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.
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.
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.
It’s been an eventful week for our beloved Blue Jays. Over the past week we’ve seen the following:
- Sean Nolin had a rough debut but in my opinion has good stuff
- Nolin got sent down following his start – wrong move in my opinion and the Jays leave glaring holes in the rotation
- R.A. Dickey got lit up by a potent Orioles offence and then the Braves – he sure isn’t pitching like an ace
- Munenori Kawasaki became a hero while Brett Lawrie became a villian during a walk off win
- Lawrie hit the DL with an ankle sprain
- Colby Rasmus got the better of his brother Cory in a rare pitcher/brother battle at the MLB level by ripping a double
- Brandon Morrow got pulled and is now day-to-day with a right forearm strain
- Casey Janssen’s shoulder kept him out of an extra inning game vs. the Braves and Ramon Ortiz and Thad Weber can’t hold the game
- Ortiz and Weber got sent down, Juan Perez, Neil Wagner, and Todd Redmond – Perez and Wagner back up Esmil Rogers first start sine 2011 to help shutout the Braves (Perez looked amazing)
With all that news, here are my thoughts:
- Don’t call up Nolin just to send him down after one bad outing. It’s worse for his confidence to go up and down than it is to stay up and try again. Especially with no Josh Johnson, an injured Morrow, and a combination of Chad Jenkins/Esmil Rogers plugging holes. If you call a kid up, give him a few starts. Drew Hutchison came up last season and didn’t fair well at first but good pitches make adjustments (and I believe Nolin is a good pitcher). The first three runs he surrendered in the 1st inning vs. the Orioles were due to a seeing eye single, a little bloop single, then a homer off a quality strike down and away. He pitched much better than his line showed – give the kid a chance to redeem himself. If he wasn’t ready for the majors, why call him up in the first place?
- The Jays need to figure out what is wrong with Dickey. I think it’s because of his tight neck and shoulder – the last couple years he consistently hit 80 mph with his knuckler and now it’s more often 74-75 mph. He doesn’t have nearly the control with it as evidence by his walk rate per inning pitched being double compared to his previous three seasons. Dickey needs to make the adjustment of not throwing as hard. Perhaps mixing in more slow knucklers at 60 – 65 mph to make the 75 mph look that much faster. Also, he needs to throw more first pitch fastballs. Opponents are almost always taking the first pitch. Why would you not take at least one strike vs. a knuckleballer?
- Dear Lawrie, you are not mature, you are not playing well, and you should never show up your teammates or coaches – especially on a potential sac fly for a run that means nothing. When you come back from the DL, just shut up, stop whining, and play good, quality baseball with a smile on your face. You’re attitude grew tiresome ages ago.
- Morrow, please don’t say you’re fine when you’re not fine. If you can’t pitch, don’t try. You just screw up the bullpen for the next three games. Enough with the bumped back starts. Just take a 15-day trip to the DL if you have to. With Johnson coming back, it’s the right time to do it if you need to.
- Janssen, I love ya buddy. But really, you felt that much better one day later and could pick up a 1-2-3 save? I would have taken your wonky shoulder over Weber’s third appearance in three days ANY day of the week. I mean, last week we were all saying “who is Thad Weber?” Just be ready to go when we need you. If you can’t pitch after a week off, maybe you should be on the DL also.
- Perez and Wagner – great numbers in triple-A (0.86 and 0.89 ERAs respectively). Keep it up. Maybe we won’t be such a revolving door in the ‘pen.
Final thought – Why not start Edwin Encarnacion at 3B and Adam Lind at 1B during inter-league play vs. righties? If you get a lead, make a defensive substitution. I know Edwin is pretty awful at 3B, but we need to score runs and Lind is leading our team in AVG and is second to only Jose Bautista in OBP. We need to have him in the game for more than one at bat. As a good friend of mine asked me, if Cito could start Paul Molitor at 3B during the ’93 world series in Atlanta, why can’t Gibbons start Edwin there on game 54 of the regular season?
How rusty will Brandon Morrow be when he pitches again for the Blue Jays? Will he avoid a trip to the DL? These are the questions fans have to be asking now that Morrow has been pushed back a third consecutive time due to neck/back spasms. While he was supposed to take the mound today to end the 2-game mini series vs. the Giants, the Jays are now hoping he can pitch this weekend on Saturday vs. the division leading Yankees.
Pros and cons – the Jays have a better chance winning with Morrow on the mound today and it would be nice to head to New York with 4 straight wins and a bit of momentum vs. the red hot Yankees. On the other hand, it will be nice having Morrow throw in the Yankee series assuming he’s not too rusty and is able to go.
Nothing against Ramon Ortiz, who will fill in for Morrow for the second straight time. He is the best internal option right now. But he is a triple-A depth player at this point in his career and the Jays bats will have to continue to produce should they hope to win tonight.
Even though the results have been there over the last three games, I can’t say I’m a fan of the new line up with everyone bumped up a slot (Melky Cabrera leading off, Jose Bautista second, Edwin Encarnacion third, etc.) I’d rather see Emilio Bonifacio lead off since he is starting to hit up and have the bulky bats hitting behind some obp and speed. That would mean starting Bonifacio on a regular basis – something I’ve been saying they need to do for weeks now.
With the rotation battered, yesterday and Thursday’s off days couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s hope Morrow can go this weekend in New York and take a game from the Yanks.
One last comment – I hate that there is fan voting for allstar games but particularly hate how early it starts in baseball. However, if I have to be honest and say which Jay(s) are deserving of an allstar nod this year based on performance so far in 2013, there is only one guy I would send: Casey Janssen. He is 10 for 10 in save opportunities and boasts an incredible line: a 0.69 ERA, 0.31 WHIP, .093 opponents batting average to go along with zero walks and 13 K’s in 13 innings. Wow! Is there a better closer in the game this season?
So, the Blue Jays did what I hoped they would do at the very least – they finished 4-3 on their recent road trip despite a patched together rotation and being 1 hit by John Lester.
Surprise call up, Chad Jenkins, pitched well and got away with mistakes on Sunday to earn much needed win. By winning Sunday, the Jays won just their second series of the season. Yikes.
Jenkins is now 2-3 with a 4.38 ERA over 37 major league innings. With his outing vs. the Red Sox, he earned another start in my opinion, especially with Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ on the DL and R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow pitching with back and neck spasms.
That’s if Morrow pitches. The whole reason Jenkins got the unlikely call up from double-A (Jenkins had only 1 minor league start in the minors this year since he was recovery from a shoulder injury) was because Morrow was unable to go. Morrow originally scheduled to pitch last Friday but had his start bumped out due to back and neck spasms so Ramon Ortiz got the nod. Then on Sunday, Morrow still wasn’t ready so Jenkins got the call up (and took advantage by throwing strikes). Now the Jays are aiming for a Wednesday start from Morrow. My guess is if he misses it, he’ll land on the DL.
If Morrow is able to go Sunday, I actually like our chances to take the 2-game mini series (and 2-game mini home stand) vs. the Giants tomorrow and Wednesday. We have Dickey going tomorrow and hopefully Morrow Wednesday. When on either of these guys can steal a win. Also, it looks like the offence is starting to hit a bit. Forget the game vs. John Lester – he was just unhittable for any team that night – the Jays hitters are really seeing the ball right now and having good at bats.
Happy to see Emilio Bonifacio get a couple starts. We need to give him at bats and get him going. He has too much talent to sit on the bench 3 out of 4 games.
Casey Janssen – what can I say? He’s been the best closer in the American League so far this young season and the Jays only allstar in my opinion.
With our “win 90” count down, the Jays now have to go 75 – 48 in the remaining 123 games. That’s .610 ball. Not impossible, but certainly not easy (especially with the patched up rotation).
Let’s steal two from the Giants!
If you missed the game yesterday, you missed a bit of everything.
Finally, John Gibbons started Maicer Izturis at SS and Emilio Bonifacio at 2B. Thank you – it’s about time. The offence had the long ball going, as the Blue Jays hitters bashed four homers. But then the Jays squandered a 5-2 lead and allowed the Orioles to tie the game and force extra innings. Gibbons got tossed in the 9th by defending Brett Lawrie (who was arguing balls and strikes – big surprise). Jose Bautista made an error when he lost a routine fly ball and fans across the country were thinking “here we go again”. But Rajai Davis saved the day by throwing out the walk off run at the plate in the bottom of the 10th to set up a go ahead bases loaded walk to Izturis to take the lead. Casey Janssen was spectacular again, tossing a 1-2-3 inning with two K’s.
But I want to talk about something else. With the offence struggling, why are the Jays not trying to manufacture more runs? In two of the past four games, the Jays have had a situation where Munenori Kawasaki comes to the plate with one out and runners on 1st and 3rd. He is the definition of a slap hitter and more often then not hits a ball on the ground and hope it sneaks through a hole or he can beat it out. Why not bunt up the first base line? The 1B is glued to the bag to hold the runner and can’t charge the ball, you guarantee a run, move the trail runner into scoring position with two out, and play for a two run inning. Chances are Kawasaki is going to hit a ground ball somewhere and it’s important to stay out of the double play. Not bunting in these two situations makes no sense to me.
In the two cases, a bunt would have accomplished more than what transpired. In the first, Kawasaki hit a sac fly. Great. We scored a run. But we could have scored a run AND moved the trail runner into scoring position. Wasted opportunity. In the second, Kawasaki hit into a double play and ended the inning. Even worse.
If I look at the current starting nine, at the very least the Jays should be bunting in this situation with either Kawasaki or Izturis at the plate. I might even do it with others like Davis or Bonifacio depended on the situation.
Everyone in the lineup save maybe the 3-4-5 hitters should be capable of pulling off this play on a major league team, in my opinion. The Tampa Bay Rays use this play all the time and have more wins in the past five years then any other team besides the Yankees and Phillies. With a stuttering offence, it’s time to take the guaranteed runs when they are there.