Janssen Dominating With Elite Command
The positives of a disappointing season sometimes need to be found at the individual level. Toronto has underachieved and been bitten by the injury bug for the second consecutive season, but that doesn't lessen the success certain players on the team have enjoyed. One of those players is closer Casey Janssen, who is putting together a dominant campaign.
A newly-repaired shoulder, which prevented him from starting spring training on time, has done nothing to slow down the 31-year-old. Minus a couple recent hiccups, Janssen has been near automatic when he takes the mound. He has converted all 11 of his save opportunities and has been perfect in nine of them.
Janssen has allowed nine hits and walked one in 16 innings, which is remarkable. That's good for a 0.63 WHIP, placing him fifth among relievers who have thrown at least 10 innings. He has ended 27.7% of his plate appearances with a strikeout (27.6% last season), and is walking batters at a career-low rate. Only the Yankees' Preston Claiborne, who hasn't walked a batter this season, has a lower walk rate in the American League.
With his ability to strike batters out and minimize free passes, Janssen's 16.00 K/BB ranks third among all relievers. He currently has career-best marks with a 2.25 ERA, 2.06 FIP, and 2.23 xFIP -- he's pitching as well as the peripherals suggest he should be -- and he's coming off two strong seasons in a row. He's certainly no fluke.
Janssen is not your typical closer in the sense that he doesn't overpower hitters with a fastball that lights up the radar gun. That's especially true this season, as his average fastball is close to two mph slower than it was in 2012. But he is closer material in the sense that he's Toronto's best reliever who excels in high-leverage situations. What Janssen might lack in velocity, he makes up with in pristine control, and he commands the strike zone exceptionally well.
With an average fastball of 90 mph, Janssen isn't going to blow his heater by major league hitters but it's still a go-to-pitch of his, and he'll miss bats with the offering once he's in control of the count. Janssen's putaway rate -- the percentage of two-strike plate appearances that end in a strikeout -- of 30.43% on his four-seamer is seventh among all relievers in baseball who have thrown the pitch at least 50 times this season. It's not just about generating swings and misses with the pitch for Janssen, however, as a well-placed fastball that gets looked at is one of a pitcher's best friends.
Janssen gets 1.10 called strikes for every ball he throws, which is the third-best mark among relievers. He's holding opposing hitters to a .115 average and .115 slugging on the pitch, placing him in the top 10 leaders in both categories. Janssen has yet to surrender an extra-base hit off his four-seam fastball this season.
Considering the velocity of the pitch and the fact he throws it for strikes, it says something about the offering when opposing hitters are swinging at 33.33% of the four-seamers he throws. Only seven relievers, minimum 50 pitches thrown, have their four-seamer swung at less frequently. Janssen is throwing the pitch 10 percent more often than last season and at a career-high mark (55%).
Here's where Janssen has been locating the pitch against lefties and righties.
And now where he spots it with two strikes.
That's a thing of beauty. Good luck doing damage against a fastball that barely hits the strike zone but lives all around it.
He also has a pretty nice cutter, too.
Janssen doesn't miss many bats with his cutter -- his whiff rate (misses per swing) is the second-lowest mark among relievers. In fact, he doesn't miss many bats, period, as he has the lowest swinging strike rate of his career. But he can when he needs to and hitters aren't doing damage off the pitch when they do put it in play. Janssen's 27.27 putaway percentage with his cutter is fourth best among relievers, while his .136 batting average against ranks eighth.
Janssen pounds lefties inside and righties away with his cutter. Below is a shot of where he spots the cutter with two strikes; we can see why it's such a tough pitch.
Lastly, his curveball rounds out his three-pitch mix.
It's not his best weapon, but it's what he turns to most once he gets two strikes on right-handers. He throws it a decent amount to lefties, especially with two strikes, and generates more whiffs off the pitch than his cutter or four-seamer.
Janssen's success stems from the fact he can pick apart the zone, getting plenty of called strikes as a result of his excellent command, and he doesn't walk batters. Many pitchers will tell you command trumps velocity any day of the week and Janssen is a shining example of that. Further, the balls that are hit in play against him aren't falling for hits often. Janssen's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this season is a measly .200 -- well below the league-average mark, which has been around .290-.295 for relievers over the last 10 years. He had a .240 BABIP in 2012, so there has been some luck on his side, but even if he can sit around last year's mark, he's going to enjoy a lot of success.
In all, batters should start taking some more hacks against him or he's going to continue to carve them up. Hitters are swinging at less pitches within the zone and looking at more pitches in total against Janssen than ever before. They are just giving him strikes, and that's no recipe for success against an elite pitcher.
[Hot Zone graphs courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information Group]