The Blue Jays’ bullpen has been abysmal so far, but why? It has to do with a condition called IRS, but there’s a solution.
Never fear, American readers. The Blue Jays are not being investigated for tax evasion. However, Sunday’s game against Los Angeles highlighted the main issue for Toronto’s relief corps so far this year. The issue for the Blue Jays is a bad case of IRS: Irritable Run Syndrome.
Also known by the more common baseball name as Inherited Runs Stranded, the Blue Jays have struggled to fight the symptoms of IRS during the first five weeks of the season. These symptoms include perpetually running batters, leaking runs across the plate and a generally sickened fan base.
Heading into Sunday’s slate of games, Toronto pitchers had left 44 runners on base for the next man in from the bullpen. Of those 44, 19 have eventually scored, a rate of 43.2 per cent. That’s third worst in the majors, even worse than the Cincinnati “We’ve only converted 25% of our save chances” Reds. On Sunday, that number grew…
Coming into the 8th inning, the Blue Jays were feeling good. Marco Estrada went seven strong and it was time to hand off to the bullpen. Drew Storen, setup man, scrapbook aficionado and hurler, with an average of three mph off his pitches across the board, enters. Now Storen does not have IRS, but that’s only because he’s the one handing off runners to others. On Sunday he did just that. After a lead-off walk to Chase Utley that featured a couple of questionable balls, he served up one of those not-so-electric sliders to Corey Seager and he smacked it over the right field wall on a bounce. Storen was done without recording an out, and John Gibbons heeded the calls of the armchair analysts by going to his closer early and sending out Roberto Osuna.
Osuna was the best Blue Jays reliever coming into the game, exactly what you want from your closer, but asking him to stop runners at second and third from scoring with none out was a tall task he was not up for. He got a needed strikeout by blowing away Justin Turner, and avoided Adrian Gonzalez by handing him a free base, but Yasmani Grandal worked an eight-pitch at bat for the necessary fly ball to score Utley. Blown save for Osuna. Not his fault. The first-pitch fastball that Howie Kendrick lined to right field to score Seager with the go-ahead run? That was his fault, and probably had to do with the lingering after-effects of the Grandal at bat. Either way, Osuna now has allowed three of seven inherited runners to score, and Storen’s ERA is now an even 9.00.
Next inning, Osuna is done and Jesse Chavez starts off. Chavez has been a major contributor to the IRS problem, usually called in after a starter gives up a hit or walk to start the inning. The former A’s starter has come in with 11 runners on base and only been able to strand five, resulting in a 54.5% scoring rate, second on the team to Brett Cecil’s 60% (four stranded out of 10). This time he gives up two singles in three batters and gives way to rookie lefty Chad Girodo. Girodo’s got a clean slate, a chance to prove he can be the LOOGY this team needs, and he gives up a single to that man Seager, scoring Trayce Thompson. Girodo now is at 50% on the IRS scale.
Gavin Floyd entered and after plunking Turner to intimidate the Dodgers, he told Gonzalez and Grandal to go sit in the truck. Twitter hailed Floyd as the setup heir following Storen’s continued struggles:
Drew Storen – 14 appearances, 3 clean ones, 6 he has allowed earned runs… Give me Gavin Floyd over him
— Cowboys Life (@DezCowboys88) May 8, 2016
If you were going to pull Storen at the first sign of trouble start Osuna in that inning or use the more effective pitcher Floyd.
— SeanAddis (@SeanSportsLover) May 8, 2016
Gavin Floyd: 8th, Osuna :9th, Storen: Buffalo
— Ryan Carruthers (@ryanrcarruthers) May 8, 2016
Before condemning Storen to the scrapheap in favor of Floyd though, maybe take a look at this: Floyd hasn’t been perfect either. While stranding two today gives him a relatively sparkling 22.2 IRS rating (seven of nine runners stranded), he himself was labelled a junk pitcher during the five-run debacle on April 25 against the White Sox after Todd Frazier smashed a two RBI double to take the lead for good:
Gavin Floyd is also complete garbage.
— Chris Bowen (@IamChrisBowen) April 26, 2016
…and then again as he gave up a solo shot to a kid who could barely drink that decided the first game of the Rangers series on May 2?
— Calum (@Calum_C) May 3, 2016
Pillar can’t bail you out on that one Floyd. Bah!! #BlueJays
— Kris Venton (@VentwithVenton) May 3, 2016
So what’s to be done when no one outside of Osuna, Floyd and “J/K” Joe Biagini (also 50 per cent on the IRS scale) can’t be trusted to keep runners from advancing? The calls of “it’s still early” are starting to ring hollow as the temperature rises. Cecil does have a track record of starting slow and then getting better as the season progresses, but Storen has yet to prove the post-Jonathan Papelbon era pitcher isn’t the one the Blue Jays got.
What has to happen is Toronto relief pitchers need to be allowed to work with a clean slate. Gibbons’ habit of allowing pitchers to pitch into an inning until they allow a baserunner consistently puts the Blue Jays bullpen arms in a tough spot from the get-go. Storen has to be allowed to pitch back into his rhythm as opposed to being yanked two batters into an inning. Or if the heart of the Dodgers’ order was that threatening, Osuna has to go in and work his game without worrying about the added degree of difficulty. Chavez has to be back in a situation akin to his days as an Oakland starter when he was somewhat decent instead of perpetually dealing with extra base runners, and Cecil has to be used if he’s going to be on paternity leave for the next three days anyway.
Despite what was said before, there is still time to fix this. Last year the Blue Jays were mediocre until August and then kicked it into gear. However, there’s no Craig Kimbrel walking into the clubhouse for them like David Price did last year. Baltimore and Boston are both performing better than last year. The Blue Jays need to deal with their IRS soon before it becomes a fatal flaw.
*Featured Image Credit: Joel Dinda UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since they could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs as well on the Tailpipe Sports blog. The 20-something has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. Andrews brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program.