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The day after a crazy series involving every relief pitcher on the roster (plus Jesus Figueroa, probably), Da Box welcomes a pinch-hit from longtime Bauxite and Cheer Club troublemaker Alex Obal on the state of the Blue Jays' bullpen.

In the eminently forgettable pre-All-Star series in Kansas City, Brandon League made his 2006 Blue Jay debut, becoming the 19th hurler to throw a pitch for Toronto this year. The Jays have now sent more different pitchers to the hill than they did in 2005.

At this point, practically every in-house option capable of providing value to the bullpen right now has received an audition. The challenge before J.P. Ricciardi and his staff is finally settling on the seven arms most likely to help his team as they head into the stretch drive, which will begin tonight with a perilous three-game set with the three best starters the underrated Rangers have to offer. Then it’s a pivotal four-game weekend showdown with the rampaging Yankees.

The rotation, at least until Ty Taubenheim or Gustavo Chacin returns from injury, looks set: Halladay, Burnett, Lilly, Marcum and Janssen, with Dustin McGowan possibly waiting in the wings if it all comes together for him in a hurry. Including Taubenheim (but not McGowan), there are 11 pitchers with a reasonable claim to a spot in the Jays’ optimal bullpen going forward. Below is a summary of what they’ve done this year.

Pitchers are ranked according to Leverage Index, a measure of how much influence on win probability their appearances have had. The closer you are to the top of this list, the more trust John Gibbons has in you; however, some players’ samples are very small and may simply reflect having been given high-leverage situations because of a shortage of arms, so it’s definitely not quite a be-all, end-all ranking of Gibby’s favorites. Win Probability Added is provided too, mostly because doing so for everyone is an airtight excuse to print B.J. Ryan’s WPA. These stats were taken from Fangraphs.

The stats do not include Sunday’s game.

1. B.J. Ryan – 1.64 Leverage Index, 362.0 WPA

             AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR 
03-05 vs LH 274 .157 .238 .230 118 27 43 4
03-05 vs RH 491 .238 .322 .310 167 61 117 5
06 vs LH 35 .057 .105 .057 15 2 2 0
06 vs RH 113 .177 .230 .195 40 8 20 0

2006: 21.7% LD, 32.6% GB, 45.7% FB, .237 BABIP, 0.81 ERA

Ryan’s track record suggested that the Blue Jays were getting a fantastic closer; the performance they received in the first half was simply unreal. Ryan has dominated righties and lefties alike. Of course, his numbers became more human after Yuniesky Betancourt of all people stroked a line drive into the Blue Jay bullpen, but it is still wholly unreasonable to complain about BJ’s first half in any way.

The peripheral stats suggest that Ryan may be due for a run of bad luck: his BABIP is abnormally low for the number of line drives he gives up, indicating that he has probably been hit-lucky, and he has surrendered a good number of warning-track fly balls but only one homer. Even if Ryan’s second half isn’t quite as brilliant as his first, he’s still been worth every penny so far, and the peace of mind that comes with a nigh untouchable arm in the back end of the bullpen has been invaluable.

2. Justin Speier – 1.39 LI, 5.2 WPA

              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR 
03-05 vs LH 349 .238 .304 .421 79 29 83 14
03-05 vs RH 432 .229 .290 .373 95 34 99 15
06 vs LH 43 .163 .265 .349 15 5 7 2
06 vs RH 91 .264 .343 .451 19 11 24 2

2006: 19.4% LD, 29.6% GB, 51.0% FB, .272 BABIP, 3.15 ERA

Gibbons trusts Speier enough to make him the clear #2 option in the bullpen: he is the only Jay reliever not named Bo Junior to have a Leverage Index greater than 1. But many of Ryan’s 4-out saves involved cleaning up Speier’s baserunners, which contributes to the abnormally low WPA total for a successful pitcher who faces such pressure situations. Speier’s K rate is up to 8.66, but his walk rate has also increased this year.

Curiously, in the small 2006 sample, righthanded batters are hitting Speier with more success than lefties. This, combined with Speier’s small platoon split in the three previous years, suggests that he should be trusted to face lefthanded batters in the late innings and not necessarily reflexively yanked in favor of a lefthander.

3. Scott Schoeneweis – 0.98 LI, 36.0 WPA

              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR
03-05 vs LH 317 .218 .284 .265 71 25 69 1
03-05 vs RH 596 .297 .371 .458 97 68 177 21
06 vs LH 61 .230 .299 .262 11 5 14 0
06 vs RH 53 .302 .373 .547 3 6 12 3

2006: 16.7% LD, 55.2% GB, 28.1% FB, .277 BABIP, 5.70 ERA

No surprises here. Get in, get the lefty, get out. Scho’s strikeout rate is down this year, and his performance against lefty batters has been hurt by a run of groundball singles, but the BABIP looks right in line with his LD%. SS is still performing well enough against southpaws to receive regular high-leverage appearances.

4. Pete Walker – 0.96 LI, -64.1 WPA

              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR 
03-05 vs LH 257 .265 .345 .405 35 33 68 6
03-05 vs RH 275 .262 .346 .473 37 24 72 15
06 vs LH 44 .318 .423 .614 12 8 14 3
06 vs RH 81 .284 .326 .407 15 5 23 2

2006: 24.2% LD, 46.3% GB, 29.5% FB, .357 BABIP, 5.40 ERA

Walker is doing an uncharacteristically good job of missing bats. However, when the ball gets put in play, it gets hit hard: none of the peripheral stats scream out that he’s been particularly unlucky in any way.

I was surprised to find that Pistol Pete is fourth on the team in LI, but it’s true. He received a few eighth inning assignments from Gibbons when Speier needed a night off and there weren’t any options that seemed more appealing at the time. Unfortunately, he has been soundly clubbed in many of his highest-leverage appearances. His numbers suggest that he is better off as a long reliever, a role he has filled admirably for the last couple of years.

5. Jason Frasor – 0.83 LI, 45.2 WPA

             AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR 
04-05 vs LH 265 .234 .310 .332 68 29 62 5
04-05 vs RH 261 .264 .352 .410 48 35 69 7
06 vs LH 50 .220 .291 .320 12 5 11 1
06 vs RH 80 .300 .376 .525 22 9 24 5

2006: 24.7% LD, 38.1% GB, 37.1% FB, .329 BABIP, 5.70 ERA

Baseball Prospectus labeled Frasor as the best performer in the 2005 incarnation of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, a nose ahead of Justin Speier. But a few too many untimely hanging curves in April gave Gibbons the exact opposite impression, and Frasor has been a mainstay on the Syracuse shuttle since.

I think we all know where most of Frasor’s positive WPA comes from – The Mike Napoli Game, wherein he and Scott Downs pulled a rabbit out of a hat in Los Angeles of Anaheim.

Curiously, his platoon splits are inside-out and have been his whole career. This could indicate that he has simply faced more challenging righty batters, or that Gibbons should be more confident using Frasor to face lefthanded batters.

With excellent strikeout numbers in Syracuse and a sparkling ERA, Frasor should – must? – be liberated soon.

6. Brandon League – 0.8 LI, -21.2 WPA

2006: 0% LD, 63.6% GB, 36.4% FB, .211 BABIP, 6.00 ERA

Welcome to Small Sample Theatre, where two excellent innings on Friday can be undone by two homers on Saturday.

League’s groundball percentage in Syracuse was a remarkable 77%. His L/R splits were quite normal – .692/.594 OPS, respectively, in 52.2 innings.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from League’s first two showings in The Show in 2006, it’s that his velocity drops if he’s not adequately rested, and that he should therefore be handled with care. But his 99-mph moving fastball should prove to be a very useful toy for this year and, more importantly, 2007.

7. Scott Downs – 0.73 LI, 7.2 WPA

              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR
03-05 vs LH 150 .247 .296 .320 38 11 37 3
03-05 vs RH 486 .288 .361 .481 79 49 140 20
06 vs LH 59 .237 .318 .424 14 7 14 2
06 vs RH 103 .243 .347 .398 19 16 25 3
2006: 13.2% LD, 60.5% GB, 26.4% FB, .319 BABIP, 5.02 ERA

Scott Downs, groundball machine? I have no idea how he does it, but he does it. Since breaking in with the Expos in 2003, his GB% has gone from 30 to 52 to 54 to this career high. The excellent line drive rate is a nice bonus. These are lovely swingman numbers.

8. Vinnie Chulk – 0.72 LI, -8.1 WPA
              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR
03-05 vs LH 250 .292 .369 .488 29 33 73 11
03-05 vs RH 257 .233 .296 .315 56 23 60 4
06 vs LH 34 .235 .257 .353 4 1 8 1
06 vs RH 55 .327 .377 .527 13 3 18 3
2006: 25.0% LD, 40.3% GB, 34.7% FB, .333 BABIP, 5.03 ERA

Although Chulk has handled righties with less ease at the major-league level than usual, his L/R OPS splits in Syracuse are .764/.503, which suggest that the numbers in Toronto are just a sample-size fluke.

His Ryanesque 12 K/9 rate in Syracuse indicates that he is probably with the big club for good.

9. Francisco Rosario – 0.69 LI, -28.8 WPA
              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR    
06 vs LH 22 .318 .464 .455 5 6 7 1
06 vs RH 52 .173 .295 .308 13 8 9 2
2006: 25.9% LD, 29.6% GB, 44.4% FB, .258 BABIP, 5.03 ERA

It’s a small sample, and I’d expect K-Ros’ performance to get better with experience and refined command, though it’s not a particularly good small sample.

The numbers against righties suggest that Rosario would be a useful weapon in September.

10. Ty Taubenheim – 0.67 LI, -3.6 WPA
              AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR    
06 vs LH 61 .262 .382 .475 11 13 16 2
06 vs RH 81 .296 .367 .481 15 5 24 3
2006: 17.2% LD, 44.8% GB, 37.9% FB, .325 BABIP, 4.89 ERA

Lefties were .120/.200/.240 against Taubenheim in AAA; righties were .263/.314/.421. I have no idea what to make of that.

Taubenheim had one notably excellent relief appearance: with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning of AJ Burnett’s return against the Braves, Ty stranded runners at first and third, inducing two harmless grounders.

11. Brian Tallet – 0.66 LI, 50.6 WPA
             AB   BA  OBP  SLG   K  BB   H  HR 
03-05 vs LH 19 .211 .318 .526 3 2 4 1
03-05 vs RH 77 .325 .393 .571 8 9 25 3
06 vs LH 31 .258 .361 .419 5 4 8 1
06 vs RH 60 .217 .365 .433 17 13 13 3
2006: 18.8% LD, 43.5% GB, 37.7% FB, .256 BABIP, 5.68 ERA

Tallet gets two kinds of jobs: mop-up duty, or third-string LOOGY duty. Despite his ominously pedestrian K/BB numbers, he has done very well at both. He looks hit-lucky, but he’s a perfectly fine 7th man in the bullpen.

Down the Stretch

Based on those numbers and my gut instinct, here is one stab at building the best possible bullpen. For several scenarios, I ranked the pitchers in descending order of confidence, with the arm I would most want to see on the mound first. Past the first four or five in each category, the precise rankings don’t matter much; I stopped most of the lists at about seven.

To retire a RHB: Ryan, Speier, League, Chulk, Frasor, Rosario, Taubenheim, Downs, Walker.
RHB, runner on third, one out: Ryan, Speier, Frasor, League, Chulk, Rosario, Walker.
To retire a LHB: Ryan, Schoeneweis, Speier, Downs, Frasor, Tallet, League, Taubenheim.
LHB, runner on third, one out: Ryan, Schoeneweis, Speier, Frasor, Downs, League, Tallet.
To pitch against a string of switch-hitters with zero platoon splits: Ryan, Speier, Frasor, League, Downs, Chulk, Schoeneweis.
To lead a Charlie Wholestaff start: Downs, Taubenheim, Walker, Chulk, Rosario, Tallet.

I would head into the stretch with this bullpen:

Ryan – the man
Speier – top set-up guy
League – flamethrowing ground ball machine
Frasor – another strikeout pitcher
Schoeneweis – lefty specialist
Chulk – righty specialist
Downs – long man, 4-0 and counting

Everybody has a fairly well-defined role, but there isn’t an overwhelming need to play La Russian matchups: only Schoeneweis and Chulk really need to be protected from unfavorable platoon edges. Still, if Gibbons feels that frequent pitching changes maximize his chances of winning, this pen is ideal in that it has lots of powerful toys, so Gibbons doesn’t need to immediately reach for Speier and Schoeneweis whenever it’s close but it’s not the 8th yet. Downs is the only true long reliever and swingman, but League has one start this year and made 10 starts a year ago in AAA, so there are a couple of inning eaters. I believe this is the best combination of depth, experience, talent and versatility that the Blue Jays can field with the options they currently have.

And on the out-of-town scoreboard…

Texas (Koronka) at Toronto (Lilly), 7:05
Kansas City (Hudson) at Boston (Wakefield), 7:05
Seattle (Washburn) at New York (Wang), 7:05

The White Sox and Tigers have the day off before a three-game series starts tomorrow night at Comerica.

Thanks to Alex, and I have nothing to add aside from the unintentional hilarity of the line "perfectly fine 7th man in the bullpen." Because we all remember Matt Whiteside.
Jays vs. Mariners: Bullpen Blast | 15 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Mike Green - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 09:43 AM EDT (#150808) #
Well done, Alex.  I agree with your recommendations completely.  John Gibbons showed me last year that he has the ability to figure these things out.  He seems to have not been at his best lately (do Managers get hold and cold like players?), but I have confidence that he will sort it out.

Ryan's a helluva pitcher, and as you say, worth every penny.  Tired after going 2 innings on Saturday, he was hit hard on Sunday and finally gave up a longball but used his guile to minimize the damage.  What a pleasure to have on a club. 

Yesterday, Frasor gave up 4 runs in less than an inning for Syracuse.  It was the 9th inning, and Syracuse led 23-7 going in, so it doesn't mean much.  Exhibit B on why reliever's ERA may not be the best indicator of performance.

Anders - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 09:45 AM EDT (#150809) #

Bravo Sir.

What are your thoughts on how the Jays bullpen management so far?

Does it compare to, say, what the Washington Nationals did in one particular stretch last year - when they made it through a stretch of time with *gasp* less than 12 pitchers in the pen?

Mike Green - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 02:09 PM EDT (#150816) #
It seems strange to imagine an overworked bullpen only 3 days after the All-Star break, but that's what 2 successive extra-inning games will do.  Here's a chart to show the ongoing load issues:

Player Date Batters Faced Pitches
Ryan 16/7 5 16
  15/7 7 32
  14/7 - -
Speier 16/7 3 9
  15/7 3 9
  14/7 - -
Schoeneweis 16/7 1 7
  15/7 1 3
  14/7 3 10
Downs 16/7 9 32
  15/7 4 12
  14/7 - -
Tallet 16/7 - -
  15/7 4 20
  14/7 5 21
League 16/7 - -
  15/7 2 13
  14/7 7 27
Chulk 16/7 - -
  15/7 7 23
  14/7 - -

So, Ryan and Downs should be unavailable for tonight's game.  Ideally, Schoeneweis and Speier would not pitch, but you could get an inning out of Speier and a batter out of Schoeneweis in a pinch.  Tallet would be OK for an inning in a low leverage situation. Chulk should be good for 4-6 batters, and League maybe for 3, with Chulk more appropriate for a higher leverage situation than League after Saturday's outing. 

Lilly for 7.1 and Chulk for 1.2 would be pretty much the ideal.

Nigel - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 02:18 PM EDT (#150817) #

Thanks Mike for breaking out the pitch counts for me.  Listening in Vancouver, I was speechless that League was being brought into the game on Saturday after two innings on Friday.   I was wondering if he had thrown some ridiculously low number of pitches on Friday to get through 2 innings.   I think when asking relievers to come back after 25-30+ pitches the day before, you're asking for trouble.  Both Ryan and League had problems this weekend in similar circumstances.  In my view the bullpen problems can all be traced back to that decision on Saturday - I think  the manager lost the thread there for a while.  I just hope that League continues to get used after that decision.

Alex Obal - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 02:42 PM EDT (#150818) #
Thanks guys.

Here's the lineup we're likely to see tonight from the Rangers. They used it against Bedard on Saturday.

CF Matthews
2B Kinsler
SS Young
1B Teixeira
RF De Rosa
3B Blalock
DH Mench
C Laird/Barajas
LF Hairston

That's SRRSRLRRR. Neither switch-hitter has particularly pronounced splits. I have no idea why they insist on batting Mench seventh against lefties. They did it against Lilly in Arlington as well. Mench is .313/.403/.567 against them, and that's what he's paid to do. Perhaps the idea is to pinch-hit the lefty Wilkerson (.241/.339/.481 vs RHP) and get the guaranteed platoon edge if the opposition brings in a righty after the starter or a LOOGY faces Blalock, but to do that at the expense of giving Mench as many high-leverage at-bats as possible seems wasteful.

Anyway, if that's the lineup the bench consists of Wilkerson, Freddy Guzman (switch-hitting outfielder), and one of Laird and Barajas. That's a nice, right-leaning lineup for Chulk to pitch a couple of innings against. He'll probably have to deal with Wilkerson even if he enters the game against one of the bottom 3 hitters, but Vinnie looks like a solid bet to do well tonight.
Mike Green - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 02:56 PM EDT (#150819) #
In the longer view, Marcum cannot be expected to go more than 4 innings on Wednesday after appearances on Friday and Saturday.  Ideally, Downs would be kept out of tonight's and tomorrow night's game, so that he might do 2-3 innings following Marcum on Wednesday. 

Ron - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 03:00 PM EDT (#150820) #
Considering League has always thrown hard, his low K/IP (for a pitcher that throws high 90's) puzzles me.

It seems like this year he has added more movement to his fastball which has helped his ERA yet he's still nowhere near striking out a batter an inning.

Flex - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 04:41 PM EDT (#150824) #
I'm thinking League's problem is that the batters see the ball too well coming out of his hand. It works the other way for Ryan. But there must be something predictable about League's motion and delivery that allows hitters to zero in on him.
Mike Green - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 10:08 PM EDT (#150828) #
8 innings from Lilly and 1 from Chulk is better than ideal.

On the post-game show, Wilner indicated that Marcum and Janssen have been flipped in the rotation with Marcum starting tomorrow rather than Wednesday.  That is very odd with Marcum having thrown on Friday and Saturday, and the bullpen, and in particular Downs, still not really ready for  a Charlie Wholestaff game. 

Alex Obal - Monday, July 17 2006 @ 11:02 PM EDT (#150829) #
Janssen started on Friday, so if you start him tomorrow you're putting him on three days' rest.

Then again, CJ only threw 75 pitches in that start over four innings. It looked to me like Gibbons yanked him simply because he didn't have the good stuff or any control over the strike zone. Despite getting ahead of a clear majority of hitters with strike one, he recorded 0 strikeouts and 2 walks. He threw 43 strikes to 32 balls, and only induced two swinging strikes. Because Casey didn't go deep into that game, putting him on three days' seems like a reasonable option if you think Marcum isn't adequately rested. It would also let Janssen, the more experienced of the rookies, handle the Sunday slugfest against the Yankees.

I think Gibbons was aware that Marcum would start tomorrow when he used him out of the bullpen in the first two Seattle games. Shaun probably won't go past 80 pitches unless he's absolutely locked in, and now that everyone except Chulk has a day of rest, he won't feel pressured to. Tonight's rout was a godsend.

Mike Green - Tuesday, July 18 2006 @ 09:54 AM EDT (#150835) #
You're right, Alex. Green can't count to 5 and also can't remember that Janssen pitched on Friday despite having looked at the boxscore to complete the reliever's chart.  Pathetic.

Last night was a godsend.  Is it just me, or is Vernon Wells showing that he is ready to assume the mantle of leadership? I was thinking mostly of the stolen base on Sunday in the 10th inning with 2 outs and Overbay up against Sherill, after 3 pick-off attempts, but last night's grand slam didn't hurt either.

Jays vs. Mariners: Bullpen Blast | 15 comments | Create New Account
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