Bullpen Taking Shape

With the recent addition of free agent lefty reliever and noted quadragenarian Darren Oliver, followed by the return of all-time Jays appearance leader Jason "dammit, stop calling me Frazier Pat Tabler!" Frasor, we can begin to seriously project and evaluate what the bullpen will look like in 2012. For the purposes of this post I will look at each pitcher in order of highest to lowest leverage in terms of the innings they are likeliest to pitch.

Sergio Santos: Easily the best stuff of the group, with a fastball that touches 97-98 at times and a slider which was among the elite pitches in all of baseball this past season in terms of whiff-rate. AA wanted a power arm who misses bats to take on the murderous lineups of the AL East and he appears to have found him in Santos, a converted short stop who has less wear on his arm than most 28 year-old pitchers and is under team control for up to 6 years. There will be occasional rocky outings, as Santos is not unaccustomed to handing out walks (4.3BB/9). Even so, the Jays have to be extremely pleased that they did not need to venture into the free agent market to get their closer of the present and future.

Casey Janssen: Coming off his best season as a Jay, Janssen will likely see regular duty immediately preceding Santos in the 8th inning in a setup role. While by no means overpowering, Janssen has proven himself to be a reliable strike-thrower and gets more K's than one might think (8+K/9 each of the past two seasons). He also can be relied upon to effectively attack lefties and righties alike (it will be interesting to see if his "reverse-split" status was a one season fluke). One caveat, however, would be that Janssen's career-low HR/FB of 4.3% is probably not sustainable. But even if that number regresses to the mean (about 9%) Janssen figures to be an asset late in games once again.

Darren Oliver: World Series fiasco notwithstanding, Oliver is a pitcher the Jays should be comfortable with in high-leverage situations and will likely be paired with Janssen to form a potentially formidable setup combo. Like Janssen, Oliver is a converted starter, though he did so much later in his career (and I do mean much). His late-career renaissance has been astounding, posting a career-best ERA of 2.29 at the age of 41. His splits are not Octavio Dotel-horrible by any means, but I would still anticipate that Oliver will face lefties a vast majority of the time. This was a low-risk acquisition for the Jays with virtually no downside. If the Jays are not in contention once the dog days roll around, Oliver's one year deal with a club option will be very attractive to teams looking to get bullpen help for a playoff push.

Jason Frasor: By all accounts Mr. Frasor and his Toronto-born spouse are ecstatic about returning to the Blue Jays. Jays fans should be no less enthused, and not just because it's a nice story. He brings a formidable fastball-slider combo (though by no means as impressive as that of Santos) and a wealth of experience pitching in the 7th and 8th innings. I won't say any more here since Jays fans know pretty much what they are getting in Frasor: a reliable if unspectacular veteran bullpen arm.

Jesse Litsch: Like many who have transitioned to the pen before him, Jesse Litsch probably still believes he can be an effective starter. And who knows, maybe he can be. I happen to think that the Jays don't see him as a starter at this point and were justifiably impressed by his short stint in the pen late last year. After the trade for Colby Rasmus left an already shallow bullpen in shambles, Litsch was one of the few bright spots outside of the consistent Janssen and late-surging Frank Francisco. Though a surprisingly nimble athlete, it's not hard to imagine shorter outings being more suitable for someone built like Litsch, who figures to miss more bats than in the past as well.

Carlos Villanueva: Though certainly capable of starting as he demonstrated in the first half last year, I am operating under the assumption that Carlos V winds up an important cog in the pen rather than the 5th starter. He is a logical candidate to become the go to long-man out of the pen for when Brandon Morrow puts up a 4IP/12K/5BB/3ER/110P line or Brett Cecil simply gets shelled. I would not be surprised if Villanueva ends up in the top 3 in the pen in terms of innings pitched and therefore WAR (which is of course cumulative).

Luis Perez: This is the first pitcher on this list who is perhaps best described as a plausible candidate for the pen rather than probable (the same status applies to all other subsequent candidates as well). Perez tried a bit of everything for the Jays last year, dabbling with starting to mixed (though mostly bad) results and eventually winding up in a relief role. This is a pen in need of a reliable left-handed pitcher even in light of the Oliver acquisition, and Perez is the most logical choice at this point in time, though you could make an argument for recent addition Aaron Laffey in this spot as well.


Joel Carreno: Remains to be seen if the Jays think he could still develop into a starter by having him pitch in Las Vegas, where pitching prospects go to die. Personally, I would rather see him break with the major league club after spring training with a low-leverage role in the bullpen.

Chad Beck: Like Carreno, still a candidate to end up with the '51's, presumably as their closer. Will likely only get the call if injuries necessitate it.

Dustin McGowan: I have high hopes (as do the Jays) that he can be perhaps the best 5th starter stuff-wise in the majors. If that doesn't work out (and for reasons not health-related) then McGowan immediately challenges Santos for the title of most dominant pitcher in the bullpen. He won't close, since the Jays have made it clear they have committed to Sergio Santos in this role barring some unforeseen catastrophe, but he could certainly challenge Janssen for the lion's share of the setup responsibilities.

So that's where it stands right now. All in all, not an unimpressive group by any means. AA proved last year that he could cobble together a pen with seemingly random parts (some with the intent of gaining compensation picks, lets be honest) but I think this year he has done a much better job. This time, more of the assembled pieces have a chance to be a part of the core of players that will hopefully see the Jays compete for division and World Series titles for years to come, just as Ward and Henke did when they were an underrated part of the "glory years".

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