Tagged: darren oliver

Mid-Season Review – Part Two: The Bullpen

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.

@IHRTBJs

Lawrie up, Kawasaki down

For those who missed it this weekend, the Blue Jays have brought up Brett Lawrie – as a 2B.  This move is a bit of a head scratcher to me.  I think Lawrie is certainly athletic enough to play 2B, but there is no viable, long-term replacement at 3B on the roster in my opinion.  The Jays plan to use Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa at the hot corner for now.  Is there something in the works to acquire a premier 3B before the trade deadline?

The Jays are saying they see SS Jose Reyes and Lawrie setting up as a long-term double-play team.  Yet even Reyes says that the transition for Lawrie probably would be easier if it had of happened in Spring Training either this year or next.  For the record, Reyes believes Lawrie is more than capable of playing 2B – he just thinks it would be an easier move if Lawrie had more reps.

Lawrie went 1 – 8 at the plate in his first two games back and didn’t commit an error with limited chances at 2B.

Again, this move is a bit bizarre to me but we’ll see how it plays out.

The odd-man-out is once again Munenori Kawasaki.  Kaswasaki was optioned to triple-A to make room for Lawrie.

The Jays are still carrying an 8-man bullpen but will likely go back to a traditional 7-man ‘pen when Melky Cabrera comes back from the DL shortly or immediately after the allstar break.  Barring any trades (think Darren Oliver), the Jays will likely send down Neil Wagner simply because everyone in the ‘pen is pitching so well and he is the guy with minor league options.

@IHRTBJs

What a difference a week makes

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.

@IHRTBJs

Nolan to make debut tonight, Oliver hits DL, Happ DL stint extended

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.

@IHRTBJs

Re-thinking the Bullpen

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…

IHRTBJs

Oliver to Suit Up for 20th Season

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.

IHRTBJs

 

Blue Jays Grab Hottovy Off Waivers, Designate Beck

Chad Beck will have to clear waivers again, six days after the Blue Jays re-claimed him from the Pirates and lost Russ Canzler in the process.  Why?  Because Toronto would rather have Tommy Hottovy, a lefty reliever.  So we basically prefer Hottovy over Canzler – not sure about this one, but I guess I have to put faith in Alex Anthopoulos.

By picking up Hottovy, it tells me that Darren Oliver is probably retiring.  The Jays don’t seem interested in trading him to another AL contender for what would seem to be a minimal return.  So instead, the Jays pluck Hottovy from the very same Rangers after Texas designated him to make room for newly signed Lance Berkman.

Hottovy, 31, appeared in nine MLB games with the Royals this past season, but spent most of the year at triple-A, where he posted a 2.52 ERA with 11.0 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 50 innings.

To make room on the 40-man roster, the Jays designated Beck, 27, again.  I imagine someone will pick him up.  Last season, the right-handed reliever went 2-0 with a 1.31 ERA in triple-A over 48 innings.  Beck isn’t the strikeout guy that Hottovy can be (only 24 over 48 triple-A innings), but did put up solid numbers.  However, Hottovy is left handed.  This means a lot if Oliver sails off into the sunset.

I see why the Jays would want Hottovy over Beck, but I still would have preferred Canzler over either of them.  Especially since after Oliver, you still have Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil as lefty options out of the bullpen (not to mention J.A. Happ – but he’ll most likely be a long man/swing guy).  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hottovy and Cecil make the 25-man club and see Loup start the year in triple-A to provide depth.  Loup has minor league options, so the Jays don’t have to expose him to waivers if they send him down.  Not that Loup hasn’t earned a shot in the ‘pen.  He went 0-2 last year with a 2.64 ERA over 33 games.  But again, he’s not a strikeout guy (21 strikeouts in 30.2 innings)

Now all we need is a right-handed bat with a bit of pop for our final bench spot…who could that be?

IHRTBJs