Well, when we last met, we looked at the starting pitching and previously, Rince took a look at the hitting. This time, we'll take a look at the Jays who were responsible for protecting leads, holding the line in hopes of a Jays comeback that, let's face it, usually didn't come, and mopping up.
B.J. Ryan: B.J. came back incredibly fast from T.J. surgery, over 6 months early in fact, and worked himself quickly back into the closer's role. B.J. wasn't his old self, but he was an effective closer for the Jays this season, despite what some fans would have you believe. Ryan struck out exactly one batter per inning but did walk a few more than he had in the past. Ryan managed a healthy 146 ERA+ (2.95 ERA) and his groundball and other batted ball stats were back to his 2006 levels (with the noted exception that he wasn't getting as many popups). The one thing that was interesting was that B.J. was throwing almost no changeups. Since his delivery is deceptive, I think rediscovering that pitch could be a big help to B.J. I look for him to be even better in 2009. A-
Jeremy Accardo: Accardo, who broke through last season to fill in as closer, pitched only 12 innings this season before a weird forearm injury sidelined him. Jeremy couldn't get healthy and missed the rest of the season. Incomplete
Scott Downs: Downs was basically unbelievable, having one of the best seasons of any reliever in the league and one of the Jays' all-time best setup man seasons. Downs, who was used more as a LOOGY last season (and having a fantastic season in 2007 as well), stepped up and became a shutout 8th inning man. The Jays actually talked about making Downs a starter. All told, Downs had a sparkling 1.78 ERA (246 ERA+!) over 66 games and 70 2/3 innings. He wasn't striking out quite as many as in 2007, but he continued to get lots of ground balls and was also walking fewer men. Now, no one whose name isn't Mariano Rivera can put up a season like that every year, but Downs' season wasn't a fluke either. He's had two shutdown years for the Jays in a row, in two different roles. He did wear down at the end of the season. A+
Brandon League: The young Hawaiian power arm rediscovered the form that made him so effective in 2006 and became one of the most important parts of the Jays bullpen. League started off the season walking way too many, but he really settled down after the break, walking only 3 in August and September. Similarlly, his K numbers came on strong, striking out 17 in 20 2/3 innings through the last two months of the season. All told, League had a very good season and looks poised to be even better next season. A-
Jesse Carlson: The man we call "Cy" came out of nowhere this season and boy was it fun to watch. The lanky lefty bewildered opposing hitters, right and left-handed, with his breaking ball and his ability to get ahead in the count. Who can forget Cy's amazing performance when he came in with the bases loaded and no out and proceeded to strike out the side? Unfortunately, the Jays lost that game (it was the A.J. relief game, I think), but a legend was born. Carlson did not let up the rest of the season either, pitching 60 innings over 69 games, and putting up exceptional numbers: a 198 ERA+, 55 Ks, 21 walks, and a 1.033 Whip. Carlson was probably a bit lucky, but he was also extremely good. A
Brian Tallet: The tall lefty had another quietly effective season in 2008, finishing with a 150 ERA+ in a mix of high and low-leverage roles. Tallet continues to improve his peripherals, particularly his walk rates, and was a valuable member of the pen, striking out 47 and walking 22 over 56 innings. I'm not sure that Tallet will be back next season, but he was a good find for J.P., putting up 3 quality seasons. B+
Jason Frasor: Frasor just keeps disappearing more and more. With a dearth of righties in the pen this season, one would think it would've been his time to step up, but neither Gibbons nor Cito seemed inclined to trust Frasor, who isn't likely to be back. Jason had a league average (103 ERA+) season, but for a reliever that's certainly nothing special, and neither were his peripherals stats. C
Brian Wolfe: Wolfe battled arm problems but ultimately solidified some of the gains that made him so effective in 2007. Wolfe pitched only 22 innings but ended up with very fine numbers, including a 1.09 Whip. Wolfe is not a strikeout pitcher, but he limits his walks enough to be effective. B
John Parrish: Parrish wasn't very good as a starter but he was great out of the pen, putting up a 1.86 ERA and holding batters to a .656 OPS. He wasn't used in many high-leverage situations, but he held down the fort so that the Jays' principal arms could be saved for the close games. B
Shawn Camp: Camp, coming off an awful 2007, added a changeup and was okay, putting up decent numbers out of the pen. Unfortunately, no one seemed to be able to figure out that Camp is terrible against lefties, and so he wasn't used properly, despite pretty much everyone on Bluebird Banter figuring it out rather quickly, and despite the fact that there was really no need for him to pitch to lefties, with the Jays sporting 4 and even 5 lefties in the pen this season. Camp's splits: lefties OPSed a Bondian .976 against him, while righties put up a J-mac-ish .515 OPS. C+ (though through no fault of his own)
Cito Gaston: I find it really hard to evaluate managers, but Cito seemed to get the best out of his players, and that's what counts. Would the hitting have improved under Gibbons (and was some of it due to change in personnel) ? Probably, but it was great to see Cito actually sitting with his young players and talking to them - Alex Rios looked lost at the plate until the last few months, and Gibby just ignoring him sure didn't seem to help. Cito's management of pitchers isn't really to my taste, he can really leave a starter in too long, but it didn't hurt the Jays too much this season as their rotation was so good. Next season could be a different story, though. Cito also inexplicably seemed to hate Eckstein, which is pretty much the opposite of every other MLB manager - I don't really know what to think about that, but I doubt it made too much of a difference. B+
J.P. Ricciardi: The Wilkerson/Mench thing sure didn't work out. Ditching Reed for Stewart didn't either. Sending Lind down after 19 at-bats was inexplicable. Marcum and Litsch were both weirdly sent to AAA, showing what seemed to me to be a lack of patience. But J.P. put together a good team this season, a team good enough to compete for the playoffs in most situations. The Jays never really did, but I'm not sure that was J.P.'s fault. The real work for J.P. starts now, as there is so much up in the air. B.