The Toronto Blue Jays need to address their bullpen and JFtC wonders if they could use Sean Reid-Foley there
The Toronto Blue Jays have already done the bulk of their heavy lifting this winter by revamping their rotation. But, the one area they’ve been rather quiet on is their bullpen. They have added Anthony Bass and A.J. Cole, but there is still work to be done. That said, bullpen arms are fetching quite a pretty penny on the open market, so it would make sense that Toronto looks inward for options. The question here is whether Sean Reid-Foley is one of those options.
SRF comes to mind for a bullpen job simply because his attempts at starting thus far have resulted in some rather disappointing results. Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays have been hearing his name for years and couldn’t wait for him to make his way to the big leagues. In 2018, he went 5-0 in AA and was promoted to AAA where he went 7-5 with a 3.35 xFIP. His numbers were good enough that he was called upon for 7 starts in 2018.
As might be expected by a rookie pitcher, his xFIP rose to 4.21 in 33.1 innings. His 28% strike out rate was certainly not the issue. Rather, his 14% walk rate was. In fact, if you look back at his minor league seasons, double digit walk rates abound. 2019 was no different. Once again, his BB% hit 14%, but his K% fell to 18.7%. His 2019 produced an xFIP of 5.30 in AAA and 6.26 at the big league level.
All of this is to say that it makes sense if Toronto started considering SRF for a bullpen role. Consider the following info from his MLB career: in Medium leverage situations, batters hit .236 against him, in Low leverage, they hit .283. For what it’s worth, in a total of 3 High leverage innings, batters hit .100. With bases empty (33 IP), they’ve hit .290 as opposed to .209 with men on base (32 IP) and the same .209 with runners in scoring position (18.2 IP).
Looking at this, an immediate answer does not reveal itself. If he were to come out of the bullpen, would he do so with runners on? Numbers suggest that is a better situation, since he has done better with increased leverage and ducks on the pond. This could prove to be a very specific type of usage that might actually end up limiting the club’s ability to use their bullpen effectively. Or, it might give them a very specific tool to use.
Of course, what is left out of the above is the OBP he surrenders in all situations. Regardless of how many runners are on, or the situation, if SRF cannot figure out how to limit free passes, we won’t be talking about which role is best for him, we’ll be talking about if he’ll even have a job at all.
In 2019, SRF featured his slider more than he had the previous season, which resulted in a decrease in his fastball usage. This seems odd since his slider went from a 5.0 wSL value to -1.4. The value of his fastball (wFB) did increase from -5.9 to -2.3, while seeing a bit of a dip in velocity (94.2 mph to 93). For an amazing look at the “stuff” SRF possesses, check out the Pitcher Visualization Report at Baseball Savant (hat tip to JFtC’s Roy W for assisting with the breakdown of SRF “stuff”). The issue that stands out is that the spin rate(s) SRF gets are all below average. With the natural movement on his pitches, he is not a pitcher who should be nibbling. Perhaps, a bullpen role will allow him to come out, throw hard strikes and see some positive results.
To take that further, SRF caught the strike zone 40.5% of the time. Of course, when you miss the zone, you eventually have to fire something deliberately designed to be a strike, outcomes be damned. Often, those result in meatballs that hitters will take (a walk is as good as a hit, right?), or they will be given the green light to do as much damage as possible. When batters have 3 balls on him, they hit for obscene averages. Like, obscene. When he has to throw a strike, batters are making contact in the zone at a rate of 85.7%.
Essentially, the Toronto Blue Jays have to make a decision about where SRF fits into their plans. With options remaining, they very well could decide to use the 2020 season to have him works on things in Buffalo and keep him at the ready in case they need a starter. Or, if the club really wants to see if Reid-Foley can help them win some games, maybe they consider using him sparingly in Spring Training, an inning or two at a time, giving him specific homework he needs to work on. They can use this as a test to see if his results improve in short work. If so, maybe they’ve found an effective use for him.
In all likelihood, we will see the Blue Jays keep Sean Reid-Foley in a starting role for as long as they can. How long that is remains to be seen, but there is certainly no need to rush it. Sure, he very well could see some success in their bullpen, which could result in strengthening their squad overall. But, they certainly will not be opting for this route over bringing in some experienced relievers. That said, there is nothing wrong with moving a failed starter to the bullpen to get the most out of him. This might be what needs to happen for Sean Reid-Foley.
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.