The Blue Jays have been no stranger to disappointing performances this season, but what has happened to post-April Danny Barnes is strangely overlooked…
So it’s Tuesday night and the Blue Jays have lost another game. Nothing new lately, this time it was 7-2 to the worst team to lose anything to, the Yankees.
As has been case for the latter half of this now month-plus-long freefall through the standings, the bullpen did the damage. The load that the unit had to carry during the first six weeks of the season has broken down and the summer hasn’t turned around yet. Fans will point to Roberto Osuna‘s arrest as the destabilizing factor, and while what Osuna allegedly did has far-more serious implications off the field, it thrust guys into different roles and the overtaxed arms couldn’t deal. Tyler Clippard, John Axford, Aaron Loup, Seunghwan Oh, Joe Biagini.
Each of them has thrown at least one inning from hell that has either contributed to the Blue Jays losing a lead, or having a game fly out of reach. But they are all followers to this particular altar of blown baseball. One Blue Jays reliever was ahead of that curve, and you can argue that the struggles of this reliever really put the bullpen on its path to self-destruction on the diamond.
So, does anyone have an answer for how to fix Danny Barnes?
Everyone remembers the Mantis, right? The man with a flaming-red beard? Last season’s bullpen savior? He has been banished to mop-up duty now, and his ineffectiveness was the first loose thread of this crew coming undone.
Let’s back up and remember the good times, because Barnes had a remarkable run earlier this season. There were fantasy write-ups and praise all over the place for the 28 year old from Manhasset, New York. Following an April 22 appearance against those very Yankees, Barnes was sporting a 0.77 ERA, with 14 Ks in 11 2/3 innings. It was Barnes and Oh who were dealing in the sixth and seventh innings to keep the Blue Jays in some games and ahead in others.
Then Mookie Betts happened.
The AL MVP frontrunner jacked Barnes for a game-winning, two-run home run April 25. It was tough, but it could happen to anyone. Mookie Betts is a very, very good player.
However, it seemed to shake the Blue Jays’ confidence in the Mantis. Three appearances later, after giving up a run during the first half of the May 2 doubleheader against Cleveland, Barnes was shown the door, optioned to Buffalo. It looked like a chance for the Mantis to refocus and rediscover what made him successful in the first leg of the season.
It did not happen like that.
Since returning from his brief exile in the Wing Capital of the World, Barnes has seen balls take flight from opposing batters. In eight games since May 16, Barnes has a 1.71 WHIP, and a 9.00 ERA. With the struggles that the Blue Jays have had trying to fill the late-inning holes, Barnes should have been at the point where he could confidently step forward, a la Ryan Tepera. Instead he is the forgotten man in the pen, even ceding mop-up duty to Tim Mayza in last night’s game.
So what is wrong? Why is the Mantis pitching like Seth Rogen on the mound? Why has he fallen so far from grace?
For one, the balls that Barnes is getting hit on are getting hit hard. In the month of May, batters facing Barnes hit over 100 points higher (.259 in April vs. .360 in May) and they have more than doubled the slugging percentage (.415 in April vs. .880 (!) in May). Kendrys Morales would kill to double his slugging percentage like batters against Barnes. And it’s not like the BABIP is driving it either. It actually dropped eight points during those two periods (.324 in April vs. .315 in May). But the balls were hit higher (51.3% vs. 63.6%) and they were hit harder (30.8% vs. 40.9%) and combined that means more bases being obtained on those hits.
Two, Barnes has had an inability to keep the bases clean. So far in 2018, the righty has a grand total of four clean innings. In 2018, Fangraphs has 48 batters stepping up to face to face Barnes with no one aboard and 21 (43.8%) have gotten on board, batting at a .325 clip. It’s difficult to trust someone who is reliably going to put at least one person onto a base, and even more difficult when that person is going to compound it with extra base hits.
Two, Barnes has been completely ineffective in asserting a gained advantage on the mound. The mark of a good reliever is the ability to put a batter away when ahead in the count. The Mantis has answered batters’ prayers in giving them what they want when down in the count. When Barnes gets a first-pitch strike, batters then proceed to hit 16-for-45 (.372) with four home runs in that scenario. It’s somehow worse at an 0-2 count, with batters hitting 8-for-19 (.444) at a time where Barnes should be ending at-bats, he has just three strikeouts. He needs to be better at moving in for the kill.
So what’s the solution for Barnes? It may be in altering his strategy on the mound. A big change in the right-hander’s approach has been tapering back the use of his change-up in favor of more fastballs. He has also been trying to use his slider more, as he told MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm in Spring Training. However, while he’s generated about an inch or so more movement according to Brooks Baseball, it’s been just as ineffective (-2.9 slider runs above average in 2017 vs. -2.9 in 2018, as per Fangraphs), and his fastball and changeup haven’t been able to sustain the increased usage (5% sliders thrown in 2017 vs. 9.2% in 2018). It’s behaving like Osuna’s cutter last season in that it is not doing what anyone but opposing batters want it to do.
Instead, perhaps Barnes should focus on this newfound sinker that he busted out in his April 26 appearance against the Red Sox. While maintaining the same velocity as his fastball, it tailed a lot harder in that game than his fastball and could be beneficial in developing more deception against hitters. Because as his 0-1 and 0-2 success rates show, Barnes needs to have something in that scenario to try and bury batters with more regularity.
Luckily for Barnes, this is the season to try and experiment and come up with a winning formula to rekindle the form that carried him as the toast of Princeton Tigers baseball. It’s just a matter of how many opportunities he will have to do so.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since they could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs as well on the Tailpipe Sports blog. The 20-something has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. Andrews brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program.