Thursday, July 29, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
When fans think of Bobby Jenks, they think of big.
Its not unfair. Jenks is big in every way. His off-field demeanor may be sweet, but hes physically imposing64 with a goatee somewhere north of ZZ Top and 275 pounds you wouldnt want to enrage. His smoke is legendaryyou see him scale the mound and still remember the baby face who stared down mountain man Jeff Bagwell in Game 1 on the 2005 World Series.
Jenks hit 99 on the gun in that matchup five years ago, and hit it again Wednesday night, reducing Seattle Mariners cleanup hitter Russell Branyan to a pillar of salt with 99 mph wickedness. Short of a game-ending home run, theres little else that jacks up a crowd more than a dominant closer performance.
And Jenks has seen his share of them. Hes second on the Chicago White Soxs all-time saves list with 167thats 60th all-time and 12th among active pitchers. Jenkss 9.3 is also 204th all-time in Win Probability Added, a stat that attempts to measure an individuals contributions to wins, as well as 46th among active pitchers.
All fine and good, right? But while Jenkss name is almost always preceded by Bad, his statistics this season so far are bad, and not in a good way.
Jenks has a 4.82 ERA, on track for his first career mark above 4.00. His ERA is less than 100 (below average) for the first time ever. Jenks has a 9.9 H9, which is more than one hit per nine innings-higher than his previous career worst. His 3.9 BB9 equals his career worst, but his 11.3 K9 is a career best, indicating Jenks is pitching less to contact than ever.
The 2010 season is also shaping up to be Jenkss first with a negative WAR (-0.2), and for an arbitration-eligible player making 7.5 million, thats a formula for non-tendering a contract in the offseason.
To his credit, Jenks remains focused on the task at hand, winning games. He sees closing out games as a point of pride, and admits disappointment over the recent is-he-or-isnt-he closer controversy, but only from the standpoint where he feels hes a proven commodity.
Jenks is a standup guy, almost beyond belief. He had a week from hell during the road trip, badly blowing games on July 18 at the Minnesota Twins and July 21 at the Seattle Mariners, yet in both circumstances was forthright, even welcoming, when it came to discussing his performance.
Wednesday night, Jenks had every excuse to crow a string of I-told-you-sos after an impeccable, vintage performance that touched every stone for his return to dominance, including a blistering fastball, a grip-lock on the zone and a complete lack of intimidation give a save situation vs. Seattles 3-4-5 hitters.
Did he? Not even close. In fact, Jenks took pains to credit every member of the White Sox bullpen after his best performance of the seasonas well as his first 1-2-3, three-strikeout save in four years. And thats not just Sergio Santos, Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz, all of whom are embroiled in some manner of scoreless streak, but the little guys like Tony Pena and Erick Threetseven Randy Williams got some love.
This is Bobby Jenks; a stand-up guy who is beloved by his bullpen mates, as well as the entire team. Not a player who spoke postgame Wednesdaya list including Mark Buehrle, Santos, Putz, Gordon Beckham and Juan Pierrehad anything but admiration and support for Jenks. As manager Ozzie Guillen said, were behind Bobby 100, and thats a statement that applies to every man in the White Sox clubhouse.
Backup catcher Ramon Castro credits hitting coach Greg Walker with his resurgent season, one that could see him stealing starts from slumping A.J. Pierzynski if the incumbent doesnt turn his season around soon.
Castro is stroking at an .870 OPS clip, which dwarfs his career .729. His OPS is 129 despite a below-average career figure of 90. Hes boasting a 0.7 WAR, impressive for a player seeing such modest action, and his seven walks12 Ks is a ratio Castro hasnt produced since his rookie year in 1999.
Its just hard work, Castro said of his resurgent season at age 34. 'Walk' helped me with keeping my head still, keeping my hands a little more open.
Count Castro as yet another White Sox player who applauds Walker for developing batting strategies around a players strength vs. forcing a roster to adapt to his beliefs.
And if theres any doubt in his growth as a hitter, Castro laughed and said, The numbers dont lie. The production doesnt lie.
In his first three at-bats Thursday, Castro had a run-scoring double and two towering, solo home runs.
In a surprisingly sedate pregame session, Guillen riffed on Gold Gloves, saying theyre a bit of a sham based only on offensive stats. Rafael Palmeiro winning a Gold Glove in 1999 despite playing only 28 games at first base that season was Exhibit A for Guillen.
Guillen isnt the first to point this out, of course, but he may be the first to use himself as an argument for how silly the selection process is. But the manager also pointed the finger in the mirror, noting that the one season he won a Gold Glove, 1990, he hit really well.
Really well for Guillen counts as a modest, to that point career-best .279with 17 errors. But Guillen also garnered the only MVP votes of his career in that season, so his visibility was at its highest point.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.