Entering the bottom of the ninth on June 5th, Toronto Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen probably thought he had lucked into a day off. He had just had the previous day off but hey, nobody is going to argue with a leisurely getaway day.
And so with the Jays leading the Detroit Tigers 7-3 thanks to a Melky Cabrera insurance home run in the top of the ninth, manager John Gibbons sent third-year reliever Chad Jenkins out to try and shut things down with a two-and-two-thirds-inning save. The Jays had a 99.2 percent chance of winning the game based on win probability graphs, though it may have been slightly lower with the middle of the Tigers order due up.
Four batters later, the Jays had to call on Janssen after all. He had no patience for this; he was already back in Toronto, mentally, and how dare a late Tigers rally put him to work?
With runners on first and second and two outs, Janssen got the call to face rookie Nick Castellanos. And look, youngblood, Janssen may not be old at 32, but he’s too old to mess around with the likes of you. Here is the entirety of Janssen’s appearance:
That’s the whole thing. Janssen strode in, threw one pitch and erased the remaining 1.5 percent shred of a chance the Tigers had to win the game.
It was Janssen’s 10th save of the year to that point and he had yet to give up an earned run – he’s since moved to 11-of-13 saving games with a terrible 1.42 ERA and 1.89 FIP – but even with a perfect slate, this kind of surgical work was surprising. A one pitch save.
Since 1988, when Baseball Reference first counts pitches, this marked just the 176th time a pitcher had managed a one-pitch save and the first time since Jim Johnson did it against these same Blue Jays on July 12 of last season. Since the year 2000, it’s happened roughly five times a season, so it’s not exceptionally rare, but it’s still damn impressive.
What’s more, it wasn’t Janssen’s first time doing it. Way back on August 28, 2007, when the Jays were still entertaining the idea of Janssen as a starter long-term – he started five games in 2009 after a year off due to injury – he picked up one of his six saves on the year in one-pitch fashion. That makes Janssen one of just 25 pitchers ever to throw a one-pitch save more than once in that span. The names who have done it more than twice, well, some of them probably aren’t that surprising:
|Pitcher||1-Pitch SV||Career SV|
But the impressive one-pitch outing from Janssen doesn’t quite stop there. In the outing before this year’s one-pitch lockdown, on June 3, he threw just three pitches to earn a save. Two saves in one series, four total pitches.
While I don’t have the database chops to check if a two-save, four-pitch performance has happened before, I was able to look at the instances of three-pitch saves in the same season and work backwards (there have been 786 three-pitch-or-fewer saves). 110 pitchers did this multiple times in the same season, with 25 doing it three times or more (including Edward Mujica last season), and Mark Davis (1989) and Jeff Reardon (1992) somehow managing it five times in a single year.
From there, I looked manually at each season pair to find the closest together any instances were. Here are the closest:
|Pitcher||Year||Pitches for B2B Saves||Close1||Close2|
|Trevor Hoffman||2002||3||Aug 13||Aug 14|
|Tom Gordon||1999||5||May 22||May 23|
|Steve Olin||1992||5||May 26||May 27|
|Jeff Montgomery||1990||2||Sep 28||Sep 29|
|Gary Lavelle||1979||3||Aug 7||Aug 8|
|Casey Janssen||2014||4||June 3||June 5|
|Roberto Hernandez||2000||4||July 27||July 29|
|Jeff Reardon||1992||3||Aug 6||Aug 8|
|Dan Plesac||1990||2||Aug 15||Aug 17|
|Mark Davis||1989||5||Sep 4||Sep 6|
|Steve Bedrosian||1988||4||June 15||June 17|
So we see that Janssen is now one of just 11 pitchers to perform the feat twice in a three-day span. If you include his 2007 one-pitch outing, Janssen is also one of 74 pitchers to throw a three-pitch save three different times, though that, naturally, leaves him well off Trevor Hoffman’s 17 such outings.
The one other things I thought to look up was whether Janssen adding 0.015 WPA with a single pitch ranked highly or not. Turns out, no, not even close. After all, he had a four-run lead with two outs; he could have surrendered a three-run home run and still ended up with a save. His 2007 one-pitch save was more impressive, adding 0.174 WPA.
That still pales compared to Mitch Williams on April 28, 1989, however. Leading 3-1 with runners on first and second and two out in the top of the ninth, the Chicago Cubs called on Williams to get Gary Templeton out. Williams settled…and turned and fired to second base, picking off San Diego Padres left fielder Carlos Martinez, thereby earning a save and 0.071 WPA without throwing a single pitch. Incredible.
To be thorough, here are the ten most efficient saves since 1988 by WPA per pitch:
|Erv Palica||1949-08-25 (2)||BRO||CHC||0.2||1||0.282||6.29||0.282|
So, congratulations, Casey Janssen, those were two very impressive and efficient outings. But you’re really going to have to ratchet up the intensity to match the hyperefficiency of the Montgomerys and McGaffigans of the world.
Blake Murphy is a freelance sportswriter based out of Toronto. Formerly of the Score, he's the managing editor at Raptors Republic and frequently pops up at Sportsnet, Vice, and around here. Follow him on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.