There’s news about the Blue Jays closer! It’s not that he’s had shoulder surgery — both of the candidates have already managed that. Instead, it’s that Casey Janssen will get the first crack at the role, according to his manager. So now, instead of wondering if Sergio Santos is the guy, the question is how long Janssen will hold the role.
We know that previous performances aren’t the greatest way to predict closer changes. For example, previous year FIP is not correlated with closer changes, as much as we want it to be. So we can’t just point to Santos’ better two-year FIP or his strikeout rate as a reason for his eventual succession.
But it is worth taking apart Janssen’s production so far in case it’s not sustainable. Relievers put up numbers in such small samples that it’s hard to say definitively that Janssen will even be Janssen again. If you look at his career as a whole, he has a below-average strikeout rate (17.5%) built on a below-average swinging strikeout rate (7.9%), and even during his good seasons before last year (2010 and 2011), his 21.1% and 23.8% strikeout rates (and 8.3%, 8.4% swinging strike rates) were below average for a late-inning reliever. Added to this revelation is the fact that Janssen only averaged 91.7 mph on his fastball last year. Using Michael Barr’s xK% from last season’s FG+, you might have expected Janssen to put up a 20.9% strikeout rate instead of the actual 27.7% number he showed last season. Janssen has great control (a 6.1% career walk rate is great) and can keep the ball on the ground (48.9% ground balls career), but he’s a significant candidate for regression in the strikeout rate department.
That sort of thing might matter, considering Santos has a career 29.3% strikeout rate that is more closer-like. 148 relievers managed 40 innings last season, and their average strikeout rate was 23.04% — already Janssen’s three-year baseline is to close to average. Take the top 30 relievers by saves, though, and the average strikeout rate was 27.3% — much more Santossian.
By now, someone is screaming at their computer that Santos had shoulder surgery. By some reports, he had his labrum repaired, which would be a big deal and mean terrible things for his career. But by the words of the reliever himself, Santos had “a general cleanup” which might be considered slightly worse than the AC joint surgery that Janssen had this offseason. But it’s not a labrum tear. Most likely, they ‘smoothed out the rough edges’ on a fraying labrum, as RotoGraphs writer Dan Wade put it. Maybe Janssen is significantly more likely to be healthy this season, but this armchair doctor has it closer than it might first appear.
The first, most important question to ask when evaluating the likelihood of saves is always: “Who’s closing now?” And that question was answered by the manager when he put Casey Janssen in the first seat. But it’s clear from evaluating their stuff and looking closer at their injuries that Janssen is no sure thing. Sergio Santos is still worth drafting for the strong chance he ends up with more saves in Toronto this year — just probably a few rounds after the incumbent. Because Janssen is the one in the seat, for now.