The Toronto Blue Jays continue to figure out how their bullpen will shake out in the hopes that it will provide some value
The Toronto Blue Jays revamped their starting rotation and it looks like it will be much better than last year, even if it isn’t playoff material. Typically, across baseball, the bullpen is the last thing teams turn their attention to. It makes sense since the reliever position is about as ‘hit or miss’ as any and there are always options available for less. Now, approaching the end of January, Toronto made a move by adding Rafael Dolis, who spent the last few years in Japan to compliment the other additions they’ve made. But, the bullpen still remains a work in progress.
A.J. Cole, Anthony Bass, Shun Yamaguchi, Justin Miller, Phillippe Aumont and Ryan Dull have all been added to mix of familiar names and young yet to be MLB proven talent. There is no question that the front office has added much needed depth, but how it will all shake out, and just how valuable the group becomes, remains to be seen.
With the addition of Dolis, Fangraphs projects the bullpen to be made up of Ken Giles, Bass, Yamaguchi, Dolis, Thomas Pannone, Sam Gaviglio, Trent Thornton, Wilmer Font. This group has the potential to be better than last year’s, but it is a long way from being the lockdown bullpen of a contending team. Obviously, that is not the goal, so we shouldn’t make a big deal about it.
That said, Fangraphs also projects that, before the club added Dolis, the Blue Jays bullpen would be worth just 2.1 fWAR with an ERA of 4.52, which would put them 7th from last in MLB ahead of only the White Sox, Marlins, Giants, Tigers, Royals, Mariners. At the top of the list sits Tampa Bay with a projected 5.3 fWAR and a 3.58 ERA.
It is difficult to imagine an entire bullpen being worth just 2.1 fWAR. I mean, if you look at it, Giles, by far the most valuable piece of that group, is projected to put up between 1 and 1.4 fWAR on his own. He put up 1.8 fWAR in 2019, so it is possible that he surpasses his projections. Regardless, if he hits his 1.4, that means that the entire projected bullpen is only going to put up 0.7 fWAR. That seems scary, but also unlikely. Bass put up 0.6 fWAR last year and Font saw 0.5 fWAR, so it is possible that the bullpen blows past the projection.
Thornton is not likely to take up a spot in that group. If Ryan Borucki beats him out for the 5th spot in the rotation, it would make sense that the club sends him to AAA to keep him as a starter. So, that means someone further down on the depth charts will take that spot in the ‘pen. Or, it means that one of the new guys steps in with the younger arms developing further in AAA.
And, that is just the point. There is so much unknown with the Blue Jays’ bullpen, that it is difficult to put an exact set of expectations on them. Obviously, the intelligence that goes into the projections can’t be dismissed, but the issue is that this group is far from a sure thing. No one really knows who will be sitting behind the left field wall. Heck, Giles very well could be dealt before the season starts, though that seems unlikely.
This is what happens when you have a group of unknown commodities. A team like the Yankees several more proven commodities to run out there that there. Fewer question marks means more confidence, which usually comes from effectiveness. The Blue Jays will head into this coming season with a bullpen that is largely based on seeing what they have and hoping it works.
And, once again, that is the context of the 2020 season. The Toronto Blue Jays are not built as an expected winner. They know they’re not going to contend – it would be nice if it happens, but don’t count on it. When you enter a season like that, you can afford to throw a bunch of things at the wall and see what sticks. An fWAR of 2.1 seems a bit low for a projection, but it is entirely possible that it is low, or it is about right. That’s what happens when things are a work in progress.
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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.