Among a host of other September call-ups the Jays announced earlier this week, there was Matt Dermody. A man even those steeped in the depths of the Toronto Blue Jays system knew much of anything about.
But that ignorance shouldn't do anything to lessen the value of Dermody as a call-up. He's a legitimately a quality left-handed reliever and has had an excellent 2016 campaign while jumping three levels in the minor leagues. Starting in Dunedin and finishing in Buffalo, Dermody finished the year with a 1.82 ERA.
Still, the call-up of Dermody, a left-handed reliever largely on no one's mind, was symbolic of something. In theory anyways, this something could be the undeniable need for a left-handed reliever in the Jays bullpen that can pitch in high leverage situations.
Prior to this season, the Jays had that guy in Brett Cecil. In fact, Cecil was one of the best relievers in the Jays bullpen last year, pitching to a 2.48 ERA with an average leverage of 1.20. While the game wasn't always on the line when Cecil came into games, he was able to add value to the team through his outings.
This year, the story has taken a complete 180. He's watched his batting average against both right-handed batters and left-handed batters increase by more than 100 points, while his ERA ballooned to 4.82. His leverage usage is slightly higher this year at 1.30 but it's nothing astronomical that would suggest this type of regression.
This has prompted management to look into who exactly could fill this role within the Jays' bullpen. Earlier this year, they signed Franklin Morales on the hope/prayer that he could be the answer, only to see that the disabled list would be where he would be remembered for his time as a Blue Jay.
There's even Aaron Loup who at one time was a serviceable option out of the pen but spent most of 2016 in Triple-A, toeing that line between the big leagues and the minors. In his brief sample size with Toronto this year, things haven't been great for Mr. Loup but, again, that's just such a small sample size.
But outside of those two, there aren't a lot of options for the Jays to employ a left-handed reliever, which is why the Jays likely made the call to bring up Dermody to see if he can, at all, handle that role. Maybe he'll catch fire, maybe not.
If he doesn't, they also experimented with a back-up plan last weekend in skipping Francisco Liriano's start and making him available out of the bullpen against the Rays.This idea may have some traction to it. Although Liriano hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since 2012, his numbers indicate that he might be just right for pitching against left-handed dominant lineups for short periods of time.
Part of what supports this theory is that Liriano has some recognizably good numbers against left-handed hitters in comparison to righties. Against lefties, over his career, he holds them to a .218/.296/.299 slash line against a righty slash of .242/.330/.390. While this year's numbers have edged up slightly in comparison to his career norms, Liriano is still much more effective against left-handers than he is against righties.
Whether or not the statistics play out like this if Liriano does indeed go to the pen is another story. It's one thing for the data to look good on a computer screen, it's completely another for it to play out that way on a real baseball field. In his first relief appearance on the weekend, the results certainly weren't comforting as he was unable to record an out, but that doesn't mean the idea is a total train-wreck either.
This idea actually does make some sense. When you get to the postseason, was Liriano going to be in the rotation anyway? Going with four starters on a playoff roster, you'd likely go with Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A Happ and Marcus Stroman if you were to draw it up. That leaves R.A Dickey on the outside looking in and with a good but not remarkable track-record so far in Toronto, Liriano likely wouldn't make the cut either.
Thus, using him in the bullpen allows the Blue Jays to maximize value out of player they probably wouldn't otherwise have a use for come October. But that doesn't mean he's the only option the Jays are going to try out as we make our way through the last month of the season. Matt Dermody will likely get a chance (albeit probably in a low-leverage situation to start) with Gibbons continuing to roll out Cecil and Loup in hopes of them reclaiming their past glory.
Without having being able to have picked up a left-handed reliever at the deadline, this is the best option the Blue Jays front office has at their disposal. Just keep throwing "stuff" at the wall. By October, let's hope something sticks.