Jays From the Couch looks at how the Toronto Blue Jays could benefit from changing their bullpen usage, Cleveland Indians style.
Managing major league baseball teams isn’t easy, and judging these managers from the TV screen is even tougher. From a third person perspective, we can judge AL managers on a few tasks – making a lineup card, managing a bullpen, and the very rare occasion they make a substitution. A lot of the work managers do is behind the scenes, in the locker room with their players. When people judge managers, they are almost 100% of the time working from a lack of information, managers like John Gibbons didn’t earn their job through a game show, they obviously have a much greater baseball knowledge than the average fan.
I tend to roll my eyes at people who mention, “Fire John Gibbons”. Their explanations usually tend to be a list of incorrect bullpen decisions late in games. Most managers have made incorrect moves in late innings situations, bullpen mistakes are magnified, and people rarely remember all the bullpen moves that ended up working. John Gibbons doesn’t have much control over how his players perform that day, but his job is to set up his players for the most success.
Gibbons has been pretty set at using bullpen roles that can be pretty predictable. This year it’s been Beniot- 7th, Grilli- 8th, Osuna in a save situation, Cecil faces as many lefties as possible, and so on and so forth. The Blue Jays don’t have the most reliable bullpen, as their 3.95FIP ranks them 16th in the MLB this season, and on days when relievers need days off, it can get pretty dicey in clutch situations. Set bullpen positions can be a good thing, having a consistent lineup allows players to know their role within a bullpen, but sometimes it can be beneficial to break out of these set roles.
One team that hasn’t used set bullpen positions this year, has been the Cleveland Indians, and specifically since acquiring their best new reliever, lefty Andrew Miller. Since arriving in Cleveland, Miller has pitched 22.2IP, to a 1.99ERA, and 2.12FIP, extremely impressive numbers to say the least. Miller is regarded as a closer, his slider is one of the most devastating pitches in the entire MLB, but since the move he has shown incredible versatility to pitch in any inning when Indians manager Terry Francona calls for him out of the pen.
In his time in Cleveland, Miller has appeared out of the bullpen in the sixth inning once, the seventh five times, the eighth six times, the ninth inning four times, and extra innings once. He has three saves, six holds, and two wins in that time. As you can see, it doesn’t matter the situation, or if he’s pitched the previous day, Miller is available to go in any tight game, high leverage situations.
The one area that allows the Indians to do this more than other teams, is they have a lot more reliable pieces to come in late in games if Miller pitches in the sixth or seventh. The Blue Jays might not have that, but in the rare occasion when this play could be used, it might win them a game or two.
Now obviously not every team has a dynamic pitcher like Miller, who can perform to his numbers, but teams like the Blue Jays might have the option to use this play at times. Blue Jays closer, Roberto Osuna, has been really impressive this season out of the ‘pen serving as the closer. Osuna still wants to become a starting pitcher, and like so many other, I really hope he never does. Osuna has proven that at such a young age he can be a consistent dominant bullpen piece, something which teams are valuing more and more ever since the Kansas City Royals built a dominant back heavy bullpen that lead them to a World Series.
Let’s look back on the game on September 11, 2016, where the Jays were hosting the Boston Red Sox in a huge series deciding a lot of the AL East. The Blue Jays would fall down early, as starter Aaron Sanchez would only pitch 3.2IP, his shortest outing of the season. The Jays would rally back, with two home runs from Edwin Encarnacion, and a grand slam from Troy Tulowitzki would put the Blue Jays back on top. At the end of the fifth, the Blue Jays would hold a 8-7 lead, with the top of the Red Sox order coming up, the Blue Jays would try their best to hold a lead against the most dominant offense in the MLB.
The left hander Aaron Loup would start out the inning, striking out Jackie Bradley Jr. for the first out, that was all for Loup, who would get the final out in the fifth as well. It was then Bo Schultz’ turn against the toughest Red Sox hitters. Dustin Pedroia would single, Xander Bogaerts would single, and that was all for Schultz, no outs, 2 hits, still just one out with the dangerous David Ortiz coming up to the plate. Now this is as high leverage as it gets, might be a good time for your best reliever to come in and get their best hitters out. The Blue Jays stuck to their roles, Joquin Benoit came in, Ortiz hit a home run, and that was pretty much the game.
If the Blue Jays had broken out of their convention, and had Osuna come out and get out of that inning, and even allow him to pitch the seventh, Schultz with the bottom of the order in the eighth or even Grilli, and Benoit closes the game, maybe this outing has a different result.
It’s hard to predict how these decisions will play out. This play has been working for the Cleveland Indians this season, maybe it’s worth trying for the Blue Jays?
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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