Tagged: Neil Wagner

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

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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

Reyes status – who goes down?

The Blue Jays are having Jose Reyes play at least one more game in triple-A.  Whether the team doesn’t want to do anything to break up the superstitions surrounding its franchise-record-tying winning streak or Reyes just needs a few more at bats is a question.

Reyes went 2-5 with 2 singles yesterday for Buffalo.  In six games between triple-A and single-A, he is 8-22 (.364).  Reyes also stole another base yesterday, and he also scored from second on a hit up the middle.  He seems to be running and rounding the bases on the previously sprained ankle just fine.

Alex Anthopoulos has not given an exact date when Reyes will be back with the big club, but hinted that his return might not come until the team travels to Boston on Thursday for a 4-game series.  Anthopoulos said that Reyes is being evaluated day by day and could return at anytime.  But he also mentioned that he might play today in Buffalo and then a couple games in New Hampshire, the Jays double-A team, which is logistically on the route to Boston.

The bigger question than “when will Reyes be back?” is “who leaves the team when Reyes inevitably comes back?”.

While nobody knows for sure, I have a feeling I know what move the Jays are leaning towards.  I also have my own view (big surprise, eh?).

Jays take

Nobody wants to mess with the clubhouse chemistry right now and it appears Munenori Kawasaki is a big part of that.  The Jays are carrying 8 men in the bullpen while the norm is 7.  Kawasaki’s recent heroics and fan chants buy him a few more weeks with the club and the Jays make a move by trying to sneak left-handed Juan Perez through waivers and do not succeed.  Perez and his affordable $380K contract are claimed by a team looking for lefty help in its bullpen.  Kawasaki gets extremely limited playing time with the return of Reyes, plus the crowded infield of Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonifacio, and Mark DeRosa and is sent to triple-A when Brett Lawrie returns shortly after the allstar break.  Kawasaki gets an honourable call up when the roster expands in September, barring any unforeseen injuries to middle infielders that would bring him up sooner.

My take

Even though Kawasaki is a fan favourite and has shown heroics in his brief stint with the club, there just isn’t enough room on the roster for another middle infielder.  Especially one that has minor league options and can be sent to triple-A with zero risk of being lost on a waiver claim.  Kawasaki was signed as a minor league free agent to provide major league depth should a middle infielder go down with an injury.  He has done this and done it well.  However, he will receive nearly no playing time once Reyes returns and the Jays are committed to Izturis (due to his contract) and to Bonifacio (due to his superior natural skill set) and unfortunately, Kawasaki is the odd man out.  Thoughts of sending a reliever down right before 4 games vs. the Red Sox might not be a great idea.  It would be better to get through that series and the next 4 vs. the Tigers before taking the luxury of the additional arm off the roster.  The rotation has been amazing but it won’t last forever.  With the potent offences of the Red Sox and Tigers coming up, keeping the 8-man bullpen doesn’t seem like a bad idea.  Especially when keeping Kawasaki really only buys the Jays time until Lawrie is back.  Send Kawasaki down when Reyes returns and cut the bullpen to the traditional 7 when Lawrie is healthy.  Who should go from the bullpen?  Dustin McGowan, that’s who.  He is owed $1.5 million this year and another $1.5 million next year.  Then they Jays either pick up a $4 million club option for 2015 or buy him out for $500K.  If you didn’t know McGowan and have an emotional attachment to his never-give-up attitude, you would be happy for the Jays to risk putting the hard-throwing righty through waivers – a pitcher who has had 3, count them, 3 shoulder surgeries.  A guy who nobody expects to get anything out of for the rest of his career.  Anything he does is considered a bonus.  He is the least at risk to get picked up off waivers and should be the guy to go.  He would undoubtably accept a minor league assignment since the Jays organization has been so good to him over the years.  With hard-throwing Neil Wagner essentially doing what the Jays might get from McGowan, but only better, there really isn’t a need for his arm in the ‘pen right now.  The relievers with minor league options aren’t going anywhere.  Wagner and Aaron Loup are too valuable.  If it’s between McGowan and Perez, McGowan has to go.  This isn’t personal.  It’s about putting the best team on the field and trying to win every game.

@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

Blue Jays Recap – thoughts on the past week

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?

  @IHRTBJs