While not the official midway point through the season, the allstar break certainly serves as the unofficial midway point in the long, 162-game season that is major league baseball. I thought it would be fitting to take advantage of the allstar break to prepare a report card of sorts and break down the different aspects of the Blue Jays organization. This is part two of the series: The Bullpen.
Coming into Spring Training, it was hard to find any holes in the Blue Jays roster. But if you were forced to point to something, it probably would’ve been the bullpen. Casey Janssen showed great consistency since taking over the closer role in 2012, but he isn’t a prototypical closer and he was coming off shoulder surgery. Sergio Santos was thought to challenge Janssen for the closer spot, leaving Darren Oliver and Steve Delabar as solid late inning options. Aaron Loup was thought to make the club, but had almost zero expectations since he was entering his first full season. Brett Cecil was a question mark to even make the 25-man roster. Esmil Rogers was to be a mulitple inning, mid-relief guy. Dustin McGowan, please. He would probably just get hurt again. Juan Perez, Neil Wagner….who are they?
One of the lone bright spots at the break is the Jays’ bullpen. The group has posted the best bullpen ERA in the AL over the first half (2.90), the most wins in the AL (21), all while pitching the most innings of any ‘pen in the MLB (334.2). Let’s look at each member of the group who has contributed to the surprise success.
Juan Perez (19.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1-1 record, 0.76 WHIP, 21 K’s) – Perez came out of nowhere this season. A 34-year-old career minor leaguer and with the Jays in search of a fresh arm to eat some innings due to the rotations early season struggles, Perez earned a call up when he pitched to a 0.86 ERA over 21 innings in triple-A. It was thought Perez would be a sort-term inning eater and head back to Buffalo when the rotation turned things around and got healthy. After posting a 0.00 ERA in 19.2 innings with the big club, Perez doesn’t look to be going anywhere soon – especially since sending him to the minors would expose him to waivers. With a very affordable $380,000 contract, he would surely be claimed by any contending club looking to add bullpen depth. The emergence of Perez (along with Loup and Cecil) give the Jays flexibility to trade veteran Darren Oliver to a contender before the July 31st deadline. With his hurky-jerky motion, he sure is fun to watch.
Dustin McGowan (11.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, 0-0 record, 0.86 WHIP, 15 K’s) – McGowan is finely healthy (touch wood) in part due to the Jamie Evans throwing program which has strengthened his ever-ailing shoulder. It’s only 11.2 innings, but McGowan’s stuff looks as good as it ever has and his maturity and determination really shine through when he is on the mound. If he can stay healthy – and that’s still a big if – the patience the Jays have shown with his injury-riddled start to his career might just pay off. And if he does stay healthy, a lot more pitchers might start subscribing to the Jamie Evans velocity program.
Steve Delabar (42.0 IP, 1.71 ERA, 5-1 record, 1.26 WHIP, 58 K’s) – Delabar, a feel-good story of a teacher turned MLB allstar and arguably the man that made Jamie Evans’ velocity program famous, has been everything the Jays were hoping when they acquired him from the Mariners last season for OF Eric Thames. He still walks too many hitters (23 so far) but doesn’t allow the long ball (1 so far) and has the strikeout ability to make up it. More than any other reliever in the Blue Jays bullpen, when they need a big strikeout, he is the guy to go to.
Brett Cecil (46.1 IP, 1.96 ERA, 3-0 record, 0.97 WHIP, 55 K’s) – After winning 15 games as a rookie starter in a tough AL East, the next couple season weren’t too kind to Cecil. He struggled mightily as a starter, experienced an alarming drop in velocity, and looked like he was destined for a permanent home in the minors. Yet, Cecil – despite his struggles – still managed to get lefty batters out at a very high rate. So it’s no surprise the Jays gave him a shot to grab a spot in the bullpen since he is out of minor league options (you’ll remember I wrote about this months ago and actually discussed it with Alex Anthopoulos). Am I surprised with Cecil’s success this season? Not at all. I’ve always thought he was more suited for the ‘pen – he was a closer in college. Am I surprised by Cecil’s command and much improved velocity? Absolutely. Thank you Jamie Evans (are we noticing a trend here?)
Aaron Loup (46.1 IP, 1.94 ERA, 4-3 record, 0.97 WHIP, 33 K’s) – Where did this guy come from? Last year, Loup was a surprise call up from double-A and he has never looked back. This year, Loup experienced his first major league camp Spring Training invite. It’s unbelievable. Loup has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings, strand inherited runners, dig in for a strikeout, or get a double-play grounder. The angle he creates with his 3/4 arm slot is nasty, but it’s his ability to throw consistent strikes with his delivery that impresses most. Loup has only walked 6 batters. When looking to induce contact, Loup is an option right up there with Janssen.
Sergio Santos (4.1 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0-1 record, 0.92 WHIP, 6 K’s) – After missing nearly all of last season to shoulder surgery, Santos couldn’t get through 5 innings this year before requiring elbow surgery. The hard-throwing righty is now been prescribed the Jamie Evans training program and hopes it helps cure his oft-injured arm. The Jays are hoping Santos can regain the form that saw him strikeout 92 in just 63.1 innings for the White Sox in 2011. 2014 will be very interesting for Santos – the Jays hold club options on him for 2015, ’16, and ’17. He’ll need to stay healthy and pitch well if he hopes to cash in on the contract structure the Jays inherited from the White Sox. Santos is scheduled to come back to the ‘pen late July. So the question is, who does he replace? With how well everyone in the bullpen is throwing, don’t be surprised if Santos has an “extended” rehab assignment.
Thad Weber (13.0 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0-1 record, 1.23 WHIP, 8 K’s) – Weber was used as a fresh arm to call up when the bullpen was gassed earlier this year. Although he pitched well, his stuff isn’t as good as the guys currently in the ‘pen and doesn’t look to have a role with the Jays beyond triple-A depth. Yet, with a 2.37 ERA in 49.1 innings for Buffalo, he certainly provides quality depth.
Casey Janssen (29.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 2-0 record, 0.89 WHIP 26 K’s) – With so much doubt heading into the season about Janssen’s ability to maintain his role as the team’s closer, he has certainly stuck it to his critics. He may not throw hard, but he has pinpoint control (only 7 walks) and gets the job done – 18 of 19 in save opportunities. While Delabar and Santos might have more traditional closer-like arms, Janssen’s ability to attack and carve up the strike zone is unmatched by any member of the bullpen. It should be noted that the only save he blew, the Jays went on to win in extras, so the Jays have not lost a game that he has attempted to save all season. Janssen is also on the Jamie Evans throwing program after having a slower than expected recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. He has been pitching through what he describes as “discomfort” most of the year, but he appears to have turned a corner in the past couple weeks. He is the leader of the ‘pen and an example to the young pitchers on the team of how location is more important than velocity.
Neil Wagner (18.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 2-3 record, 1.15 WHIP, 15 K’s) – Wagner is a 28-year-old rookie. He’s always had the power arm, but lacked control prior to this season. He has a lower-grade version of McGowan’s stuff without having the previous arm issues. As well as he’s pitched, he has minor league options and could be the odd man out of the ‘pen when Melky Cabrera comes off the DL later this week. Definitely a plus-depth arm to stash away in triple-A. Oh…and after going 13 for 13 in save opportunities for Buffalo, you know he’s ready to handle sticky situations.
Darren Oliver (29.0 IP, 3.10 ERA, 3-1 record, 1.21 WHIP, 23 K’s) – It’s not often a reliever throws less than a hit per inning, limits walks, has a winning record, and a 3.10 ERA yet finds himself pitching in a lesser role than the previous season. However, with the emergence of Cecil and Loup above Oliver on the depth chart, that’s exactly what happened. With Perez nipping at Oliver’s heals for innings also, it really wouldn’t surprise me to see Oliver be traded prior to the July 31st deadline. There isn’t a contending team out there that wouldn’t want him on the roster. And while it’s doubtful the Jays would get much in return for the 20-year veteran who aims to retire after this season, it would open up room in a crowded bullpen and also allow Oliver to pursue a World Series title – something he hasn’t been able to capture in his 20 years of MLB service.
Esmil Rogers – he is started the year as a reliever, moved to the rotation as a stop gap due to injuries, and now hasn’t looked back. See Part One in the Mid-Season Review series for notes on Rogers.
Brad Lincoln (21.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, 0-1 record, 1.48 WHIP, 19 K’s) – While Lincoln’s numbers are plenty good enough for many MLB bullpens, they just aren’t good enough for this one. The return piece in the deal that saw the Jays give up on former number 1 draft pick, Travis Snider, hasn’t lived up to his own 1st round status. Although he has pitched modestly well, albeit inconsistently with the Jays, with the rise of other arms in the system, he continues to slide down the depth chart.
Mickey Storey, Edgar Gonzalez, Justin Germano, Jeremy Jeffress, and Dave Bush – None of these guys threw more than 8 innings, had an ERA under 7.30, a WHIP under 1.75, or won a game. All were inning eaters during the early season melt down in the rotation when the Jays were forced to go to the ‘pen after only 2 or 3 innings routinely. None were a factor in the bullpen’s success and none look to be a factor in the foreseeable future.
So…can the Jays bullpen keep up its torrid pace in the second half? Probably not. Can they maintain their status as the top group in the AL (and arguably the MLB)? Most definitely.
Despite being 3 games under .500 and in dead last in the AL East, the Blue Jays will send 4 players to New York’s Citi Field for the 2013 allstar game next week. Steve Delabar, 29, claimed the final vote roster spot and will join teammates Brett Cecil, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion in the AL team clubhouse. This will be Delabar’s first allstar appearance.
For AL relievers this season, Delabar ranks 3rd in strikeouts with 57 and 5th in ERA, posting a stingy 1.74. Delabar picked up his first career save in Wednesday in Toronto’s only win in its series vs. the Indians.
Hard to believe someone with his arm has only 1 career save and it took until this year to get it. Happy to see another Blue Jay in the allstar game, but 4 players from a team with a losing record? Really?
I know the allstar game is for fans, but I’m not a fan of fan voting. Too many times it’s a popularity contest and the players that earn a spot are snubbed. The allstar game is by far the best in the four major North American sports. Football – after the Super Bowl with no blitzing. Really? Hockey – a sport that only catches my eye when the gloves drop isn’t about to thrill my in a gentlemen’s version of the game. Basketball – not bad. A great show. But no defence.
Baseball’s allstar game – the best hitters vs. the best pitchers with World Series homefield advantage on the line. Amazing.
That’s why the best players should make it. Not the fans favourites.
The Blue Jays currently have 3 players representing the team at the allstar game: Jose Bautista (voted in by fans), Edwin Encarnacion (voted in by MLB players), and Brett Cecil (selected by AL manager Jim Leyland). There is also a very good chance that Steve Delabar will claim that last spot on the AL roster with – you guessed it – another fan vote.
The question becomes, are these Jays deserving?
I have trouble thinking someone who isn’t batting at least .280 as deserving (if not .300 – we want to see the best, right?). So is it a roster determined by the first half of 2013 or a roster determined by the best player by position?
Even though Bautista has been up and down (just like the Jays), he is still arguably the best RF in the AL. So I can see why he makes the squad. Bautista has been named to the allstar team in each of the past four seasons. He’s enjoying another productive year at the plate despite struggling at times during June. The 32-year-old is tied for seventh in home runs (20), third in walks (47), 10th in OPS (.872) and 12th in slugging (.511).
Encarnacion has been the Jays MVP this season in my opinion and is deserving. Encarnacion will appear at his first allstar game after being a surprise snub in 2012. He ranks among the league leaders in virtually every major offensive category. The 30-year-old finished Toronto’s game against Minnesota on Saturday afternoon ranked third in home runs (23), sixth in extra-base hits (38), seventh in runs (54) and ninth in OPS (.877).
Cecil – a middle reliever – really? Yes REALLY. I think it’s great that the teams are taking more middle relief guys. Typically we see only starters and closers. The middle relief role is extremely under appreciated and Cecil has been among the best in the business so far this year (if you’ve followed my blog from the start, you’ll remember I’ve been suggesting Cecil in this role all along and even discussed it with GM Alex Anthopoulos). Cecil, 27, is a former starter who was converted into a reliever late last season. He experienced a drop in velocity a couple of years ago, but now consistently throws in the mid-90s while also possessing a devastating curveball that has proved lethal to his opponents. He set a franchise record earlier this year by going through 40 at-bats without surrendering a hit. He also went through a span of 20 innings without allowing a run and has become one of the elite left-handed relievers in the league (you’re welcome, Anthopoulos).
So if we are including middle relievers, why not Steve Delabar. Include him too. Vote! Delabar’s inclusion along with Cecil’s would be a testament to the job the Jays’ bullpen has done this season. Since May 29, the Blue Jays’ relief corps leads the Majors in ERA (1.45), opponents’ average (.177) and WHIP (0.92).
But here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with any of these 4 guys making the roster, but when you step back and look at it, well, it starts to irritate me. Why should a team that is in last place in its division and under .500 take up 4 roster spots? What does that say about the other 21 guys on the Jays bench?
If I’m a big fan of another AL team and I see 4 Jays on the roster, it would piss me off. So while all 4 guys are deserving – they are among the elite for their respective positions – it puzzles me that the Jays are a) playing so poorly and b) sending 4 players to the allstar game.
If you’ve never watched the allstar game, make sure you do. It’s the best in sports.
Sergio Santos is hoping he’ll be ready to return to the Blue Jays bullpen sometime in July. The Jays, though, will take their time with Santos since they have 8 men in the bullpen all pitching well.
Santos was place on the DL on April 14th with discomfort in his right elbow. After unsuccessful rehab, he underwent minor surgery to have bone chips removed. Santos was scheduled to face live hitters yesterday for the first time since his surgery.
Santos has only played 11 games for the Jays over the past two seasons. This year it has been the elbow; last year it was the shoulder. Due to the injuries, Santos has now agreed to join Steve Delabar, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGown, and Brett Cecil – to name just a few – by implementing a weighted-ball program designed by Blue Jays exclusive consultant, Jamie Evans.
While the program tends to increase velocity, it was actually designed to help avoid injury.
If the Jays bullpen continues to pitch well, don’t expect them to hurry Santos back. He may have some “extended rehab” if you know what I mean.
The Blue Jays were 9 games under .500 when they embarked on the most recent road trip. They have since won 5 straight and now sit only 5.5 games out of the second wildcard spot. What a difference a week makes.
Anchored by solid starting pitching and an offence that continues to hit homers, the Jays finally look like the team everybody thought they would be after all the offseason moves. Now home vs. the Rockies, where I suspect the Jays should take 2 of 3. Then the real test: 3 vs. the Orioles, 3 vs. the Rays, and 4 vs. the Red Sox. A disappointing couple weeks could put an end to any playoff hopes. A successful couple weeks would mean the Jays are back in the thick of a postseason race prior to the allstar game.
With Jose Reyes scheduled to come back later this month (he went 2-2 with a single, triple, 2 walks and 2 stolen bases in his rehab debut this weekend), the offence should only get better. Also, Brandon Morrow should be back by the end of June. When healthy, we all know what he is capable of doing.
So the question becomes this: who gets sent down? With everyone playing at a high level, it’s a good problem to have. Currently the Jays are carrying 8 men in the bullpen. I imagine that there will be a move at some point to drop this back down to the traditional 7. Perhaps when Reyes returns? But who goes? My guess is either Juan Perez or Dustin McGowan. I think Perez does more for the team, but the Jays have a soft spot for McGowan and probably don’t want to risk losing him on waivers if they send him down after being so patient with him during 3 shoulder surgeries. Unfortunately, Perez might be the odd man out. It sounds awful to be sending down a guy that is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 10 innings, allowed only 5 hits, recorded 10 K’s, has held opponents to a .152 average, and produced a 0.80 WHIP. But Perez is a lefty. And the Jays already have three other lefties in the ‘pen (talk about luxury) in Aaron Loup, Darren Oliver, and Brett Cecil. But Perez is also out of options and would have to clear waivers. At $380,000, how could somebody not claim him? Neil Wagner has options and could be sent down, but the Jays have been keen on using him in clutch situations. It’s pretty hard to send down a guy who throws 96-98 mph and consistent strikes.
To me, if the Jays are going to really make a run and go for it, McGowan is the odd man out. I know…I know… We all want to see him do well. He continues to fight through adversity and never gives up. But he also has a contract which pays him $1.5 million this season and another $1.5 million next year. There is a club option for $4 million in 2015 with a $500,000 buyout. If anyone has a shot at clearing waivers, it’s a guy who has had three shoulder surgeries and is making that kind of money. And if he cleared waivers, you have to think he would accept a minor league assignment in triple-A since the Jays organization has been so good to him all these years.
It also makes sense from this standpoint: when Morrow comes back, Esmil Rogers probably gets pumped out of the rotation and back to the ‘pen. Replacing one righty with another makes sense. And I’d rather have Rogers than McGowan at this point.
Tough decisions for sure. It will be interesting to see how GM Alex Anthopoulos handles the next couple weeks. There are a lot of “good problems” right now with respects to the Jays roster.
Jamie Evans has helped numerous pitchers over the years with his Velocity Program, including Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Casey Janssen, and recently Dustin McGowan. It has now resulted in a job with the Blue Jays. Evans was hired earlier this week as an exclusive consultant to the Jays’ organization. Under the agreement, Evans may still continue to development amateur players but can only work with professional players within the Jays’ organization.
Despite the stigma of using weighted balls and potential injuries they could cause a pitchers arm, Evans’ weighted-ball program has seen a large increase in popularity over the past year. The workout routine involves the use of weighted balls to strengthen muscles around the shoulder and is now thought to actually decrease the risk of injury while also improving velocity. As part of the process, pitchers use various holds and also go through their throwing motion without releasing the ball. The idea for the program originally came from a study involving tennis players. Those athletes rarely sustain shoulder injuries despite going through a similar motion during their serves as a pitcher. Evidence suggested that a reason for the lack of injuries among tennis players was that they did not release the racket during their serve. That spurred the use of a weighted ball that would not be released during a pitcher’s motion.
Delabar brought a lot of attention to the program two years ago when he credited it with helping him return from a fractured right elbow. Toronto’s right-handed reliever was out of the game and working as a substitute teacher when he began using the program with student athletes he was helping coach. The results that followed speak for themselves. During his first stint in baseball, Delabar was throwing 89-92 mph, but now he was consistently hitting 94-97. Delabar has turned into one of the most reliable Jays out of the ‘pen as evidenced by his 1.85 ERA in 34 innings this season. Brett Cecil, almost out of the majors at the end of last season, used the program and has noticed a dramatic increase in velocity (was 85-88 mph, now 91-94 mph) and sits with a 1.53 ERA in 35.1 innings pitched.
Evans has tailored his program over the years to each athlete’s individual needs. As well as the offseason workout program, there is another that can be used during in season that serves as more of a method for maintenance and recovery.
Janssen, for example, is using a modified version of the routine that is not quite as intense as some of his counterparts’. That is mainly because Janssen did not start the program until the start of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. Janssen said the work would continue but that the intensity would really pick end when the year comes to an end.
Whether this sort of throwing program turns out to be a fad or something that becomes the standard around baseball, the Jays are smart by locking Evans down. I imagine he’ll work with pitchers at all levels of the organization to help increase shoulder strength and limit injuries.
I love watching pitchers for the first time. Therefore, I love when a young kid makes his major league debut. We are fortunate enough to see it twice this series, – last night with Kevin Gausman of the Orioles and tonight with lefty Sean Nolin.
MLB.com ranks Nolin as the Blue Jays number 8 top prospect. After being drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 class, Nolin has excelled the past couple years in the minors. Making the leap from short season A-ball, to rookie ball, to low-A ball, to high-A ball, and finally double-A this year. Overall in the minors, Nolin sports a 16 – 6 record, a 2.92 ERA with 263 strikeouts in 246.1 innings. In three starts in double-A this year, he is 2-0 with a sparkling 1.17 ERA while adding 16 K’s in 15.1 innings. It will be fun to see how he reacts to the big stage. If he can manage his emotions, he might just be able to steal us a game since there will be little to no scouting report or video on him for the Orioles players to prepare. First time through the line up, it’s important to note if he is throwing strikes and getting ahead. Too often excitement gets the best of young pitchers or they feel they need to be “too perfect” with their pitches, which leads to walks and hitters counts. If he can settle in the first time through, it will be equally interesting to see how he pitching the second and third time through the Orioles line up. Once MLB players see what a pitcher has, they are very quick to make adjustments.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Nolin, J.A Happ has been transferred to the 60-day DL. Happ is able to play catch and cleared from to play from a perspective of his head injury when he was hit by a vicious comebacker square in the ear. His right knee sprain, however, from when he fell after being struck by the ball in the head has not healed well. Doctors do not want him throwing off a mound yet without a brace, which has been ordered and is on route. This means Happ won’t be back until early July at the earliest. I’m guessing shortly after the allstar break if all goes well during his rehab.
To make room on the 25-man roster, Darren Oliver has been placed on the 15-day DL. The move is retroactive to May 19th meaning Oliver (he last pitched on the 18th) meaning Oliver could come back on June 3rd if healthy. The 42-year-old lefty has been plagued by a sore pitching shoulder and has been held out of games recently. The soreness has persisted so the Jays have decided to give him a breather. Oliver has again pitched well boasting a 3.17 ERA in 17 appearances this season. If we are going to make a serious run, we’ll want him healthy and pitching some late innings for us. Look for Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil to split the 8th inning work until Oliver can come back.