ETA, 3:20pm. As I noted in the comments, news recently broke that Jenks will be signing with the Red Sox, for less than I expected — two years, $12 million. However, the below analysis still stands; only now Boston will get to benefit from him instead of the Yankees.
It appears that Kerry Wood, who we looked at yesterday in tandem with Rafael Soriano as potential lockdown bullpen solutions for the Yankees, is going to re-join the Chicago Cubs. However, another former flamethrowing Chicago relief pitcher from the other side of town is apparently on the Yankees’ radar — the recently non-tendered Bobby Jenks.
Jenks was a surprising non-tender, considering that he’s been the fourth-most valuable relief pitcher in the American League since 2005, but the White Sox didn’t feel he was worth more than the $7.5 million he made in 2010 and as a result didn’t want to risk having to pay whatever raise he would’ve received had they gone to arbitration. As Jenks was worth $6.1 million in 2010 according to Fangraphs, I understand the reasoning behind the Sox’s move, especially considering that most-valuable-reliever-in-the-AL-in-2010 Matt Thornton will presumably move into the closer role, although it still seems like a surprisingly penny-pinching move from a team that doesn’t strike me as cash-strapped.
Jenks probably didn’t help his case on the South Side by posting the worst ERA of his six-year career in 2010; however, a closer look at the numbers reveals strong peripherals (Jenks appears to have pulled something of a Joba Chamberlain in 2010) — including the second-best FIP (2.59) of his career — and whichever team signs him is going to end up with one of the better relief pitchers in the game.
Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Jenks’ 2005 debut was truly something special, not to mention a significant component of the White Sox’s championship run that season. The primary outlier here is Jenks’ 2009 FIP of 4.47, which subsequently fell nearly by nearly two runs to 2.59 last season. Of course, his 2010 ERA was a rather ugly 4.44, begging the question how did he underperform his sterling FIP by such a wide gap?
After a career-worst 1.52 HR/9 rate in 2009 (hence the ugly FIP), he put up a much more in line with his career rate (0.66) mark of 0.51. His K/9 rose from 8.27 in 2009 back over the 10 batters per nine threshold, to an awesome 10.42, tied with David Robertson for fourth-best in the league. Interestingly he posted the best ERA of his career in 2008 despite a career-low 5.55 K/9. His walk rate rose slightly in 2010 to 3.08 BB/9 — slightly above his career mark of 2.90 — but I’m not sure that’s anything to be overly concerned about.
Jenks posted the second-best ground ball % of his career in 2010, rising from 2009′s 48.8% to 58.3%, which was the third-best mark among AL relievers. His FB% also sunk to 20.8%, the lowest mark of his career and lowest among AL relievers. So far everything looks pretty great, huh? That is, until we get to his strand rate. After posting a career-high 80.1% mark in 2009, Jenks fell all the way to 65.4% last season, which was third-worst among qualified relievers. Fourth-worst? Our friend Joba.
And here was Jenks’ other 2010 bugaboo — he posted a career-high .267 batting average against, which was fueled by a career-high and unsustainable .368 BABIP, which unsurprisingly was the worst relief mark in the American League. David Robertson was actually fourth, and Joba was fifth.
So what does all this mean? Well in 2010 Bobby Jenks was essentially the White Sox’s version of Joba Chamberlain. Solid peripherals done in by an abnormally high BABIP and unusually low strand rate. I think most of us expect Joba to improve in 2011, and I don’t see any reason not to expect the 30-year-old Jenks to improve next season either.
Bill James has Jenks posting a 3.12 ERA/3.28 FIP in 2011, while CAIRO sees Jenks at 4.08/3.77, good for 0.8 WAR. At $5 million per win, a fair contract for Jenks next season would be $4 million, but there’s obviously no chance he signs at nearly half his 2010 salary. Given Jenks’ proven track record of performing at an elite level along with the likelihood of forming a lights-out 1-2 endgame combo with Mariano Rivera, I’d be fine with the Yankees signing Jenks to something like a two-year, $14 million deal. I have no idea if that gets it done, and considering lesser relievers have been getting three-year deals all offseason I have a feeling two years might be a pipe dream, but without knowing Jenks’ demands we can only speculate.
In any event, I’d be totally on board with a Jenks signing as long as the money isn’t a dramatic overpay. While I imagine Jenks would all but rule out Rafael Soriano, I’d also be OK with bringing Soriano into the fold as well to re-create the untouchable Mariano Rivera-John Wetteland-esque 7th-8th-9th endgame we discussed yesterday.