Clayton Kershaw went 6.2 solid innings while setting a career high in pitches, and the Dodger offense finally touched Jhoulys Chacin thanks in part to some shoddy Colorado defense, but that’s not what I’m interested in tonight.
A few days ago, I tweeted that I wasn’t quite sure why Kenley Jansen was setting up for Javy Guerra, rather than vice-versa. It was sort of an off-hand remark more than anything serious, because to be honest it doesn’t really matter at this point, and Jon Weisman accurately captured the feeling that Guerra’s success has been welcome, but not totally convincing.
It was less about Guerra than Jansen, of course, because the level of domination we’ve seen from Jansen since his return from the disabled list in June has been a severely under-reported positive note of the Dodger season; if I’d had a few extra minutes today, I’d planned to write about him before the game. I wish I’d had, because with Guerra sidelined after having pitched three days in a row, Jansen was the fill-in closer tonight; seven pitches and two strikeouts later, his legend is starting to grow.
Quickly, the facts: since returning from injury, Jansen has pitched 16 scoreless innings spanning 14 games. In that time, he’s whiffed 26 against 7 walks and 3 singles. Think about that; he’s striking out nearly half the batters he’s seeing, he’s cutting down on the walks, and he’s been all but unhittable. Remember how great we thought his K/9 rate was last season? Yeah, it’s better this year; if he keeps it up, he’ll have one of the five or six best seasons in history by that metric.
Yet he seemingly hasn’t earned the respect he deserves, and I think I know why. In his first appearance of the season, he gave up four earned runs in a game the Dodgers would lose to San Francisco 10-0. Later in April, he gave up five earned runs to Atlanta, as the Dodgers lost 10-1. Despite ripping off ten consecutive scoreless innings after that, his ERA was still north of 5 through the end of May, when he was hit hard again just before being shelved with shoulder inflammation. Even now, 16 scoreless innings later, his ERA is still just 3.65, which is hardly eye-catching. The point, as you’ve surely gleaned by now, is not just that ERA for relievers is wildly unreliable due to the small sample sizes, but that people tend to gravitate to the shiny numbers they see on their TV screen – and that first impressions are far too important. If Jansen had the exact same season numbers he does now, but had been great early and hit hard more recently, I guarantee you the perception of him would be a little different.
For now, the situation is fine. Often, we know that it’s better to have your best relievers available for tougher situations before the 9th. If Guerra continues to get the job done, even when it’s not pretty, there’s really no reason to rock the boat this season to make a switch. It’s not Guerra who’s the closer of the future, though. It’s Jansen.
So here’s a thing, and while this is going to come off as being negative towards Jamey Carroll, it’s not intended to be. I like Jamey Carroll; I’ll be sad when he’s gone, whether that’s in three days or three months, and I need not remind you that Carroll’s job is not to drive in runs and that RBI are generally incredibly meaningless.
That said, when I stumble upon a statistical oddity like this, how can I not share it? Carroll is on pace to be one of the most ineffective hitters at driving in runs, well, ever.
That’s a list of the fewest RBI by players with at least 337 PA (which is what Carroll had entering tonight’s game) since 1901, which is essentially the beginning of time in baseball terms. What’s most interesting here is the “OPS” category on the far right, because – as would be expected – we’re looking at some dreadful years, none more so than our own John Shelby‘s nearly unfathomable 1989. But Carroll doesn’t fall into that category; after tonight’s 2-3, his line now stands at a .291/.363/.358, which is more than acceptable.
For Carroll, his lack of runs driven in looks to be something of a perfect storm. Part of it is batting position, as he’s often hit leadoff (meaning there’s no one on to start the game, or behind the pitcher otherwise) or 8th (behind the generally execrable Juan Uribe, Dioner Navarro, or Rod Barajas). He simply doesn’t get a ton of opportunities with men in scoring position. Of course, he’s not doing much with the chances he does get: just .160/.323/.160 in 63 plate appearances with RISP this year.
Anyway, most of us expect Carroll to be elsewhere by the end of the week, so this is neither here nor there, and certainly not a knock on his performance. But in a season that was lost long ago, might as well root for this record right up alongside the chase for “most left fielders”, right?