Just a short while ago, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen looked very questionable. Now, it looks to be rather solid heading into the 2017 season
It wasn’t too long ago that we were wondering just how the Toronto Blue Jays would go about even piecing together their bullpen, let alone how they would field a competitive one. Over the last couple of seasons, we have watched the unfolding of one model after another that would convince everyone of how to run a group of relievers. First the Kansas City Royals led the way, then Cleveland rode Andrew Miller to different method. Toronto could do either of these approaches.
Instead, we watched Brett Cecil head to St Louis (good for him!) and Joaquin Benoit leave town as well. It is funny how a couple of guys leaving can create a giant chasm in a bullpen. What became obvious is that as good as they were, Jason Grilli, Roberto Osuna and Joe Biagini would be the only recipients of confidence heading into the upcoming season. Heck, even club president Mark Shapiro acknowledged that the bullpen was an area they would have to take a fluid, ‘trial and error’ approach to, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence.
Obviously, freaking out about an unfinished bullpen in mid-January is not advisable, but when the team president implies not really having a plan, one can hardly be blamed. Luckily, the Blue Jays were not finished gathering pieces as they signed lefty J.P. Howell and righty Joe Smith. These two deals helped answer many questions and raise the floor of the relief core rather significantly. Just like that, the bullpen looks so much better.
Consider these 2016 numbers:
Left on Base %-
Admittedly, these are a select group of numbers. But, they highlight a few things about the current state of the bullpen. Firstly, these 5 (who we can consider locks to start the season) have a decent track record of runners left on base. Obviously, coming out of the bullpen late in a game will require them to be good at this. We could dig deeper into exactly how each accomplishes this, but at the end of the day, not letting runners score is their job and they look to be rather good at it.
Secondly, the ability to get a ground ball late in a game cannot be overlooked. If you consider the defense that plays behind the pitcher in Toronto, this should be a focus for management when filling their needs. With Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki, you should be hoping for ground balls. Bringing in Smith and Howell play to that rather nicely. In fact, it adds even more comfort that they’ve been brought in when you compare the numbers of Grilli an Osuna. Yes, different pitchers with different approaches. But, ground balls lead to outs, double plays, etc. This is important and the Blue Jays will be better at it.
Obviously, one cannot simply reduce a bullpen to the above two metrics. A whole lot more will go into success in 2017. But, as of right now, this bullpen is much more solid than it was. The floor has been raised. Rather than looking to see which one of Ryan Tepera, Matt Dermody, Danny Barnes, Mike Bolsinger or even Glenn Sparkman will be able to step up and take a prominent role, they can be used to fill out the roster, which is a significantly different ask. 6th or 7th out of the ‘pen is much different than 4th or 5th.
To get through a whole season, a major league team will use upwards of 20 or so arms out of the bullpen. So, just because there looks to be a set core of 5 or 6 doesn’t necessarily mean that those names will be taking the mound all year. A bullpen does fluctuate, as Shapiro says. But, for the Toronto Blue Jays, they will be starting from a much higher floor than we thought they would. Just a short while ago, it looked as though the bullpen would be major concern. Here we are in February and things don’t look so dire. In fact, they’re are looking rather solid.
For more on the Blue Jays bullpen situation, check out our in depth discussion in
*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0– cropped from original
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