The Angels knew they had something special in the big kid. He threw 100MPH+ and his flashed two solid/plus breaking pitches. Guys like that didn't just grow on trees. But he was also a walking injury and a pain-in-the-ass to deal with it. After four seasons of it, the Angels were done and, following the 2004 season, they unceremoniously designated Bobby Jenks for assignment. Not surprisingly, Kenny Williams was waiting.
After being picked up by the White Sox Jenks quickly made his debut in the Majors the following season at age 24 by pitching in 32 games. He began as a setup man for Dustin Hermansen on a team that would go on to win the World Series, but quickly moved up and by seasons end had recorded the first six saves of his career and by the end of the season was the teams closer. In the playoffs he managed to convery four of his five opportunities and capped a remarkable rookie year by getting the final out of their World Championship season.
Not a bad way to introduce yourself to the hometown fans.
During those early years Jenks fastball was amongst the best in baseball. His rookie year his fastball sat at an average of 97.0MPH and he pumped it up as high as 102 in a game. He paired that with a tight slider and a hard fall-off-the-table curveball at 83-84 that was simply unfair. He used that combination to rank up K rates of 10.74 during his first two seasons while getting groundballs on over half his balls in play. Despite some wildness - he walked 3.8/9IP those first two seasons - the combination of high strikeouts and groundballs was perfect for the closers role and he converted 47 of his 53 opportunities.
Unfortunately in 2008, Jenks would suffer a shoulder injury and he never full recovered. His fastball velocity, which had already begun to decline the previous season was down to 93.8MPH and his curve didn't have the same bite it used to. Jenks began using his slider more and while it may have saved wear-and-tear on his arm, it was never as effective of a pitch as his curveball.
But even through all the arm trouble, the injuries, and his declining raw stuff, Jenks managed to get the job done. That is, until 2010 when he was plagued by nagging pain to his back, his calf, and his forearm (in no particular order). An inflated ERA, some ugly blown saves, and persistently negative commentary from Manager Ozzie Guillen left his closers role in doubt.
What was surprising in all of this is that 2010 may have been his best season in terms of rate stats. His 10.42K/9 was the second best of his career, his 3.30 BB/9 was just a tick above his career average of 2.90, and his 58.3% GB rate was the second best mark of his career as well. Adding on to that, he had recovered some of his lost fastball velocity, checking in at an average of 95mph - the hardest he'd thrown since 2006.
That said, Jenks' stuff simply isn't what it used to be. Particularly his curveball and slider which have each declined.mSadly Jenks' injuries, coupled with his difficulty in closing out games and his approaching final year of arbitration, where he'd have been likely to have earned 9m or more (after earning 7.5m in his second arb. season), spelled the end for Jenks' time in the South Side. On December 2nd the White declined to offer arbitration and Jenks officially became a free agent for the first time in his career.
Who will close out games for the White Sox in 2011 remains to be seen. But one would assume that Matt Thornton would be the presumptive favorite. We'll talk about that more as spring approaches, but for now, we'll bid farewell to Bobby Jenks.