Quick trivia question: Who was the Blue Jays’ last first draft pick in the J.P. Ricciardi era? Answer: Chad Jenkins. So why has everyone forgotten about him?
Jenkins has made major league appearances in the past two seasons, racking up 65 1/3 major league innings including six starts and has a fairly impressive 3.58 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
Ok, the biggest knock on Chad Jenkins is that he doesn’t strike out enough batters (a 4.05 K/9 ratio in 2013) but the fact is that he made three unexpectedly very good starts for the Jays last year and actually improved his stats in 2013 over approximately the same number of innings in 2012.*
|162 Game Avg.||5||7||.400||3.58||54||14||14||153||148||68||61||19||40||7||73||5||117||1.224||8.7||1.1||2.3||4.3||1.82|
Some of you might be thinking Chad Who? What’s this guy working with? Who is he? Jenkins was actually a first round pick for the Blue Jays back in 2009, signing after pitching for Kennesaw State University in Georgia and coming up quickly through the minor leagues, making his pro debut in 2010 and cracking the big club in 2012. Never a strikeout artist, he’s the type of guy who relies on changing speeds and minimizing walks. He throws mostly a two-seam fastball (or sinker) that averages around 90 mph around 70% of the time as well as a slider that hits around 83.5 mph and a changeup in the 82-83 mph range. He has a 77 mph curveball but rarely throws it.
While the sample sizes are still small, it looks like there are two things that made the difference between his okay 2012 major league debut season and his intriguing numbers in 2013. In 2012, Jenkins relied on his slider as his go-to pitch, throwing it almost 20% of the time and throwing his changeup about 10% of the time. In 2013, the changeup become his dominant offspeed pitch, throwing it almost 25% of the time whereas the slider usage dropped to 5%.
There’s enough of a difference in the tallies between the generic Fangraphs numbers (above) and the numbers at Brooks Baseball to merit some deeper analysis. Brooks Baseball has Jenkins using his four-seam fastball much more in 2013 (from 5.97% in 2012 to 17.75%) and they’re also showing that he threw a more traditional changeup in 2012 (about 10% of the time) but a “splitter” in 2013 (over 23%).
It would appear that these changes resulted in his two-seam sinker getting over 58% ground balls (on balls in play) in 2013 whereas his slider generated swings and misses 40% of the times that batters swung and the splitter got swings and misses almost 25% of the time (with 108 splitters thrown in 2013). Interestingly, the whiff percentage on his splitter actually compares very well to someone like Max Scherzer, who got just above 20% whiffs with his slider, a pitch that he throws about 15% of the time. So while Jenkins’s strikeout rate of 11.6% in the majors isn’t fantastic, he was actually able to miss bats very effectively with his splitter while mixing in a four-seam fastball in 2013. Jenkins’s increased reliance on a splitter in 2013 also contributed to a 2% increase in ground balls and a 3% decrease in line drives. In addition, his HR/FB rate dropped dramatically, from 14.3% to 8.3%.
Let’s do a little Player A vs. Player B comparison. We’ll cheat a bit and let you know that Player A is Chad Jenkins. I’ll let you guess the identity of Player B (note: all stats are from 2013 via Fangraphs).
Ground Ball to Fly Ball Ratio: 1.36 (Jenkins); 1.33 (Player B)
Line Drive %: 20.6 (Jenkins); 20.6 (Player B)
Ground Ball %: 45.8% (Jenkins); 45.3% (Player B)
Fly Ball %: 33.6% (Jenkins); 34.1% (Player B)
HR/FB rate: 8.3% (Jenkins); 10.9% (Player B)
Strikeout rate: 11.4% (Jenkins); 15.9% (Player B)
Whiff rate: 7.0% (Jenkins); 6.9% (Player B)
Walk rate: 4.6% (Jenkins); 5.8% (Player B)
Any guesses who Player B is? He’s a long-time veteran major leauger who also doesn’t have any overpowering stuff to fall back on: Mark Buehrle. Yes, that’s right. While the sample size is much smaller for Jenkins, he had just as good a season as Mark Buehrle, posting very similar numbers when we look at the results of how batters reacted/hit his pitching. While Jenkins seriously outperformed his DIPS stats (2.70 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 4.25 xFIP), Buehrle has also done the same thing consistently over his career.
If you’re going to take anything away from this article, keep two points in mind. Chad Jenkins in 2013 was a different pitcher than in 2012. He had better control, mixed a four-seam fastball in with his sinker more and developed what appears to be a very nasty splitter. He only started (very effectively) re-incorporating his slider into the mix when he started games in September. If he pitches the same way in 2014 that he did in 2013, he could very well carry these changes and improvements over. The second point is that his batted ball data profiled very similarly to Mark Buehrle in 2013 and we all know that Buehrle has had an outstanding career of very solid performances year after year without the fastball velocity that Jenkins has.
With more exciting prospects like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez on the way and sexier names like R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow in the rotation, let’s not forget young Mr. Jenkins. Next season will be his Age-26 season and he’s already got over 65 major league under his belt and has figured out how to get big league hitters out with a new approach in 2013. He might not strike out a lot but, as he matures, he may very well be able to take advantage of his new weapons to put batters away when he needs to.
* Yes, I know the chart is a bit hard to read.