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.
For all you fans wondering what happened to Jeremy Jeffress, he cleared waivers (which I didn’t think he would) and has been outrighted to triple-A. Jeffress had been designated for assignment on April 6th to open a roster spot for Dave Bush (who is no longer on the big club). The Blue Jays acquired Jeffress from the Royals for cash considerations – they agreed to pay his contract of $496k. Jeffress is a former first round pick of the Brewers and came to the Royals as part of the Zack Greinke deal of 2010. At the time, he was thought to be a big part of the deal. But although Jeffress regularly hits 97 mph on the radar gun, he does not regularly control it. He posted a 4.97 ERA, 9.5 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 in 58 innings in triple-A last year. However, in his 4 years in the majors, he has allowed 32 walks in 39.2 innings and therefore is a liability.
Still, it’s surprising that a team wouldn’t take a shot at a 25-year-old who throws 97 mph. Perhaps his two suspensions for marijuana use have something to do with why nobody picked him up.
Let’s hope he gains command. If not, we don’t lose much.
It didn’t take long for Jays fans to say good-bye to Jeremy Jeffress. After acquiring the hard-throwing right hander from the Royals this offseason for cash considerations, the Jays have now designated him for assignment. Jeffress, 25, is out of options and will have to clear waivers in order to pick up at triple-A Buffalo.
I imagine that a young, once top prospect who throws high 90s will be scooped off waivers by someone. But the Jays don’t have a season to wait for his control to come around – we are all in.
Veteran Dave Bush, who fans will remember came up through the Jays system and departed on the trade that brought us Lyle Overbay, will temporarily replace Jeffress on the big league club. The Jays needed someone who could eat innings since the bullpen has been heavily worked to open the season and Bush, who has been a starter during his career and was schedule to start tomorrow in Buffalo, provides a fresh arm. Bush will most likely head back to Buffalo when Brett Lawrie joins the big club. Lawrie was eligible to come off the DL today, so he could be back anytime.
You could tell that manager John Gibbons was reluctant to use Jeffress in any close game situation since the power righty struggles with control. However, with no other arms left in the bullpen, Gibbons handed the ball to Jeffress yesterday. He promptly gave up a homer and walked two in an inning of work. With Brett Cecil pitching so well, the drama of who would make the team when Lawrie comes back is over.
Jeffress looks like a guy that might never gain control to me. Think Wil Ledezma. Throws 98 but can’t hit the plate. I imagine he’ll bounce around from team to team as a depth guy/back of the bullpen option for a few years because he has such a great arm. I hope him the best, but we’re playing to win this year – not to develop. Glad the organization continues to send this message.
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.