Friday, 26 July 2013

Mid-Season Report Cards: The Bullpen


So I wanted to finish these things over the All Star break, but it turns out there's a lot of guys on a baseball team (who knew?) and quite frankly lately they've been sapping my will to live, let alone write about them. As a result the "second half" is already well underway and I'm late with the bullpen piece. Sue me. It's also meant that with Melky Cabrera's return, Neil Wagner has already been optioned back down to Buffalo. I've included him anyways because he had a good long stint with the team and was an able contributor during his time here. His demotion is no reflection on his play, but somebody had to go and he's the guy with options. Baseball is a cruel mistress.

As I touched on in my piece on Casey Janssen's tradeability, the bullpen really has been great as a whole. It took a little bit of trial and error for them to settle on the right guys for the job, but now that they have, what was perceived as a weakness coming into the season has become the team's greatest strength. At least until guys that were untouchable started getting roughed up a little after the break forcing me to redo all their numbers. Not that I'm bitter. As usual, I'm not going to bother with the guys that have just walked through the revolving door from time to time. The team seems to have settled on a pretty consistent unit for a while now and those are the guys I'll be looking at.

Darren Oliver: B+

The year is 1993. The Soundtrack to The Bodyguard is the top-selling album of the year, Jurassic Park is the box office smash, the Toronto Blue Jays win their second World Series in two years, and Darren Oliver makes his Major League debut. Twenty years later the 42 year old is still going strong, posting a 3.94 ERA and a 3.64 FIP so far this year. His peripherals are still hovering right around league average with an 18.5 K% and a 7.4 BB%. Really the only sign that he might be slowing down a little is the fact that he's only pitched 32 innings this year. That's the least of any reliever that started the season with the team not named Sergio Santos. He spent a few weeks on the DL in May and June with a shoulder strain and has been used somewhat sparingly. He rarely goes on back to back days, and frequently gets 2 or 3 days off between appearances. The Blue Jays are spoiled with quality left handed relief options this year, so there is no reason not to be careful with the veteran's health. It's been obvious for some time that Oliver would be one of their most moveable trade deadline chips, so keeping him healthy is very shrewd asset management on the part of the team. It's very unlikely he'll be with the team after July 31 as there are a number of teams that will be searching for left handed relief help and his contract is up after this year.

Dustin McGowan - B

So Dustin McGowan is in the Major Leagues again, and the temptation to hand him an A+ for that accomplishment alone was almost overwhelming. In case you're unfamiliar with the Dustin McGowan story, he's been on the disabled list since forever with injuries to his everything so to even see him on the mound with his arm still attached is pretty awesome. To see him pitching well so far is even better. He's got a 1.88 ERA, but a 4.16 FIP and 3.32 xFIP in a tiny 14.1 inning sample size so it's a bit hard to know what to make of him just yet. He's touched 98 on the gun and still shows off the nasty stuff that made him so promising back in the before times, throwing mostly a 4 seam fastball/slider combination with the occasional change up thrown in for good measure. There's been talk of stretching him out to start, but quite frankly that prospect scares the hell out of me. He's been on Jamie Evans' weighted ball program and it's seemingly worked wonders for everyone else that's used it, but this is a guy that has pitched 33.2 Major League innings since 2008. He's looked good so far, but the sample size is tiny and the track record disconcerting, so I'll just slot him in as solidly average with a ton of upside.

Neil Wagner - B+

Neil Wagner is a new addition to the organization for 2013, and was serving as the Buffalo Bisons' closer when he was called up at the end of May. With a fastball that routinely gets up into the upper 90s he fits in with the organization's recent modus operandi of stockpiling hard throwing relievers. While with the team he acquitted himself very well, pitching to a 3.26 ERA and 3.66 FIP, striking out 20.3% of the batters he faced and walking 7.6%. As the guy with options, he found himself on the outside looking in when Melky Cabrera returned, but he pitched well enough that he'll probably be the first call if there's an injury or a trade in the bullpen, depending on what happens with Sergio Santos in the meantime.

Juan Perez - A

I feel like Juan Perez is sort of the Munenori Kawasaki of the bullpen. Signed in the off-season as an unheralded minor league free agent, Perez's funky delivery (understatement alert!) has endeared him to fans. Besides the fact that his popularity never reached Kawasaki-esque proportions, there is another major difference between the two players. Perez has been a legitimate major league contributor whereas Kawasaki was never more than a serviceable fill-in. Through 22 innings, he was sporting a gaudy 0.00 ERA (yes, you're reading that right), having allowed just 4 unearned runs over that span. That, however, was before getting lit up by the Dodgers for 5 runs the other night, and now it sits at 1.96. His FIP also took  a hit after the outing, but is still a respectable 3.43. He's struck out 24.4% of the batters he's faced and walked 8.9%. Much like Wagner, Perez has been found money for the Jays and, while not necessarily much of a trade chip himself, should allow AA to deal from the pen with confidence that there are guys there that can pick up the slack if needed. 

Aaron Loup - A

Aaron Loup has also been a nice surprise for the Blue Jays organization, but not in quite the same way as Wagner and Perez. While they were both brought in from outside the organization this off-season, Loup was quietly toiling away within the Jays' system before making the jump to the show straight from Double A last year. He made a great impression and hasn't looked back since, breaking camp with the big club and continuing the consistent work he began last year. He's posted a 1.98 ERA and a 3.48 FIP, but what really makes him so dependable is his complete and utter refusal to walk pretty much anyone at all. His 3.6 BB% is the lowest on the team by a significant margin, and helps make up for the fact that he doesn't strike out as many guys as most of the other Blue Jays relievers at 18.3%. His platoon splits are a bit weird because right handed batters have hit him with a lot more power than lefties, and he's walked a lot more lefties than righties, but overall they balance out pretty well and make him a great option against either handed batters. He's actually faced more righties this year, allowing a .287 wOBA to them against a .246 wOBA to lefties.

Steve Delabar - A+

It's hard to argue that Steve Delabar was anything but a complete steal for the Blue Jays, given that all they traded for him was AAAA outfielder (but likeable dude) Eric Thames who has since been DFA'ed by the Seattle Mariners. By now you're probably all well acquainted with the Steve Delabar story with its bionic elbows and weighted balls so I won't get into it except to say: Steve Delabar... awesome. He's one of the guys that's been roughed up a bit since the break, but his ERA still sits at 2.60 and his FIP at 2.56. With his mid to high 90s fastball and devastating splitter he's been an absolute strikeout machine, K'ing an absurd 32.1% of the batters he's faced. It's been floated that he would be a good closer candidate should the Blue Jays trade Janssen, or that he could be traded to a team in need of a closer. I'm not crazy about him in the closer role for a couple of reasons. First, as I stated in the Janssen piece I'd rather he be available to pitch more often than closers do. Second, as many guys as he strikes out, he walks a bunch too. His BB% this year is 12.2%, and while it hasn't cost him too dearly so far because of all his strike outs, I'm not a big fan of free base runners in the ninth inning. He would probably be just fine, but he wouldn't be my first choice. With his years of team control remaining he could be an interesting trade piece and I wouldn't be opposed to it in the right deal.

Brett Cecil - A+

The new and improved Brett Cecil that we've seen this year has been a joy to behold. Formerly hung with the "soft tossing lefty" tag after a velocity decline in his starting days, Cecil has found a home in the bullpen. Ever since he joined the pen, he has been able to throw harder in shorter outings, but his velocity really jumped back up in 2013 after working on Jamie Evans' weighted ball program that was so effective for Delabar. Along with Delabar, he's been giving credence to the ridiculous "All Star jinx" mythology, but his ERA is still 2.61 and his FIP 2.47 so I'd say he's just fine. Cecil has struck out 29.1% of batters faced against 10.2% that he's walked, and has been absolute death against lefties allowing them just a .191 wOBA. In the event of a Janssen trade I'd probably lean towards Cecil over Delabar as the closer should they feel the need to name one, but then again Delabar has more neutral platoon splits so that's a thing. I'm just gonna call it a wash between the two because you probably can't go wrong. Much like Delabar, I wouldn't be opposed to them listening to trade offers on Cecil, but if I were AA I'd hang on to at least one of them unless a pretty spectacular offer comes along. 

Casey Janssen - A

Janssen has been great in his role as the team's closer and it's for precisely that reason, and the fact that he's got one more year of team control before probably getting overpaid in free agency, that I think the Jays should be shopping him around. The same thing that'll get him paid, his saves and the fact that he can now be considered a "proven closer", is the same thing that should allow them to get a great return in a deal. The fact that he's not a two month rental should also add significant value. So far in 2013, he's posted a 2.51 ERA and 2.40 FIP, striking out 25.0% of the batters he's faced and walking just 7.0%. Oh yeah, and he's got 18 saves despite not having had an opportunity in weeks, if you go in for such things. His approach is pretty simple. He doesn't have the most amazing stuff, but he's great at attacking the zone with all his pitches without leaving them over the middle. He works the edges and keeps the ball down to great effect. After K-Rod netted the Brewers a top 5 prospect from the Orioles' system, I have a hard time believing that there isn't a team out there willing to overpay for Janssen. 

Sergio Santos - D

Sergio Santos gets the Morrow treatment. Electric stuff when he can keep it in the zone, but he only pitched four innings this year before going on the DL. He's worked his way back up to AAA, and the Jays are reportedly just waiting until he's strong enough to go multiple innings or on back to back days. Wouldn't be surprised if room is made for him in the pen via a trade of someone else.

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