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.
This morning season ticket holders were invited to dial in and have a Q&A session with Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. I missed the first 10 minutes of the 45 minute call, but did manage to ask a question, I explained to Alex that the media and manager John Gibbons are alluding that if Brett Cecil manages to crack the 25-man roster, it would be as a long man out of the bullpen. My question was this:
With the numbers Cecil has put up vs. lefties, not just last year but throughout his career, and since he hasn’t had much success vs. righties, why haven’t the Blue Jays given Cecil a long, hard look as a lefty specialist?
I also continued to state my opinion that if the Jays do not take him on their 25-man roster, since he is out of options, another club will likely pick him up for nothing, use him as a lefty specialist (as the numbers show he should be used) where he has to potential to excel and have a solid career.
Anthopoulos gave a pretty good answer to this question, although I still disagree with the organization that Cecil is a long reliever. Anthopoulos said that for the past few years, they’ve gotten three different Cecil’s at Spring Training and never know what to expect. His weight was up, then it was down. His velocity was sitting 85-86 mph and this spring his throwing 90-91 consistently. He has been a fastball/change up guy, a fastball/slider guy, and is now a fastball/curveball guy. His mechanics have been different each year, also. Anthopoulos acknowledged the lefty vs. righty splits and said they will continue to monitor them closely. But because Cecil’s velocity is up, Anthopoulos thinks Cecil will fair better vs. righties this year. Anthopoulos also said the club needs a guy who can eat some innings and fill the void that Carlos Villanueva held so well the past couple seasons. Anthopoulos’ hopes that they don’t need a traditional long guy in the ‘pen because the starters are going 7 plus innings per night. However, over 162 games, he figures there will be a small handful where the starter is roughed up a bit and leaves the game in the 3rd, 4th or 5th. Anthopoulos went on to talk about Aaron Loup and how they really like him in the lefty specialist role. He mentioned Casey Janssen closing games and Sergio Santos and Darren Oliver playing set up. He mentioned that Esmil Rogers and Steve Delabar are great one-inning guys. But the club is missing a long man and might need Cecil to fill the void – even if his strengths lie elsewhere.
So it looks like if Cecil makes the club (which I really think he should since he’ll be gone for nothing otherwise), he’ll only get into the games with the huge deficits or leads. Hopefully, for Jays fans, it’s leads.
For what it’s worth, I’d left Jeremy Jeffress be the long guy that is rarely needed, start Loup in triple-A for depth even if he is major league ready (think J.A. Happ), and have Cecil be the lefty specialist. Here’s why:
vs. left – ERA = 2.81, WHIP = 0.94, opp. avg. = .214
vs. right – ERA = 6.75, WHIP = 1.72, opp. avg. = .319
vs. left – ERA = 2.25, WHIP = 1.11, opp. avg = .186
vs. right – ERA = 5.75, WHIP = 1.41, opp. avg = .282
vs. left – ERA = 2.48, WHIP = 1.00, opp avg. = .224
vs. right – ERA = 4.75, WHIP = 1.42, opp. avg = . 275
Sorry Alex, after 357.2 innings, the numbers don’t lie.
Casey Janssen has gone on the record and said he thinks there is a realistic chance he’ll be ready for opening day and will head north with the club for the April 2nd match up vs. the Indians. However, when you read between the lines, you’ll pick up some of the other items constantly being talked about at Jays camp.
It’s no secret that Alex Anthopoulos envisioned Sergio Santos would be the team’s closer after acquiring him from the White Sox following the 2011 season. Santos, however, is dealing with his own arm issues and is trying to get back to his old form following shoulder surgery as well. With both Janssen and Santos entering the season as question marks, you wonder why we don’t hear more about Steve Delabar as an alternative after his breakout last year – .193 opponents batting average, 1.09 WHIP, and 92 K’s in 66 innings.
I still think Janssen has to be given the job to lose, but if he can’t start the year and someone like Delabar does the job perfectly, does Janssen get bumped when he returns?
Janssen remains optimistic about being ready for Opening Day, but his status for that game versus Cleveland on April 2 still remains very much in doubt. He’ll need to advance through live batting practice, a Minor League game and, presumably, at least a few outings in Spring Training. When you hear him say things like “April 2nd…is not an end date anymore.”, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of confidence that he, himself, feels like he’ll be ready.
Meanwhile, Santos has been out of action since experiencing discomfort following an appearance on March 3rd. The injury appears minor but considering how last season went for Santos, there was initial cause for concern. Santos has thrown a bullpen session after a couple days off and we’ll have to wait to see when he returns to an in-game appearance.
While the speculation surrounding both Janssen and Santos swirls, this is one fan who is happy Anthopoulos traded Eric Thames to Seattle last year for Delabar.
Manager John Gibbons has not indicated that Brett Cecil has secured a spot in the Blue Jays bullpen. But considering that Cecil is out of options, it’s doubtful the Jays would keep him off the 25-man roster – he would be almost certain to be lost to a waiver claim for nothing in return.
But Gibbons did allude to something in the lefty arm race for one of the final bullpen spots – he sees Aaron Loup as a specialist and Cecil as a multiple innings guy. I completely disagree.
I feel both these guys are specialists and have the ability to have long, successful careers in that role. However, I think the numbers show that Cecil is no multiple innings guy.
Let’s just look at 2012 alone since Cecil was called up into the rotation (and struggled) and then ended the year as a lefty specialist (and a damn good one).
Cecil vs. right = 6.75 ERA, .319 opponents batting average, 1.72 WHIP
Cecil vs. left = 2.81 ERA, .219 opponents batting average, 0.94 WHIP
I rest my case. Look at the numbers Gibbons – Cecil is a specialist and deserves that role (and only that role) on this team.
You can follow me on twitter @IHRTBJs
There seems to be a change in spirit in the Blue Jays organization. Both manager John Gibbons and GM Alex Anthopoulos are stating they will bring the best team north following spring training, even if that means losing a player on waivers because he is out of options.
The most notable area where this competition for roster spots is taking place is in the bullpen. There seems to be a position battle for the second left-handed bullpen spot between Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup. Loup pitched surprisingly well last season as a rookie posting a 2.64 ERA in 30.2 innings. Cecil, who struggled as a starter, seemed to find himself a role as a lefty specialist out of the ‘pen – he posted a 2.81 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and a .214 opponents batting average vs. left-handed hitters. Cecil is out of options and Loup is not.
The other battle seems to be between righties Brad Lincoln and Jeremy Jeffress. Jeffress is a hard thrower with a solid arm but not a whole lot to show for it so far in his career (4.89 ERA in the majors). He is out of options. Lincoln showed success last season with the Pirates but slowed a bit, perhaps due to fatigue late in the season, after coming to the Jays in the trade which sent Travis Snider to Pittsburgh Lincoln’s career numbers are flashy either (4.78 ERA) but he seemed to put things together last year going 5-2 with a 3.68 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 88 innings. He has options remaining.
I think all this talk of ‘bringing the best club north’ because we’re all in is more to motivate Jeffress and Cecil. I agree the Jays are all in. But with the depth of this bullpen, it makes zero sense to not give Cecil and Jeffress a shot to show what they can do in the first couple months of the season. Also, if they don’t make the team and are sent down and don’t clear waivers, then the Jays lose valuable depth should someone get injured this year. Also, with 162 games and a very strong backend of the ‘pen between Steve Delabar, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos, and Casey Janssen, Jeffress and Cecil can be eased into non-pressure situations if necessary (although I think Cecil will be a star if he’s used properly as a lefty specialist no matter the situation).
So nice try guys. I know you’re all in this year and very thankful for it. But Cecil and Jeffress are breaking camp with the Jays unless injured. You heard it hear first.
You can follow me on twitter @IHRTBJs
After Alex Anthopoulos and Darren Oliver met with the media last evening via conference call, we got a peak into what Anthopoulos is thinking regarding the bullpen. He said that Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos, and Esmil Rogers were locks. He stressed Rogers was a lock because he is out of options and would likely be claimed off waivers if sent to the minors.
So who else is out of options in the bullpen? Brett Cecil and Jeremy Jeffress, that’s who.
Anthopoulos also said he likes Brad Lincoln as both a starter or a reliever and if Lincoln (who has options) doesn’t make the MLB club and starts the year in triple-A, it will be as a starter. He was quick to point out that J.A. Happ and Aaron Loup also have options remaining.
If you look at the logic of keeping guys on the MLB squad as to not expose them to waivers then the current bullpen would shake down like this:
Middle relief – Cecil (L), Jeffress (R), Rogers (R), Delabar (R) – he also has options but is the best reliever of those who has them,
Set up – Oliver (L), Santos (R)
Closer – janssen (R)
That means the Jays would head into the season without the traditional long reliever/swingman who is often called upon should a start get shelled or injured early in a game. But with the rotation of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, and Ricky Romero, perhaps the Jays don’t think they’ll get shelled often and carrying a long man is a waste of a bullpen body. If a starter goes down early with injury, each reliever could plug an inning until the next time around in the rotation when someone is called up from triple-A to start.
That puts J.A. Happ starting the year in triple-A as the Jays “6th” starter. Brad Lincoln likely falls right behind him in triple-A as the “7th” starter by the way Anthopoulos was talking. Lincoln would likely be called up if a right handed arm was needed in the ‘pen even if he is starting in triple-A. My only comment to this is that the Jays gave up a lot of young prospects to get Happ and rent Brandon Lyon for half a season, so Happ was the key guy they wanted. And for Lincoln we surrendered Travis Snider. Is our team really that deep that these guys can’t crack the roster?
Any way you frame it, the Jays certainly have depth…
After all the “my client wants more or trade him to Texas” talk coming from Darren Oliver’s agent, Jeff Frye, it looks like Oliver wasn’t ready to hang up the spikes just yet.
The Blue Jays have just announced that Oliver, 42, will return for his 20th season in the big leagues and honour the $3 million dollar option agreement on his contract. Oliver posted a 2.06 ERA with 8.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 56 2/3 innings this past season. The Jays will be happy to welcome him back (especially at $3 million) to solidify the back end of the bullpen.
With Oliver returning, look for the following line up in the bullpen on opening day:
Longman – JA Happ (L)
Middle relief – S. Delabar (R), B. Lincoln (R), B. Cecil (L)
Set up – D. Oliver (L), S. Santos (R)
Closer – C. Janssen
On the outside looking in – E. Rogers (R), A. Loup (L), J.Jeffress (R). Look for Rogers to get the nod should any righty reliever be injured prior to opening day. He is an easy fill in for middle relief. Loup would be next on the depth chart if something happened to either Cecil or Oliver.
The closer spot will be Janssen’s to lose, but look for either Santos or Delabar to get consideration should Janssen struggle early (remember, he had minor surgery on his throwing shoulder this past offseason – yet, he is expected to be 100% for Spring Training).
Oliver will address the media today at 6 pm EST via conference call, so look for lots of headlines tomorrow.