Not really Ernie Whitt. But I imagine him often sophistically engaging in informative MLB talk. Especially the Toronto Blue Jays. Follow on twitter @EWhittExchange. *I am not Ernie Whitt.*
The Jays haven’t had the best of luck with their starting pitchers this season. As a matter of fact, they’ve had awful luck. Over the offseason, a mega blockbuster-for-the-ages (or so we thought) acquired powerful righty Josh Johnson and always dependable Mark Buehrle, along with the trade-and-sign that brought in the ace, the reigning National League Cy Young winner, and master of the impossible pitch – the knuckler – in R.A. Dickey. There was optimism around the Blue Jays and rightfully so, but little did anyone know, including every fan, Alex Anthopolous, John Gibbons, or even the pitching staff themselves, that the Jays would be at the very bottom – that’s right, 30th overall – at this point in the season in starting pitchers’ ERA at an embarrassing mark of 5.56. Little did anyone know that this team full of fresh, new, accomplished faces would be needing to rely so heavily on their oft-questioned and rather inexperienced bullpen. But they have.
Now, it’s difficult to defend anything about a 24-33 record unless you’re the Houston Astros, and many may argue that this season has been a complete failure thus far. To an extent, these many people are right. There have been few bright spots on the offensive side of the ball, save for perhaps Adam Lind, but many others have been underachieving and just plain bad. Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia are both in the top 5 in the American League in strikeouts and the entire team is having trouble making productive outs, especially in tight situations. Like I’ve already said, the starting rotation has been everything but what they were expected to be. (I don’t think anyone expected Ramon Ortiz to be starting games for the Toronto Blue Jays at this point in the season.) The one bright spot, however, on an otherwise disappointing and underachieving Major League baseball team, is the bullpen.
Obviously not every member of the ‘pen is going to have the best season of their (in many of these cases, young) careers. But the few individual bright spots on the 2013 version of the Blue Jays have come straight from the most worked members of the bullpen, which is impressive considering the absurd amount of innings they’ve been thrust into (especially in the past week), the lack of offence coming from their position players on a consistent basis, and mainly because of the terrible luck/inexplicable struggles the starters have endured. We’ll just consider the 17-inning marathon in San Diego a freak event. Let’s start with the star shining the brightest thus far, the stutter-stepping man in the 9th inning, Casey Janssen. To be fair, I don’t think anyone was really questioning Janssen’s abilities coming into the season considering how comfortable he slipped into his current role when Sergio Santos went down, converting 22 saves in 25 opportunities. What I don’t think fans expected upon him earning the closer role for the 2013 season, was that he would be this good. Janssen is perfect in save opportunities, going 11 for 11. For starters, he’s given up a minuscule amount of base runners with a WHIP of just 0.61 and an amazing one single walk in 18.0 innings pitched. Two of the four measly runs he’s given up were to a two-run home run (the only he’s given up this season) by Yunel Escobar in a non-save situation against the Rays. With more K’s than innings pitched, he’s pounding the zone and fooling opposing batters with his deceiving pitches. Brett Cecil has embraced his role as a reliever, also with a WHIP well under 1.00, a 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio, and an ERA under 2.00. Cecil’s potential has always been there and he’s come into his own with the role he’s been given. Perhaps the most surprising member of this strong relief corps is Steve Delabar who has steadily improved on his stats from last season and continues to be put into important situations on the mound by manager John Gibbons. He and Aaron Loup have both enjoyed success in the Jays bullpen thus far in their very young careers, which gives promise for the years to come as well.
In all, the stats really speak for themselves. Blue Jays relievers, and these few in specific, have enjoyed the little success found within the organization so far this season, as the bullpen sports the 6th best ERA among AL relievers and 4th best WHIP, continuously proving they can keep opposing teams off the bases and limit the damage mostly to what had already been endured by whatever unfortunate starter had to take the mound that day. Recently highlighted by outings like the 3-0 victory-by-committee over the Braves spot-started by reliever Esmil Rogers, and the heartbreaking 17-inning loss from Friday night, the Jays bullpen has proven time and time again that not only can they can mop up any mess left behind by the poor starts that have been all too frequent so far in this young season, but hold leads and convert on save situations that do come along once every few games. These seemingly rubber-armed relievers have been forced into more innings than any other Major League team, which attracts even more praise for the job they’ve done, and once this team figures out their troubles they’ll have no problem converting their (hopefully many) late-inning leads into wins.
Go Jays Go!