Monday, September 17, 2012

Building the Blue Jays Bullpen for 2013


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Going into 2012, it looked like Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was going to be a strong suit of the team. In fact, on paper it appeared as though their relief corp was going to be one of the best in the American League.

But that's the thing about bullpens; they might look great on paper, but ultimately the game is played on the field A group of relievers like that really needs to perform as one cohesive unit, not unlike Voltron.

Although Alex Anthopoulos did his best to bolster the bullpen at the trade deadline, there are actually still quite a few question marks going into 2013 as to whether certain relievers will perform well, or whether they will even return at all.

Here's now the bullpen looks to set up for next season.

Casey Janssen

Current Role: Closer
Projects As: Closer/Setup Man

As far as I'm concerned, the closer's job is his moving forward. He has done absolutely nothing at all this season to plant any seeds of doubt as to whether he can handle the load when given the ball with a lead late in the game.

The funny thing is when he inked his 2-year contract extension, I didn't anticipate Janssen would have pitched this well ... let alone as the closer. But lo and behold, he has come in and blown the doors off and really proven his worth as the captain of the relief corp.

Ideally, I think Casey Janssen would be best suited as a late relief or setup man to the closer, but again ... that's only if somebody else steps in and grabs the reins as the new closer. Simply put, it's his job to lose.

Steve Delabar

Current Role: Late Relief
Projects As: Late Relief/Setup Man

There's no question that Steve Delabar was the crown jewel that the Blue Jays acquired at the trade deadline. With over three times as many strikeouts as walks with the Blue Jays (39 SO/12 BB), one wonders why the Seattle Mariners even let him go in the first place.

A strikeout weapon like Delabar would play well in high leverage situations late and close, when the Blue Jays need to stop an opposing rally dead in its tracks. A true strikeout reliever with a devastating out pitch is something the Blue Jays have truly lacked these past few years.

My only fear with Delabar is that the league will eventually catch on to his split-finger fastball. As a relatively new reliever in the league, Delabar has the leg up on opposing hitters. But after the way he's carved up the competition, those teams will be getting lots of tape on him in the off-season.

Brad Lincoln

Current Role: Middle Relief
Projects As: Middle Relief

Years of control is undoubtedly one of the biggest things Alex Anthopoulos must look for when trading for relievers. At under three years of service time, Brad Lincoln certainly fits that mold of cost-controlled arms.

Lincoln's strikeouts per 9 innings have gone down a tick since coming over to the Blue Jays (9.1 with the Pirates compared to 7.3 with the Blue Jays), but his dropoff in whiffs may just be attributed from moving to the NL to the AL.

I still like Lincoln in the 6th or 7th inning role with the club next year, but not really in the high leverage situations just quite yet. Also the fact that he was traded for everyone's favourite former Blue Jays carnivore means it will still take me a little time to warm up to Brad Lincoln.

Sergio Santos

Current Role: N/A
Projects As: Setup Man/Closer

Of all the arms coming back to the bullpen next year, Sergio Santos is the big wild card. When he initially went down in injury in April, the pessimist in me suspected the worst that Santos might be gone for the year. So who even knows if he'll be ready for Spring Training?

Even though Alex Anthopoulos initially acquired Santos with the sole intention of making him the new Blue Jays closer, I don't think Santos will be entitled to enter next season with that role ... he'll have to earn it.

Again, I think the closer's job is Casey Janssen's to lose, but if he at all falters in the early part of the schedule, then Sergio Santos would obviously be the next candidate to step in and take over that role.

With his swing and miss stuff, the Blue Jays might actually be best served to use a combination of Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar in the 7th and 8th innings, or as situations may dictate with runners on base.

I really like what Santos' slider brings to the table, but the wildness of that pitch will inevitably lead to a lot of walks and a lot of wild pitches. Not something you necessarily want out of your closer, but better to come in save situations with no runners on base than high leverage situations with men on base.

It's easy to forget that Santos is set to make just $2.75 million in 2013 and $3.75 in 2014, which seems like a very reasonable salary for any arm in the bullpen. So it's not like his salary is so far any above anybody else's that they would be entitled to use him as closer moving forward.

That being said, I believe that Sergio Santos will grab the closer's position from Casey Janssen in 2013, and they could combine to be a very lethal 8th/9th inning duo the next few seasons.

Darren Oliver

Current Role: Setup Man
Projects As: Setup Man/Late Relief

It's virtually a no-brainer whether the Blue Jays will exercise their club option on Darren Oliver for 2013. The burning question is whether Darren Oliver is heading for retirement in the off-season, or whether he wants to come back for one last swan song.

Statistically speaking, Oliver is having one of the best seasons of his career, so he's definitely a candidate for regression if he does in fact come back for another go in 2013. But I can't imagine him dropping off so much that that he wouldn't be an effective member of the bullpen.

At this point in his career, Darren Oliver is allowed to call the shots. Even if he wanted to go into semi-retirement in the off-season, and then sign with a contending team at the 2013 traded deadline, I wouldn't even be that upset because he's earned the right to play for a winning team.

Jason Frasor

Current Role: Late Relief
Projects As: Late Relief

With 500 career appearances under his belt as a member of the Blue Jays, Jason Frasor has been the consummate mainstay in the bullpen the last number of years. Personally, I think he's been criminally underrated during his tenure in Toronto.

If the Blue Jays could bring him back on a one year deal plus an option, I think that would work out well for both parties. What you see with Jason Frasor is more or less what you get, and the organization more or less knows what to expect out of Frasor.

However, Frasor has been with the Blue Jays on a string of one-year deals. The White Sox decided to pick up his club option before trading him back to the Blue Jays, so perhaps Frasor will be seeking the stability of a multi-year contract.

After all these years, I think he warrants at least a two year contact, or maybe a one year contract plus option of they can get away with it. Frasor doesn't strike me as the type of guy who would want to test the free agent waters, so that could play in favour of the Blue Jays.

Brandon Lyon

Current Role: Middle/Late Relief
Projects As: Middle/Late Relief

Brandon Lyon has been a complete revelation this season. He has been unlike his former self, which is precisely why I'm leery of the Blue Jays making him a part of the bullpen moving forward. The likeliness of him reproducing his 2012 season are highly unlikely.

If the price is right, I'd be willing to roll the dice ...  but not at his current $5.5 million dollar salary. It seems like Brandon Lyon and Jason Frasor bring the same skill set to the roster, so I feel like the Blue Jays will bring one or the other back next year ... not both.

Aaron Loup

Current Role: LOOGY
Projects AS: LOOGY

Of the all the rookie arms that have been called up by the Blue Jays, Aaron Loup is the sole reliever that has managed to keep his job. Toronto called him up on July 13th from New Hampshire, and Loup has remained with the club ever since.

Aaron Loup has proven his worth as an effective left-handed reliever, predominantly in short stints where he's been brought in to get just one or two outs.

Since Loup's splits favour lefties (.163 versus lefties compared to .295 versus righties), he seems to fit the bill as the token left-handed relief weapon for John Farrell in the bullpen.

Brett Cecil

Current Role: LOOGY, Mop-Up/Long Relief
Projects As: Mop-Up/Long Relief

My, how things have changed for Brett Cecil this season. He didn't even break camp on the Blue Jays roster, then he had a brief stint in the starting rotation, and now he's back as a member of the bullpen.

While he's only logged a grand total of five innings as a reliever, the results thus far have been okay. Cecil's fastball velocity has mysteriously increased a tick, as he's been clocked around 92-93 MPH when earlier in the season he was topping out around 89-90 MPH.

Perhaps using Cecil in small doses is the key, rather than planting him in the starting rotation and seemingly feeding him to the wolves every five days. Maybe it's something as simple as Brett knows he's only throwing to 1-2 batters, so he's throwing as hard as he possibly can rather than conserving energy to go 5-6 innings.

I'm still not positive that Cecil will be able to handle the high leverage situations, but for the time being there's nothing wrong with starting him off in middle relief and going from there.

6 comments:

  1. Nice analysis. The next question is, of course, what to do? AA has bought into stability which seems hard to argue with right now - perhaps it can lead to more consistent results.

    There's 9 guys on your list. While I'm hoping the Jays go with a 4-man bench, that makes 7 bullpen spots available. Starting with the lefties, I believe Cecil is out of options and won't be in the rotation so I think he might fill the "Luis Perez" role. And here's hoping Oliver returns. That might squeeze Loup into the minors, which provides depth.

    From the right side, Janssen, Delabar, Santos (if healthy), and Lincoln are locks which leaves just one more spot open. I agree that Frasor is a logical re-sign from both sides. If not Frasor, Lyon seems a good option but I don't think this reliever spot will be too big a concern. The Jays could stick with Loup, perhaps another arm from within like Chad Beck, or find another arm on the FA market.

    Lastly, I've wondered if AA continues to stack the bullpen and use some of it in trade later. It might be hard to deal it in the off-season, but we've seen how teams can trade for relievers mid-year for other needed parts (Rasmus and Snider being recent examples).

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    1. I just listed all the prospective returnees. I imagine a few will hit free agency, but working with a short bench this season hasn't seemed to work out too well - so maybe just riding with a 7-man pen next season is the way to go.
      Then it could be narrowed down to Janssen, Santos, Delabar, Lincoln, Loup, Oliver (hopefully) and Cecil.

      Considering how cheap some FA relievers go for, I wouldn't be surprised if a free agent or two also make their way in next season.

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  2. My theory is that the real strategy behind the Thames/Snider trades was not just to build a decent bullpen, but to build a cheap one. That theory suggests that Frasor and Lyon will NOT be back, and I'm 100% cool with that. With a backbone of Jannsen/Delabar/Lincoln/Loop/Oliver, we can fill the back two spots with Beck, Cecil or others. The key, then, is re-allocating the saved money elsewhere, and not just putting it in the bank.

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    1. It certainly makes sense - Lincoln is alright, but that team control for three more seasons seems like a very attractive asset for a reliever with some starting experience.

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  3. Short benches make you really wish that McCoy and Gomes could hit just a little more. Versatility like Gomes' make me giddy in an oh-so-geeky kind of way. I had huge mancrushes on guys like Eli Marrero and Brooks Kieschnick.

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    1. I really like their position versatility, but like you said ... they don't really offer much in the way of offense. The Yankees seem to have it figured out with Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez as their bench guys.

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