The one thing even the most ardent J.P. bashers have in common with those of us that spend our days cradling his glorious nutsack is bullpen appreciation. One high-priced closer, one well-paid LOOGY-come-set up guy, one freak, and a cast of shitballers and never-wases combine to form a tight, effective, league-leading unit. With all the attention given to the movement of mop-up righties and the lack of rapid movement in the closer's fastball this week, is it time to worry about the stable back-end?
In a word, yes. I don't want to say the entire Jays bullpen is due to regress, but all signs point to a correction looming on the horizon. Two big factors have worked in the bullpen's favor in recent years: pitching very few innings and the excellent defense behind them. The defense isn't going anywhere, thankfully. A full season of Aaron Hill can only improve the Jays batted ball-to-out conversions, even if Scutaro returns to his career averages at short. One thing the bullpen will be asked to do this year is work more. Work long and hard. I'm not overly concerned with the rotation per se, but two of the newcomers share a predilection towards walks and high pitch counts. With extended exposure, some of inconsistencies are bound to come out in the wash.
Let's look a little closer, using the 2008 Dodgers bullpen for comparison's sake. Of course, the Dodgers made the playoffs but won fewer games than the Blue Jays. Their bullpen ERA was third in baseball behind our Blue Jays and the World fucking Champion Phillies.
What jumps out at you? The 2008 bullpen either made great use of the defense or got lucky as hell. The BABIP is under the baseline of .300, the strand rate is higher than average (75%) and the K/BB rate is lower than the year before. The biggest difference is ERA-FIP, showing how many runs the team allowed versus how many they "should" have allowed. A difference of more than half a run per game seems pretty severe. As a unit the Dodgers register more strikeouts yet fewer walks, stranded about the league average while dealing with a slightly above-average BABIP. In other words, with a little luck, they could be much better this year. The Jays, not so much.
If that didn't make you want to kill yourself quite enough, it gets worse. What about the individual pitchers? How did they each shake down in the past, and how do they look for 2009?
|JP Demands More Lefties!||2007 E-F||2008 ERA||2008 FIP||2008 E-F||2008 BABIP||2008 Strand Rate||2009 Mean FIP (projected)|
Wow, that's a lot of nerdy shit. First things first, the * indicates a 2006 number due to insufficient innings in 2007. Shawn Camp's ^ comes from his 2007 season in Tampa Bay, where he was disgracefully bad. Before I go any further, I'll admit strand rates for relievers can be deceptive as it can be attributed to a repeatable skill.
That said, does Scott Downs strike you as a ticking timebomb? That strand rate is very high and his E-F went from fortunate to elephant-in-the-roomish. Did I mention he's 33 years old, and got knocked around last year as he tired and his curveball flattened? How about Ryan, who wasn't nearly as bad as he seemed in 2008, but still benefited from the defense behind him. The velocity concern is troubling though there is light at the end of that tunnel, I hope. P.S. He's 34.
Jesse Carlson and Brandon League are virtually the same guy: one pitch wonders for medium leverage situations. Though they both present as regression candidates, I'll give League the benefit of the doubt. His crazy velocity, his overwhelming ground ball numbers (a few more than normal are BOUND to sneak through), and his prototype pitcher's body. I really hope the league (and physics. .235 BABIP? See you in hell, seeing-eye grounder) doesn't catch up to Carlson's slider as he's a good story and a fun guy to watch.
Somehow Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp could make Cito look like a genius. Shawn Camp due to the clear signs he was better than it seemed last year. Jason Frasor's presence keeps Jeremy Accardo from spreading disease all across Southern Ontario, which makes Cito a hero for sending him off to douchebag central. I don't want to live in a world where Shawn Camp is being counted on in high leverage situations, numbers be damned.
Brian Tallet! I almost forgot Brian Tallet. Because he's utterly inconsequential! My time clearly has little or no value, just like the value of a 4th left handed pitcher in a major league bullpen. Congrats Brian Tallet, you are cold pasta salad.
So I guess we're fucked? Hardly. This is still a good group of complimentary relievers, being
1000 blessings and thanks to Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and the Brooks Baseball Pitch F/x Caravan of Chuckles.