It’s early, but the latest additions to the Blue Jays bullpen have been positive so far.
Through Wednesday’s series finale with the Kansas City Royals, the Blue Jays are 12-5, with strong contributions from a revamped offense and a rotation solidified by the return of Aaron Sanchez and Jaime Garcia. While these contributions should not be understated, the changes to the back end of the bullpen have also been key in the team’s strong early start.
Oh was the only reliever mentioned here who wasn’t essentially a flyer, signing a two-year deal relatively late in the spring. Oh had some work visa issues coming into the season, so he only saw a very limited amount of playing time coming in to the early start of the season. he was deemed ready to go by Opening Day but was off to a mediocre start, posting three hits, a walk and a run over his first three innings, earning a mini-blow up in a -.128 WPA effort on April 2nd versus the White Sox, a game Toronto eventually won.
Using WPA (win probability added), Oh has been mostly positive so far this season. Or at least not terrible. While he’s working well with the stuff he’s shown this season with a K/9 of 9.00, he’s been hittable, allowing 12 baserunners in seven innings. That’s a lot of hits for a high-leverage reliever, regardless of how short his spring training was. One major question surround Oh coming into 2018 was his fall off in velocity in 2017, and if he would earn some ticks back on his fastball.
And as of right now, he hasn’t. Oh’s velocity is down for his four-seam and change-up, which isn’t too concerning if you’re getting good movement. His curve and slider are coming in a bit hotter, which might be a sign of better feel for the pitch coming out of spring training and the miserable weather to start this season.
There’s some concern here, especially with the breaking pitches, but the semi-distorted chart might be exaggerating the results. Basically, Oh hasn’t been “crisp” in his movement yet this season. As the spring progresses, hopefully some of that aggression in his breaking pitches will return.
Even on a minor-league deal, it felt like the Tyler Clippard signing might be the biggest one of the offseason for the bullpen. Through 8 2/3 innings this month he’s been very solid, coming up big in a couple of starts and really only blowing up once against a potent NYY offense.
That being said, and with the caveat that it is indeed still very early, there’s a troubling trend here, and that’s the two home runs in less than nine innings pitched. It’s an impossible small sample size, but when working with statistics and relievers, it’s all we’ve got right now.
Overall, though, Clippard has been solid. Aside from the homers, he’s allowed only three other baserunners while striking out nine in less than nine innings.
A little disclaimer here – although I’ve watched almost every game this year not on Facebook or against the Yankees, I barely remember any particular John Axford appearance this season. That’s probably a good thing, as his season debut against NYY was a pretty horrific one. Axford’s two rough outings so far were more fuel to the fire than true blow-ups, and his other appearances have occurred in games where the leverage index (a factor in calculating WPA) was low, basically – blowouts.
Velocity-wise, Axford has been fine, even improved over his 2017 numbers.
However, like Seung-hwan Oh, he’s been hittable. Why? Location:
In the parlance of our times, Axford came out of Spring Training throwing pipe shots, and they got smoked. Since that rough March outing, though, he’s been better with his command. So there’s that.
While none of the big three reliever additions this offseason (and Spring) have pitched in excess of 10 innings yet, we can see some trends develop early on. Oh will need his velocity to return in order to leverage his breaking pitches. Clippard has been solid, and potentially unlucky with fly balls. Axford should be fine, so long as his command returns.
It’s early, but with Oh signed to a solid deal and Clippard and Axford signed at minimal contracts, the Blue Jays brass may have made some very underwhelming but solid additions in these three relievers.
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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.