The Blue Jays' Bullpen and Splits - Taking a Different Look at Things

Al Messerschmidt

Many spots in the bullpen remain open as the Blue Jays prepare for the 2013 season. Let's take a look at the relievers seeking to start the season in the major leagues.

With the Blue Jays' roster mostly set going in to 2013, few battles for roster spots remain. Henry Blanco seems to be set to begin the year as backup catcher at the major league level, with Josh Thole looking at playing in AAA Buffalo.

Currently, the only real positional battle seems to be between Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis, as they fight for the opening at second base. However, even that battle may not have an immediate victor, as John Gibbons recently announced that Bonifacio and Izturis may in fact just split time at second.

The real fight for roster spots right now appears to be in the bullpen. Alex Anthopoulos did say that he expects both Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos to be ready for opening day, but as they each recover from shoulder surgery, their status for April 2 remains uncertain.

Other bullpen hopefuls such as Brett Cecil, Jeremy Jeffress, and Esmil Rogers (and Santos) are out of options, which means that if they don't make the 25-man roster, the Blue Jays would risk losing those players by attempting to send them to the minors.

Let's look at the pitchers who are competing for the opening day job, as well as guys who could find their way in to the ‘pen at some point this year. Since we'll be looking at major league stats here, players with no or very little major league experience are excluded.

Reliever Splits

First - a look at FIP and wOBA (against) vs. left-handed hitter and vs. right-handed hitters (please click on either term for a brief explanation). For reference, league-average FIP over from 2010-2012 was approximately 4.01, and league-average wOBA was approximately .317.

Screen_shot_2013-03-17_at_10
Click to embiggen

Some initial observations:

  • Darren Oliver's reverse-platoon split from last year has disappeared. In 2012, Oliver was in fact much better against righties than lefties
  • Steve Delabar actually posts a consistent reverse-platoon split. However, since reducing the number of sliders he has thrown against righties, and upping the number of sinkers (hnnnnngggg), Delabar's splits have not been as extreme as they are here.
  • Aaron Loup is pretty good.

From here, we can get a single metric for determining FIP platoon split, where a positive number indicated that a pitcher is better against righties.

Let's look at this in another way. Let's ignore wOBA for now and focus on FIP and fWAR. Since we are dealing with relievers here (and since there are so many variations in innings pitched), it would make sense to even the field a bit. Instead of total fWAR, let's look at fWAR per 50 IP (all I did was divide fWAR by IP then multiply by 50). Here's what that looks like, measured against FIP difference. Remember that the farther away a player is from the x-axis, the more extreme his split. Normal splits get a positive value, reverse splits get a negative value.

Screen_shot_2013-03-17_at_8Click to embiggen

We can also remove the fWAR element, and include the original wOBA stat. We've done the same here as we did with FIP difference. In this graph, a pitcher who has an extreme advantage against righties will be at the top right, and a pitcher who has an extreme advantage against lefties will be at the bottom left.

Screen_shot_2013-03-17_at_8Click to embiggen


More Observations

  • The Blue Jays do not have a reliever who is significantly better vs right-handed hitters than vs left-handed hitters. Jeremy Jeffress and Michael Schwimer have favorable numbers in one of the two statistics being used here, but not both. This could present a problem when facing a player such as Even Longoria or Adam Jones late in a game.
  • Conversely, the Blue Jays have three relievers (one on the DL) who are significantly better against lefties. This will be advantageous against players such as Robinson Cano, Matt Joyce, and Nick Markakis, not to mention David Ortiz and Curtis Granderson when they are healthy.
  • Aaron Loup is pretty good.


Compiling Data

Let's organize players in terms of how they fare vs different handed batters, based on a combination of both graphs:

Better vs RHH: Jeffress, Schwimer

Better vs LHH: Cecil, Delabar, Perez, Storey, Loup, Happ

Even: Lincoln, Oliver, Janssen, Santos, Rogers, Moscoso

While this data is still useful, it doesn't really tell us much about how well the pitcher actually performs overall. Let's get the pitchers' actual FIP, ordered lowest-to-highest.

Overall FIP (2010-2012)

Screen_shot_2013-03-17_at_9

  • Aaron Loup is pretty good

Prediction

With overall FIP, FIP difference, wOBA difference, and fWAR/50IP, I think we have enough to be able to finally make a prediction for the 2013 bullpen.

Closer - Casey Janssen

Setup - Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos

Middle Relief - Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar

LOOGY - Brett Cecil

Long Relief/ROOGY - Jeremy Jeffress

The hope here is that Steve Delabar can continue to get better vs righties to be a reliable middle reliever, and that Brett Cecil can be effective against lefties as a LOOGY. One would hope that Luis Perez could return in July and continue to be the reliable reliever that he has been for the past year plus.

There are many other players I would have liked to include in the bullpen, namely Esmil Rogers and Mickey Storey, but I'm just not quite sold, and I'm not so sure the Blue Jays are either. Regardless, there are decisions to be made, and players without options are most likely going to have to be exposed to other teams.

Special thanks to Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) for helping with this post.

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