After five years as closer for the Chicago White Sox, Bobby Jenks will change his sock colors and head to Boston after signing a 2-year, $12M contract that is as close as Theo Epstein can be expected to come to a reluctant acknowledgement of the overinflated relief-pitching market at the moment. Despite a mediocre 2010 ERA, Jenks’ peripherals remained very strong with a 10.42 K/9, 3.08 BB/9 and 2.62 xFIP. Boasting a career 3.16 FIP and 3.24 xFIP, Jenks is arguably one of the more underrated relievers in MLB today. Barring injury, Jenks should be a strong candidate to rebound to his excellent career standards during his age-30 and 31 seasons in Boston.
Jenks excels at the five core skills of elite relievers, or pitchers in general for that matter: power stuff, strikeout ability, avoiding walks, inducing ground balls, and suppressing home runs. Jenks features a high-octane fastball as his bread and butter pitch (94.8 MPH average velocity in 2010, according to TexasLeaguers), along with a slider, curve, and change; both the change and slider induced significantly above-average whiff rates in 2010. He displays both excellent strikeout ability and control with a career 8.8 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9, in addition to an elite 1.99 career GB/FB ratio and an utterly Derek Lowe-esque 2.80 last year. Finally, Jenks has shown himself quite adept at keeping the ball in the park; with the exception of an outlier 2009 where he posted a gargantuan 17.0% HR/FB rate, Jenks has never given up more than 5 HR in a season. In three of his five seasons as Chicago’s closer, including 2010, he gave up 3 HR or less. Lastly, Jenks displays no worrisome platoon splits, carrying a career K9/BB9/xFIP of 9.33/3.23/3.14 against lefties and 8.36/2.63/3.32 against righties.
Any contending team would be glad to have Jenks’s skill set in their bullpen as a closer, much less as a power setup man. A Jenks-Bard-Papelbon trio is a set of three high-powered arms who could all close for virtually any other MLB team, and who will all call the Red Sox bullpen home in 2011. If all three perform to their career standards, there is a strong chance that the Boston relief corps will turn out to be the three-man late game steamroller that Eric Gagne was expected to form with Hideki Okajima and Papelbon in 2007. For the sake of Terry Francona’s blood pressure, let’s hope this time turns out better.