On a team where there are numerous question marks, there are few things that are as constant and as certain for the Toronto Blue Jays as Casey Janssen.
No, Casey Janssen may not be the sexiest pick when it comes to closers; he may not be a fireballer with a 100 MPH fastball like Aroldis Chapman, and he may not be a strikeout machine like Craig Kimbrel, but Casey Janssen gets the job done.
Going into Spring Training, like most, I thought Sergio Santos had the leg up on Casey Janssen as the Blue Jays Opening Day closer. With both closer candidates completely healthy, Santos simply profiles better as a typical closer.
But that’s the thing about Casey Janssen; he isn’t your typical closer.
Janssen isn’t armed with a blow-it-by-you fastball, but rather a cut-fastball, not unlike the most dominant closer of all time, Mariano Rivera.
Speaking of Rivera, Buster Olney and Hall of Famer and current Orioles colour commentator had some kind words for Janssen, comparing Mariano Rivera’s cutter to Casey Janssen’s on the ESPN Fantasy Focus Podcast.
“Jim Palmer actually saw it first, when Janssen started throwing his cutter, he said ‘man, that thing’s like a Mariano Rivera cutter with how much it’s moving’.
So I went last night to Justin Havens and asked him to tell me what Janssen’s cutter movement was today, and he said it was the best cutter movement since the middle of last season. It looks like right now, he’s in one of those modes where he has great command of this terrific pitch, and he pitches with a lot of confidence.
Yeah, the Blue Jays aren’t off to a great start, but it looks like Casey Janssen is back from the health issues he’s had, and he’s throwing a great cutter.”
Obviously, Mariano Rivera will always be on an echelon all of his own, but that is some heavy, heavy praise for Casey Janssen.
As Palmer and Olney suspected, Janssen’s cutter has even more movement this season than last; nearly a full inch more compared to last season (4.24 inches of vertical movement in 2012 versus 5.12 inches of vertical movement in 2013).
With that kind of vertical movement, Casey Janssen’s cutter almost mimics that of a curveball rather than a cutter; which makes the pitch even more difficult for opposing hitters to track, as Casey also locates his four-seam fastball extremely well.
Again, Janssen’s repertoire doesn’t induce all that many swinging strikes, but rather he relies of his ability to locate. More often than not, Casey racks up his strikeouts via strikes looking rather than strikes swinging.
Because Casey Janssen has incredible pinpoint control of his pitches, he very seldom gives up walks. In fact, he has faced 47 batters this season and has not walked one of them. Last season, Janssen faced 242 total batters and walked just 11 total in 63.2 innings.
Going back to 2012, if the Blue Jays ever needed a shutdown inning, Casey Janssen was the man to call on. Dating back to May 9th of 2012, he has allowed just one earned run in all of his last 32 converted save opportunities. One … single … run.
I think Janssen’s success can be contributed to two very simple things;
he throws strikes and he works quickly. By the time Casey has thrown
strike one, he’s already going through his somewhat manic routine on the
mound preparing to throw strike two.
One could go on and on about Casey Janssen’s accolades, but he really has been an mainstay in the Blue Jays bullpen which has often been a revolving door of sorts. I can safely say that I haven’t been this confident to see a Blue Jays closer take the mound since B.J. Ryan’s unprecedented 2006 season.
And even if Sergio Santos does come back 100% healthy, I would be reluctant to relinquish the closer role back to Santos, simply because Casey Janssen has been performing so well in late and close situations.
It’s not even really about the “closer” title par se; John Gibbons must consider Casey Janssen his best high leverage reliever, which is why Gibby calls upon Janssen when the game is on the line or the Blue Jays need a shutdown inning.
All but one of Casey Janssen’s 12 appearances this season have been in high leverage situations. And of all those appearances, Janssen has surrendered just four hits total.
For all that he does, Casey Janssen is an extremely unheralded and underrated relief pitcher. Again, not a lot has gone right for the Blue Jays in the early going of this season, but Casey Janssen is about as sure a thing any Blue Jays fan could ask for.