The incredibly disappointing 2013 Toronto Blue Jays rotation made room for one minor silver lining – the bullpen. Because starters rarely went deep, the Jays bullpen had baseball’s third-largest workload (552.2 innings pitched). They checked in with the ninth best ERA, leading to the Jays getting the eighth most value (in terms of Wins Above Replacement) out of their relievers.
I know, I know, grasping at straws from 2013 for the Jays. This is played out. And the FIP was bottom-10, with the strikeout and walk rates both checking in at 13th. A mediocre defense and homer-friendly park didn’t make things easier.
But don’t let the team’s down 2013 or the lack of action on the market fool you; this is a very solid bullpen, one with several potential closers and some appreciable depth. The team will need it, too, because it looks like they’ll enter the season with more dice rolls than Farkle in the rotation. Should they have leveraged some of this bullpen depth during the offseason to improve other areas? Absolutely. But the fact that they haven’t leaves them with a strong closer and several speculative plays in the event they go that route later.
Janssen closes out ballgames. That’s what he does. He doesn’t have the traditional closer’s arsenal or a sky-high strikeout rate, but he throws strikes and locks things down. He’s 56 for 61 in save opportunities the past two seasons, has 72 shutdowns to just 16 meltdowns in the past three and his ERA and FIP have topped out at 2.56 and 3.08, respectively, since 2011. Last time I checked, he was the man on these streets. But Janssen is an attractive chip, an impending free agent on a $4 million contract for 2014. With the Jays having a lot of other holes and (at least) two potential closers in waiting, it’s not unrealistic to think the team could shop their 2004 fourth round draft pick.
Flamethrowers on Deck
Of all pitchers to throw at least 500 pitches since 2007, Delabar and Santos rank seventh and 27th, respectively, in whiff rate. This pair of right-handed set-up men can miss bats like perhaps no middle-relief duo in baseball, and projection systems like either one to be able to step into the closer’s role should Janssen be dealt or falter. Delabar has perhaps the higher strikeout upside – he struck out 33.6 percent and 32.4 percent of batters the past two seasons – but is a riskier option with his occasional control trouble. Santos, meanwhile, has been kept from the closer’s chair by injuries the past two seasons but looked downright filthy when he returned in 2013. The best part for the Jays? Neither of their three back-end righties have shown strong platoon splits in their careers, so should they move forward with everyone, there are no wrong choices late in games.
At least one of these names will be the odd man out, perhaps even two if the team opts to move the losers in the rotation battle into the pen. But If this is the group the Jays move forward with, it’s a pretty stellar one – not a single arm projects to have an ERA worse than Jeffress’ 3.93 or an FIP worse than his 3.85.
Cecil was one of the better stories of 2013, making the All-Star Game as a reliever after flaming out as a starter. Short appearances agree with him, as his strikeout rate surged (28 percent), his ERA was tidy (2.82) and he proved that, at worst, he has a career as a LOOGY (lefties had a .205 wOBA against him). Loup struck far fewer batters out but also doesn’t walk anybody. His platoon splits are even more egregious, however, which may force Cecil into a “lefty set-up” role rather than a LOOGY spot. In any case, there are a pair of solid left-handed arms for the middle innings.
McGowan was another nice story in 2013, finally pitching in the majors. His 25.2 innings were his highest since 2008, and relieving seemed to agree with his body. His fastball velocity was all the way back at 94.7 MPH and his slider proved a nice out pitch (48.9 percent whiff rate on swings). The walks are a minor concern, as is the report that he’ll be stretched out as a starter in spring, but you’re probably not drafting him regardless. Good story and good stuff, but he’s far down the pecking order. (Shameful admission: the author grew out mutton chops to support McGowan in 2008.)
The Unfounded Spec-Play
Because he’s small, many see Stroman in the bullpen eventually. There’s little doubt he’d be effective there, but he’s given the team exactly zero reasons to think he can’t be effective as a starter, too. If you’re speculating on Stroman, it should be as a rotation piece.
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