It’s no secret that the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen is one area of weakness that will require a fair amount of attention from General Manager Alex Anthopoulos and his baseball operations staff this winter.
The club has lost key contributors from 2011 including Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski, and Jason Frasor. A number of free agent relievers are also likely to find new homes: Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Shawn Camp.
The biggest holes in the bullpen are found in the high-leverage roles, commonly known as the closer and set-up roles. Right now Casey Janssen is the only pitcher with enough on his resume to suggest he could handle an increased, high-leverage role.
Janssen posted a WPA (Win Probability Added) of 2.05 in 2011 while also recording 18 shutdowns with just four meltdowns [For explanation on both stats please visit: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/pitching/sd-md/]. He also did a nice job of keeping the ball in the park with a HR/FB rate of just 4.3%, tops on the staff.
Throwing first-pitch strikes is also vital for any reliever in tight situations and the right-hander led the bullpen (and was second on the staff behind rookie Henderson Alvarez) by throwing first pitch strikes 64.1% of the time. The next closest reliever still in the bullpen (Carlos Villanueva) is almost 10% lower at 55.3%.
As it stands, Janssen should be first in line for saves in 2012 but we all know Anthopoulos will work his magic this winter and find at least two or three addition arms with late-game experience or the raw potential to handle the eighth and/or ninth innings.
Villanueva had his moments in 2011 – at least before he was moved into the starting rotation and got hurt – but he’s a fly-ball pitcher with an average-at-best fastball who succeeds by mixing his pitches with above-average control. His value lies in the long reliever role.
Litsch has transitioned from starter to middle reliever and his results were up and down last season. A renewed dedication to conditioning could help him raise his ceiling a bit.
Luis Perez and Joel Carreno are the new kids on the block. They both have value but their inexperience will keep them from key roles in the ‘pen until they get some more MLB innings under their belts. Perez is a lefty with above-average ground-ball rates but he
lacks command of his stuff. Carreno is a right-hander with a decent fastball-slider combo but he to is inconsistent with his command.
* * *
If I were whispering in the GM’s ear, I would suggest the club look at the availability of relievers such as Greg Holland (