Casey Janssen doesn’t have a problem with the save rule, nor does he have much trouble earning saves. The Toronto Blue Jays right-hander racked up 22 of them after being the handed the closer’s role in May. The 31-year-old former set-up man appeared in 62 games overall, logging a 2.54 ERA and 0.864 WHIP while walking just 1.6 batters per nine innings. He talked about his successful transition, including reliever usage and the myth of closer mentality, during a mid-summer visit to Fenway Park.
David Laurila: You were recently charged with an earned run that wouldn’t have scored had the runner not taken an extra base on defensive indifference. Is that fair?
Casey Janssen: I don’t know if there is anything productive I could say about that other than it stinks and it’s part of the game. It’s been a rule for so long that I don’t see them changing it anytime soon. It’s not an error, so I have to imagine it has to be an earned run. As a pitcher, you just accept it.
DL: Is it fair to have a reliever come in, blow a multi-run lead, and ultimately get credited with the win? Should the official scorer have the discretion to give it to someone else?
CJ: I don’t like that idea. I’m kind of a traditionalist, I guess. Unfortunately — or fortunately — if you do have that happen to you, you’re the pitcher of record. It’s your win, just as much as if you throw one pitch and get hit with the loss.
DL: What do you think of the save rule as currently structured?
CJ: I’ve got no problem with it. I think it’s pretty fair and makes the most sense. I’m fine with most rules, but if there was one I’d like to see changed, it would be the wild-pitch third strike. I don’t feel that should be an earned run, because you struck the guy out. It’s not necessarily a wild pitch, because you intentionally threw it there, trying to get him to swing. The guy ends up coming around to score and it’s an earned run even though you did exactly what you wanted. That would be my one beef.
DL: Is there such a thing as closer-mentality?
CJ: I think that anybody can close. That said, guys who put more weight on the inning than they otherwise do may struggle a little bit more. I definitely believe that the eighth inning can be more difficult than the ninth. Sometimes the seventh inning is more difficult than the ninth. If you can pitch, and put up a zero in one of those innings, you can put up a zero in the ninth as well. Obviously, one factor is that managers typically don’t… it’s your inning. They’re not giving you any help down there. It’s yours until you either win it or lose it.
DL: Should managers use their closers in high-leverage situations prior to the ninth inning?
CJ: No, because then you fall into… well, I guess if you only have one reliever that you can count on, you’re not going to be a very good team. But I say no to that, because the same situation can still happen in the ninth. If you get out of it in the seventh, that’s not guaranteeing you a win. You still have to get those last outs.
DL: Should your best reliever work multiple innings?
CJ: Not regularly. I think that when you have a role, you want to embrace that role. You want to get every opportunity to close out a game and if you get burned because of a one-plus — a five-outer, or something — it could jeopardize your next opportunity. At times, a pitcher has earned the right to get every save opportunity.
DL: Relievers from a generation ago might say, “Heck, I used to get two- and three-inning saves all the time.”
CJ: The game is more specialized now. We have pitchers that have specific strengths that are made for their craft, and we also have some great hitters that we take that advantage of. And if you throw three innings, you’re probably going to need a minimum of two days — maybe three — off. Your value to the team might not be as great, because you can’t pitch every night.
DL: What was your reaction when you were handed the closer role?
CJ: My thought was that I wanted to take the job and run with it. Nobody wants to be a middle reliever their whole career. It’s just like people don’t wake up and say, “I’d love to be vice president.” People want to be president. Instead of being a set-up guy for someone, if you feel you can handle the job, why not? Why not take the most-important job?
DL: Outside of throwing strikes, how are you getting guys out?
CJ: That’s it. Throwing strikes is the name of the game. I pride myself, as much as I can, in not walking hitters. Eliminating base runners in that way is important. Limited walks has been a point of emphasis this year. I feel that I’m a strike thrower and if I feel that I can throw strikes, why can’t I do it all the time? Again, giving free bases just creates more chaos, and potential runs. I can live with giving up hits — they’re going to happen — but walks are tougher to swallow.
DL: What is your most-important pitch?
CJ: Everybody has to say, or at least should say, their fastball. Obviously, my cutter is a little bit of an equalizer, especially against lefties. It gives me an opportunity to show them another look, with something hard, that will help keep them off my fastball.
DL: Are you primarily attacking hitters with those two pitches?
CJ: I truly believe that I’m a five-pitch guy. I haven’t thrown my changeup as much as I could, but I have no problem throwing my slider, and I have confidence in my curveball. But I definitely use my cutter and fastball the most.
DL: What determines whether you throw a cutter or a slider in a given situation?
CJ: They’re completely different pitches. There’s about a seven-mph different between the two, so more than anything I’d say, “What’s the difference between my curveball and my slider.” And then, with my fastball and cutter, it’s a matter of one having the late cut at the end. Ideally, you’d like to have your fastball two mph harder than your cutter. The world‘s not perfect, so I don’t always get that, but it’s what I’m looking for.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.