanding of the game more mature than his experience.

    I really like the potential for Litsch in the back end of our rotation past 2008. When we lose Burnett, the Jays could do much worse than a rotation of Halladay/McGowan/Janssen/Marcum/Litsch.

    Bryant Telfer

    January 29, 2008 at 5:19 pm

  11. I like Litsch a lot, especially for a 22 year old. I just think there’s a natural tendency to look at his ERA (especially over his second stint back in the majors) and wonder/scream/tear your hair out why the heck he isn’t an absolute lock for the 5th spot in the rotation. IT MEANS HE GETS RESULTS, YOU STUPID CHIEF!!! :)

    But a little poking around and it was a blessed season in every way possible- hits falling in, fly balls going for home runs, unearned runs, stranded runners. (Graphical Player says: “even if he improves he probably won’t catch up to this success”). Fortunately he showed signs of doing that at the end of the year, and compared to the depth options we’ve had in the past he’s a freaking all-star.

    Marcum might not throw hard, but his stuff right now is a lot better than Jesse’s. He’s got good command over 5 (*cough* mediocre *cough*) pitches, and always been able to punch guys out with that changeup- Litsch just learned his last year and is was a disappearing/reappearing act all last season. Shaun threw his change and cutter just as much as his fastball, but Jesse was just one cutter after the other. Unless your name is Mariano, it’s hard to believe that’s going to continue to be effective.

    halejon

    January 29, 2008 at 7:19 pm

  12. Avoiding the term ‘intangible’, one of the things that I like best about Litsch, and the reason that I can see him as one of the full time back of rotation starters in a couple of years is the attitude towards the plate and the batter. He’s confident enough to stay down in the zone, even when hit, and induce ground balls with the sinker/cutter. You would think this is a basic skill, but even at MLB level, so many marginal pitchers get rattled and try to fireball mediocre stuff over the plate. Josh Towers is a great example. You put Halladay’s brain in Towers body, and you have a 12-15 win guy with an ERA around 3.50. When Towers was on, he could flat out pitch and punch out elite hitters with a vicious slider. The trouble, of course, was put a guy on base, and Towers just couldn’t keep a 88mph slider away from the middle of the plate. He never developed the attitude needed to succeed in this league.

    As I mentioned, stats don’t lie and Litsch’s record/ERA are far better than his stats justify. But with a little more seasoning and an offspeed pitch that isn’t laughable, I really would have no problems running him out in the five slot in 2009. It’s the same attitude that I see in Marcum, which is why I’ve got no problems with the fact that outside of the change up, he doesn’t have particularly good stuff. But he gets results with it because of being unphased on the mound and staying to his batter by batter strategy instead of making mistakes looking for the quick out. I personally like watching pitchers like Marcum best, who are craft pitchers, more than say Burnett, who has ‘blow you away’ amazing stuff, so much that he can use a blunter approach coming to the plate.

    Bryant Telfer

    January 30, 2008 at 6:04 pm

  13. [...] was very careful not to use pitchers two days in a row (which at least over a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE was not good for Casey Janssen). I would not have guessed that and it could easily have contributed to a bullpen full of rookies [...]


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