So how do the 2015 Blue Jays compare to last year’s team? The bullpen

So continues my look at how the Jays stack up heading into 2015 over what they were last year.

The Bullpen

Uh, yeah.

Some would argue Toronto’s bullpen in 2014 was a bit of a disappointment. And those people would be drastically understating things.

It’s weird. We went into 2013 already planning the parade. On the heels of the Jeff Mathis Trade Jays fans figured they just had to wait a few months before celebrating the team’s third World Series victory in franchise history. The team supposedly had a fantastic rotation that was only rivaled by its offensive weapons.

Nobody cared much about the bullpen. We’ve got Josh Johnson for crying out loud!

Of course, in a cruel twist of fate that season quickly went down the tubes and the bullpen that had the sixth worst ERA and second worst FIP in all of baseball the previous year was the only bright spot in an otherwise dismal season.

So fast forward to 2014 and everyone thought the bullpen would be a strength. If the starters can just be decent, many argued, manager John Gibbons could turn things over to the bullpen and we’d be good to go.

Yeah, about that.

The Toronto bullpen returned to the cellar in 2014, pitching to a 4.09 ERA, 4.05 FIP and 4.00 xFIP. So, by every measure they were pretty bad.

And the worst part is: everyone hopes the one true bright spot in the 2014 bullpen will not be spending any time back there once the first pitch is thrown. Aaron Sanchez is likely to start the season in the starting rotation. Gibbons was forced to use the rookie more than probably he or anyone in the organization wanted to last year.

So how do you fix a broken bullpen? Apparently you move your set up guy to the rotation, let your closer go and do nothing else.

The Jays let Casey Janssen, who had handled closing duties for much of the past few years, go to free agency and there appears little chance he’ll return to Toronto. Janssen performed admirably for Toronto as closer, using pinpoint control to offset what was otherwise very pedestrian stuff. A bout of food poisoning during the 2014 all star break was to blame for a second half swoon, but there were plenty of red flags before his tummy ache that suggest his days as an elite reliever may be over.

But we’re getting away from the main point of this little exercise, which of course is to consider how the team’s bullpen compares to last year’s iteration.

With Janssen gone and Sanchez expected to fill a spot in the rotation, that’s about 90 high leverage innings that need to be replaced. In-house options include Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil, two lefties who have been quite strong for the team the past couple years.

Also gone from the team are Dustin McGowan and Sergio Santos. McGowan was decent but unspectacular as a middle reliever last year, while Santos continued to show fantastic stuff but a complete unwillingness to actually get batters out.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see old Dusty Lambchops re-sign with the team but Santos has signed on with the Dodgers, and really, will anyone miss him?

Marco Estrada came over from the Brewers in Adam Lind trade. After struggling as a starter in 2014 Estrada was moved to the bullpen and performed quite well, pitching to a 2.89 ERA, and holding batters to a .269 wOBA. He’s likely being penciled in as at least a fairly high leverage righty reliever.

Other names that merit a mention are Steve Delabar and Kyle Drabek. After two strong seasons in Toronto’s bullpen, Delabar fell apart last year, ending up in AAA Buffalo to work out the kinks. By all accounts his stuff was still good, but he completely lost control of his pitches, leading to a devilish 6.66 BB/9.

Drabek, meanwhile, was moved to the bullpen partway through last year while attempting to make his way back from Tommy John Jr. surgery. Doug’s kid certainly fits the reliever mould, and given he can’t be optioned to the minor leagues next year I’m sure he’ll be given every opportunity to make the team.

Chad Jenkins and Todd Redmond remain on the squad, but neither are really considered much more than innings eater, middle relief types.

So bottom line: they need someone to be a high leverage reliever. There are a few possibilities internally. GM Alex Anthopoulos claimed a few players off waivers, including Scott Barnes and Preston Guilmet.

Another name I’ve heard mentioned is Ryan Tepera. Over at Clutchlings, Tepera was briefly profiled as one of the team’s minor leaguers who could contribute. He found success after being moved to the bullpen heading into 2014, and apparently throws mid-90s. He struck out 9.42 per nine innings at AAA last year and pitched to a 3.66 ERA, so he’s…something. Unfortunately, the Clutchlings article was about the only recent thing I could find on Tepera, which doesn’t lead to a ton of optimism.

In the article Miguel Castro and Chad Jenkins are other names offered up. I’ve had my eye on Castro for a while, I remember reading good things from him from some writers in Vancouver last year when he was pitching in the Northwest League, but it’s hard to see him making the same strides Sanchez did in 2014. It’s just not terribly common. And even if he does that Jays are going to want somebody good to go right from April, so Castro doesn’t work for my little exercise.

Jenkins is, well, I don’t know. He’s done well in stints with the Jays, but just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy you’d rely on.

Richard Griffin, from the Toronto Star, said Gregory Infante is someone to watch. He did put up some numbers in New Hampshire and Buffalo last year, so…maybe?

The Verdict

I can’t in good conscience say the 2015 bullpen is better or even as good as last year’s. They lost their closer to free agency and likely have lost their other top righty reliever to the bullpen. So far they’ve replaced those players with Marco Estrada and some guys I’d never heard of until they were claimed by AA.

But two things here. First, so far is actually a pretty important part of things. While most of the big name free agents are off the board, including the #Proven closers, there are still quite a few names left. They’re not sexy names at all, but guys like Burke Badenhop, Joba Chamberlain and Jesse Crain have all had success in the past. And based on MjwW’s work over at Bluebird Banter, there’s reason to believe AA will acquire a reliever or two before spring training.

The second thing: bullpens are just so damned fickle. Relievers and entire bullpens fluctuate from year to year, with no rhyme or reason to it. The introduction to this article is evidence of that. Having said that, though, there’s been more bad than good for the Jays since Anthopoulos took over. The Blue Jays have the seventh worst bullpen ERA since AA became GM. The team’s FIP and SIERA aren’t impressive either, clocking in at the second and tenth worst in all of baseball, respectively, over that time.

So while things currently look kind of dire as far as the bullpen goes, and the team doesn’t have a strong history in building strong bullpens, I just simply can’t be arsed into worrying about it all that much. Analysis!

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