Will the lack of length in the bullpen hurt the Blue Jays in 2017? Jays From the Couch investigates.
Late inning losses hurt. Especially those, like Friday night’s…and Saturday’s, when the Toronto Blue Jays offense sparked a comeback after a first inning meltdown from starter Francisco Liriano (he’ll be fine, by the way.) This, however, isn’t an over-reactive post after a tough loss. This is something that’s been a quiet topic in regards to the Blue Jays since last year: the lack of a long man in the bullpen.
With an off day on Wednesday, the Jays used three relievers to top the division rival Rays, 5-3. Come Friday night they were in good shape with bullpen innings, until Liriano couldn’t make it out of the first. Rather than go to a token long man, swing man, or No. 6 starter – the Jays were forced to use five relievers over 7.1 innings, including multi-inning outings from Dominic Leone, Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup – who combined, gave up five runs.
This didn’t need to happen. Last weekend while making their 25-man roster going into the season, the Jays could have elected to keep any of Mike Bolsinger, Mat Latos, or Casey Lawrence – all of whom could go deep into games if necessary. Casey Lawrence is now with the team, taking Dominic Leone‘s place on the roster to serve as some emergency depth. Depth needed on Friday night – not Saturday evening while No. 5 Starter (who is, in all reality, the team’s Ace) Aaron Sanchez took the mound for his season debut.
The problem isn’t so much winning Friday night’s game, but being well-prepared for Saturday’s – and all of the games which will come after. With only two off days between this weekend and May 4th, it seems a bit short-sighted that the Jays would risk putting excessive innings on their already thin relief staff in April, especially in a season in which the bullpen will be so crucial to making a run in the playoffs.
But is it just the Blue Jays that lack a long man in the bullpen? Definitely not. After a quick review of MLB depth charts, only about two-thirds* of teams seem to have that token multi-inning guy in waiting for their starter to get whomped on. Looking at a few that do have that man waiting, one thing stands out: starting pitching depth. Some teams even have at least two guys that can spot start if needed or go deep into games as emergency relief:
- Atlanta: Aaron Blair and Josh Collmenter
- Nationals: Joe Blanton and Jeremy Guthrie
- Diamondbacks: Archie Bradley and Jorge De La Rosa
- Pittsburgh Pirates: Juan Nicasio and Wade LeBlanc
Aside from the Nationals, all of those teams have one thing in common this season: they’re not likely to compete for a playoff spot come October.
Of course, that depth doesn’t always help:
And another walk, Guthrie's 4th of the inning, this one forcing in a run. It's 5-0. #Nats bullpen needed an easy night, not gonna get it.
— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) April 8, 2017
And can sometimes get worse.
Romero, Ollie Perez, Joe Blanton and Shawn Kelley are going to have to try to piece this together somehow. Franco just doubled though. 10-0.
— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) April 8, 2017
The Blue Jays have options to fill their bullpen out with a long man, yet they only seem to do so after a night that saps the bullpen. That’s fine when you’re close to Triple-A Buffalo during a homestand, but what happens when your starter goes two innings against the Mariners on Friday night before a Saturday day game? It’s a risk that seems unnecessary this early in the season (it’s also metaphorical in this case.)
If Sanchez, Marco Estrada and JA Happ make it through this weekend with strong starts, this likely isn’t an issue right away. And while there’s plenty of variables that go into making the decision to roster what some consider a “mop up guy”, the fact is that MLB bullpens and the rosters that make them up are changing. With wins so much more important with the new Wild Card format, teams are building bullpens with elite two-inning relievers instead of the stereotypical cheek-full-of-chaw roster filler. And if that’s the way it’s going to be, maybe the Blue Jays already have that guy in Joe Biagini.
This spring, Biagini was “stretched out” to start. Perhaps this was a facade for creating a future Andrew Miller-type asset at the back of the Blue Jays bullpen. Coincidentally, he wasn’t used in the Friday night game that knackered the bullpen. And maybe that’s just fine. The long man may be dead, but as long as you have the right guys in place, a team can still have plenty of bullpen support.
*Teams seemingly without long relievers: Rays, Orioles, Royals, Rangers, Athletics, Mets, Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Padres and Giants.
*Featured Image Credit: Joel Dinda UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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