Mighty Casey on the Mound
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:
Right 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:
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.