After months without a viable left-handed MLB option in the bullpen, the Blue Jays signed former Dodger J.P. Howell to a 1 year deal Tuesday.
Ever since the early days of free agency, Blue Jays fans have been clamoring for a left-hander to join the bullpen to save them from a season of Aaron Loup and other options that left bad tastes in their mouths.
On Tuesday night, they finally got their wish.
Former Dodger J.P. Howell agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Blue Jays, as reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney.
The Jays have a one-year agreement with left-handed reliever J.P. Howell, pending a physical.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 31, 2017
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 31, 2017
The 33-year-old spent the past four seasons with Los Angeles, and has a lifetime 35-29 record with a 3.77 ERA in 531 career games. He returns to the AL East, having pitched from 2006-2012 with Tampa Bay.
Howell immediately becomes the top lefty option out of the bullpen for the Blue Jays and considering how late they waited to make the signing, Toronto couldn’t have done much better. 2016 was a down year for the Modesto, California native, compiling a 4.09 ERA in 64 games. However, the previous three seasons in Los Angeles were electric. In 200 games from 2013-15, Howell posted an ERA under two (1.97) while striking out 141 batters in 155 innings.
Fans should not expect heat from Howell, who bears similarities to fellow initial name and plus beard sporter R.A. Dickey. J.P. is a soft tosser, barely topping 90 mph in his career. His pitch movement has always been his strength. He throws a solid sinker, a change-up that tails from right-handed batters and a knuckle-curve that some scouts have compared to a hard slider that hits the plate like a wounded falcon. Combined, they result in a plethora of ground balls with makes him very attractive in the Rogers Centre launch pad.
His career GB rate of 53% is actually lower than what we’ve seen from him over the last few seasons, where he has been flirting with 60%. A late groundball pitcher is a welcome sight, especially when you take into account the gloves playing behind him. As well, he’s managed to keep his walk rate reasonable (6.8% in 2016) over the last couple of seasons. He left nearly 75% of runners on base last year, with a very appealing rate of 91.8 the year before. One might pause over the success lefties had against him in 2016. They hit .299, while righties hit .257. For his career, those numbers are more in line with what you’d like to see: .226 vs LHH/ .245 vs RHH.
The Blue Jays were able to add Howell for well under the $6.25M he made last season, so this could potentially be a steal if the veteran performs to the first 75% of his Dodgers tenure. If not, he’s only around for one year, and could easily be Drew Storen‘d out of town. Either way, this is a prudent move to address the glaring weakness of the Blue Jays, and gives John Gibbons a quartet of late games options to now mix and match.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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