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.
Prior to yesterday’s win vs. the Rays, the Blue Jays called up Anthony Gose from triple-A and sent righty Mickey Storey back to the minors. Gose, considered to be a valuable piece of the Blue Jays’ future, has struggled at the plate so far in triple-A this season, so his call up is a bit surprising. He was batting .227 with 2 homers and 12 RBIs. Perhaps the more alarming stat is the 56% stolen base percentage (5 of 9).
With Melky Cabrera’s hamstring tightening up on one leg and his quad tightening up on the other, look for Gose to get a bit of time in left field as a defensive replacement late in games. He’ll also most likely be used as a pinch runner and get the odd spot start in the outfield. The 22-year-old left handed hitter was 15 for 18 in stolen base attempts last season with the Jays. He possesses a cannon arm and lightning speed. The question is plate discipline and how well he can hit major league pitching.
Some members of the media think this move doesn’t make sense because Gose should be getting regular at bats and he won’t start everyday with the Jays. But in my opinion he can gain valuable experience on the bench by being around big leaguers. And with Rajai Davis on the DL, it’s nice to have a late game pinch runner when you need one.
Storey had pitched 3.2 innings, given up 2 runs, allowed 6 hits, 1 walk and struck out 5 in his brief stint with the Jays.
Ricky Romero looked awful last night. As a major league pitcher, you have to be able to throw the ball where you want to throw it was some consistency. Last night, poor Ricky couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.
It’s no surprise that Romero has been sent to triple-A after last night’s disaster. He was only able to record one out through the first seven batters and was quickly yanked. Some people are saying that John Gibbons was too quick to give Romero the hook last night. The ol’ “what does it do to his confidence” bit. Well, we are trying to win ball games. And Gibbons said it best. He has a responsibility to the other 24 guys on the team to try and win the game. When a pitcher can’t control where he is throwing the ball (I mean, Ricky wasn’t even close last night), a manager should have a quick hook.
So down goes Ricky, which leads to the question – was he brought up to fast in the first place? To me, the answer is definitely yes (and if you are a regular reader of my blogs, you’ll remember I thought it was too quick before Ricky threw a single pitch for the Blue Jays this season). But I guess the Jays thought Ricky was the best in-house solution to replace Josh Johnson and tried to rush him. They obviously thought wrong. But what does that say about the recent call ups. Are Mickey Storey or Ramon Ortiz suddenly better than Ricky Romero? Do they give the Jays a better shot at winning?
You wouldn’t think so, but maybe. Romero has lost 15 of his past 16 decisions dating back to 2012 and owns a 7.60 ERA over that span. Yikes!
Edgar Gonzalez was sent back down after throwing 4.2 innings of relief and giving up 5 runs. He was really only called up as an insurance policy in case Romero struggled to provide bullpen depth and eat some innings. Last night would have been Gonzalez’s regular turn in the triple-A rotation, so his arm was fresh. Now that it’s not fresh, he’ll have to clear waivers to once again pitch in Buffalo. I think he will – he always has once this year.
So up come Ramon Ortiz and Mickey Storey.
Ortiz, 39, made one relief appearance for Toronto on this year. He has compiled a 2-0 record and 2.18 ERA in four games (three starts) with in triple-A. The righty has posted a 86-84 with a 4.93 ERA in 297 career appearances, including 214 starts. Barring any other roster moves (and you never know with Alex Anthopoulos’ roster of musical chairs), I expect Ortiz to get a temporary shot in the rotation at least until Josh Johnson is back – the Jays expect him back towards the end of May.
Storey posted a 3.93 ERA in seven relief appearances in triple-A. The 26-year-old righty had a 3.86 ERA in 30.1 innings as a rookie with the Astros last season. With J.A. Happ only going 1.1 innings two nights ago due to an early exit after being hit by a line drive in the head (thank goodness he appears to not have any serious injuries) and Romero’s 0.1 innings of work last night, the Jays need some fresh arms in the ‘pen.
Romero is a mystery. Will he ever be effective again? He simply does not have the ability to consistently throw strikes. It’s mind boggling. Who knew that Ortiz would be the better option? I would have never of guessed it, but it certainly looks that way now.
With both Johnson and Happ out, expect to see another move. Assuming Ortiz gets a start, the Jays are still one short in their rotation.
The Toronto Blue Jays continued their busy waiver claim off season by picking up Russ Canzler, 26, who had been designated for assignment earlier this week by the Indians.
The right handed batting and throwing Canzler appeared in 26 games with the Indians last season and hit .269 with three homers and 11 RBIs. He has the ability to play both corner infield and outfield spots and might have an opportunity to compete for the final opening on Toronto’s bench next year. Canzler may also have the opportunity to DH vs. lefties if Adam Lind struggles vs. southpaw pitching. He spent most of last season at triple-A, where he posted a .265 avg, .328 obp, .487 slg batting line with 22 home runs and 36 doubles in 539 plate appearances.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Jays designated RHP Mickey Storey to triple-A. Storey, 26, showed promising stuff with the Astros last season posting a 3.86 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 30.1 innings at the MLB level. He also spent considerable time at triple-A in 2012, posting a 3.05 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 65 innings.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Storey’s waiver claim world continue (he’s gone from the Astros, to the Yankees, to the Astros, to the Jays). With the numbers he showed last season, I figure someone will make a claim and keep him on their 40-man.
However, with a crowded Jays bullpen, especially for righties, picking up Canzler seems like the right move. He most likely won’t hit better than .260ish, but he does have extra base power and could platoon with Lind if needed. Also, Canzler’s ability to play 1B, 3B, LF or RF will give him an opportunity to find at bats. I suspect if there are no more moves prior to the beginning of spring training, Canzler is the favourite to win the final bench spot on the Jays 25-man MLB squad.
The Blue Jays continued their minor moves yesterday by adding right-handed reliever Mickey Storey, 26, off waivers from Astros.
It has been a busy offseason for Storey. He was claimed off waivers from the Astros by the Yankees in November. Then, the Yankees designated him for assignment in early December and the Astros claimed him back on waivers. When the Astros did not keep him on their 40-man roster and sent him to triple-A, the Blue Jays made a waiver claim. Storey now occupies the final roster spot on the Jays’ 40-man.
Storey made 26 relief appearances for the Astros this past season. He posted a 3.86 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 30.1 innings at the MLB level. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound righty posted a .237 average against, including a .167 mark against left-handed batters. He also spent considerable time at Triple-A in 2012, posting a 3.05 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 65 innings.
I would imagine Storey will be given the opportunity to compete in a crowded bullpen for a spot on the MLB club. I wouldn’t be surprised though if he instead opens the year in triple-A while remaining on the 40-man roster (as not to lose him in waivers) to provide bullpen depth in case of injury.