Aggravated Nights: The Ballad of Bobby Jenks

Stop me if this sounds familiar: One of the MLB's top closers, Bobby Jenks stays atop the heap thanks to a pact with his best friend and teammate, Left On Base Percentage. But when a French Formula One driver, High BABIP, makes his way up the ladder, Bobby's talent and devotion are put to the test.

If the preceding tale of heroism and adventure does not stir your blood, then perhaps the numbers will. This is:

The Ballad of Bobby Jenks:

          Car.            2010
ERA: 3.40 4.44
FIP: 3.16 2.59
xFIP: 3.24 2.62
LOB: 73.5% 65.4%
BABIP: .306 .368

Since 2006, Bobby Jenks has been the White Sox ace closer. Sporting his signature blond chin warmer, Jenks has earned 167 things which the MLB calls "Saves," but we'll call them "Adds" because in the real world, they only add to free agent's contract size and length.

Usually, a guy with so many Adds like Jenks is no where near the Rays plans. Typically, some losing team signs him in hopes he will make everything suddenly better. But this year, it looks like the Rays may have some legitimate shot at snagging this not-really-on-fire pitcher.

First of all: Many pundits and fans alike expect the White Sox to non-tender Mr. Jenks. He had a down season (according to ERA and Adds) and has an heir-apparent in the embodiment of lefty Matt Thornton. He's currently making $7M with the White Sox, but would only get more via arbitration -- which the White Stockings cannot afford.

Therefore, the possibility exists that the White Knickers will release Jenks to the free agent market -- presumably because they really love him. What kind of market awaits Jenks? It's hard to say. He suffered through a few injuries in both 2009 and 2010, but still managed 50+ innings in both years. He racked up a nifty 27 Adds in 2010, but his ERA made him a hazard and produced many aggravated nights.

So why should the Rays want him?

First of all, his 2010 season looks really good under the magnification of advanced stats. His xFIP and FIP were near or better career bests. His LOB% and BABIP both indicate he was unlucky. His StatCorner tRA and tRAr were both excellent.

In other words, Jenks has still got it.

Replace, if you will, Omar Vizquel with Evan Longoria, Gordon Beckham with Ben Zobrist, and Paul Konerko with a glove stuck on the end of a stick and I imagine Mr. Jenks's BABIP shrivels like a politician under threat of litigation. With nearly a 60% ground ball rate, I'm sure our greedy infielders will effectively reenact moments of Pacman while Jenks is on the mound.

Also, with Jenks closing, J.P. Howell and (hopefully) Grant Balfour can maximize their value and play fireman. Between those three and Randy Choate, we'd have a pretty ill 'pen -- one similar to 2010's.

What prevents us?

In the words of Roger Waters, "Money, it's a crime / Share it fairly / But don't take a slice of my pie." Jenks made $7M in 2010, but could pull down 8 figures in 2011. That's precisely why the Caucasian Toe-Warmers are expected to release him.

If Jenks indeed finds a buyer willing to risk that kind of cash on him, then Friedman and Co. will say, "No thanks." If the market balks at his recent injuries and apparent decline in production, then the Rays may -- read: may -- be able to swoop in and snag Bobby for a $5-7M, 2 or 3 year contract. Three years is long for a reliever, but Jenks is only 29 (he'll be 30 at the season's start), so his production at age 33 should hopefully not be too worse than $7M-worth.

Of course, this kind of contract means the Rays will have only $3-5M remaining in their budget. That could be enough to bring in a platoon hitter or two, but certainly takes us out of the Jim Thome or Derek Lee-type free agents. We still have trade candidates in Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza, but with the free agent market for 1B talent so ripe, it is hard to so no.

In summary:

  • Bobby Jenks is still elite.
  • Bobby Jenks might be affordable, but probably not cheap.
  • Bobby Jenks might necessitate the Leslie Anderson and Dan Johnson Epoch.

Thoughts?

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