Janssen heads to best team in majors

casey janssen

* Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen turned down a multi-year offer from management early in the 2014 season. The free agent signed a one-year $5 million US deal with the Washington Nationals to be the set up man for closer Drew Storen. ….

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By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away

Blue Jays’ former closer, Casey Janssen has signed with the Washington Nationals. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has tweeted the news this morning.

For many Blue Jays fans, it is the end of an era in which Janssen has been a Blue Jay. Janssen was one of the longest serving Jays (along with Adam Lind) through the 2014 season and his stint goes back to 2006 when he broke in on April 27 making his first big league start. A starter through the minor leagues and his first big league season, Janssen was almost immediately converted to a relief role in 2007 when he pitched in 70 games, picking up six saves and posting a 2.35 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.

When he’s been healthy, Janssen has been outstanding. While he missed the entire 2008 season with surgery to his shoulder, he still needed another year (2009 wasn’t great for him) before he returned to the form he had in 2007. In 2010 through 2013, Janssen was pretty incredible, logging 240 2/3 innings with a 2.80 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP, just 60 walks and 233 strikeouts, saving 58 games.

His 2014 was marred by a case of food poisoning and Janssen wasn’t the same after the All-Star break despite an incredible first half, posting a 1.23 ERA with just one walk and 14 strikeouts in his first 23 appearances.

He’s always pitched well when healthy and and the trend in Janssen’s strikeout rate in 2014 seems to indicate that. In his rookie year, Janssen struck out 10.8% of opponents as a starter and had a 13.1% strikeout rate the following year as a reliever. In 2009, his rate was only 12.5% but that was a pretty bad year for him, coming back from his shoulder surgery. In 2010 through 2013, however, Janssen was dominant on the mound and had strikeout rates of 21.1%, 23.8%, 27.7% and 23.8%. Last year, he only struck out 14.6% of batters faced.

The big question is whether Janssen’s arm is running out of gas or if he’ll be able to rebound in 2015. Janssen’s velocity actually rose in the last two months of the season and while it’s unlikely that he’ll recover the low-90s velocity he had back in 2012, he was averaging 90.18 mph on his four-seam fastball in September of 2014. Outside of one outing on Sept. 5 in which he gave up three runs on five hits in 1/3 of an inning (pitching on back-to-back days), Janssen only allowed one run in the entire month.

Janssen agreed to a one-year deal with the Nationals for a reported $5 million with a mutual option for $7 million for 2016. At 33, and with an injury history that probably put several teams off the chase, I think the one-year, $5 million amount is pretty good for Janssen.

If the Blue Jays don’t sign or trade for any relievers then I think that it was a mistake not to bring back Janssen at the terms (or close to them) that Washington was offering. All relievers are a gamble and I think that Janssen has enough of a track record to bet the $5 million. If the Jays use that money to do something else (although I’m getting the impression they won’t), then I won’t be as disappointed.