The Suddenly Scary Toronto Blue Jays Bullpen

by Brendan Panikkar | Posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2016
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The loss of Joaquin Benoit is looming large for the Blue Jays.

The loss of Joaquin Benoit is looming large for the Blue Jays.

What a difference a few days make. The Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was already somewhat thin even after the likes of Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli were added to the team and others settled into their “roles” in the bullpen. The formula to lock down wins was simple. Benoit in the 7th, Grilli in the 8th, and Roberto Osuna in the 9th inning. Throw in some action from Joe Biagini and Brett Cecil, and it’s a decent 5 guys in the bullpen.

Well, things are looking SCARY in the Blue Jays left field bullpen. On Sunday, the Blue Jays bullpen blew the save but the offense bailed them out. On Monday, Grilli served up moonshots to Mark Teixeira and Aaron Hicks for a 7-5 New York Yankees win. Tuesday Osuna looked somewhat shaky in securing the victory. Last night, Grilli allowed a bomb to Mark Trumbo and Osuna allowed a two run home run to Hyun-Soo Kim which proved to be the winning runs in a 3-2 Baltimore Orioles victory. Throw in the fact that Joaquin Benoit injured himself on Monday running out of the bullpen for a fracas and is now likely done for the year, things are very unsettled in the left field bullpen.

Currently in the Blue Jays bullpen we have (with September numbers beside them):

You can also throw in a relief appearance by R.A. Dickey, 2 appearances by Francisco Liriano, and the yet-to-pitch-called-up-yesterday Chris Smith and now no Joaquin Benoit. Keep in mind, bullpen numbers in an extremely small sample size should not be made much out of. You can throw out the appearances of Bo Schultz, Matt Dermody, Scott Feldman, and Aaron Loup. However, out of these 4 arms, I move forward with looking at Feldman and Loup. Chris Smith, Dermody, and Schultz likely won’t pitch the rest of the year unless it is a blow out game.

Remove Joaquin Benoit and you have:

It is not secret that Grilli and Osuna are taxed and tired. Osuna hasn’t been himself over the past week or so and Grilli has been getting hit HARD. This leaves multiple questions for John Gibbons. The main question is:

How do I close out a victory given the current state of my bullpen and the tired/taxed arms?

The first answer would be to let the starters go deeper than Gibbons has let them go all season. With just a 1.0 game cushion on Baltimore and 2.0 lead on the Detroit Tigers, it is looking very much like all 4 remaining games will mean something. A win tonight goes a long way to getting the wild-card spot at home. A loss tonight to Baltimore and you’re looking at a stressful series against the Boston Red Sox where you just might need to use Aaron Sanchez on Sunday to get into the post-season.

However, let’s get back to the bullpen. If the Blue Jays are in a tight ball game tonight (September 29th) against Baltimore, you hope for 7.0 from Marcus Stroman and then likely go Joe Biagini in the 8th inning and Brett Cecil to close it out in the 9th. Cecil has actually had a very STRONG second half which comes to a surprise to many. Moving forward without Benoit, John Gibbons is going to have to trust and rely upon Brett Cecil in high leverage spots. Biagini will also find himself in more big innings. But what happens going forward? Who needs to be used more?

Right now, Jason Grilli has been terrible. He definitely needs tonight off and maybe even Friday in Boston. But the scary thing about Jason Grilli is his splits. Grilli has been hit HARD against left-handers. Look past batting average and you see opponents are slugging .511 with a .375 OBP against Grilli. I just can’t trust him enough to get lefties out currently and neither should John Gibbons. In comes Brett Cecil, who SHOULD be fully trusted by John Gibbons these last 4 games.

What about Roberto Osuna? Despite Osuna’s struggles in September but particularly his past few outings, you need to turn to him. He has been among the leagues best closers since he got the role midway through 2015 and he is only 21 years old. He is probably gassed, but he has the stuff to get it done and needs to be turned too every time when there is a save on the line.

The loss of Joaquin Benoit is massive. Benoit has a 0.38 ERA since joining the Blue Jays in late July. But losing Benoit bumps Biagini up to Benoit’s spot and the struggles of Jason Grilli gives Cecil the 8th inning (in my mind). Benoit would have the 8th over Grilli if he was healthy. But the Blue Jays need another reliable arm or two to come up big for Gibbons and the team going forward. Who?

Ryan Tepera? Maybe. But lefties have a wOBA of .309 against him and righties have a .308 wOBA. He doesn’t have any particularly effective splits to warrant a big spot. What about the veteran Scott Feldman? Left handers have destroyed Scott Feldman this season to the tune of a .504 SLG% and .377 wOBA. Right handers he’s handled a bit better but not by much. Aaron Loup? I don’t think so. Despite his 0.00 ERA, he has constantly been in trouble. Danny Barnes? I’d be very comfortable with more Danny Barnes but only against lefties whom he’s tamed almost all season. Lefties only hit .200 with a .300 SLG% against Barnes. He shouldn’t face right handers.

There isn’t a whole lot of confidence boosting options right now other than Cecil and Biagini. Perhaps John Gibbons needs to play the matchup game a bit more with Scott Feldman and Danny Barnes.

The other option is a starter to the bullpen. Well, unless Marcus Stroman is removed from his start tonight and put there, that’s not an option and won’t happen. Then you need to throw Marco Estrada and J.A Happ on Friday and Saturday to hopefully have a playoff position secured by Sunday so Sanchez can throw the wild-card game. In that case, R.A Dickey starts.

The last 4 games will be nervewracking when the bullpen comes in. Almost nobody can be trusted after looking at splits and current struggles. If the Blue Jays can hold on and get in, they will be okay. Liriano or Stroman goes to the bullpen for the post-season and it gives Gibbons a replacement option for the loss of Joaquin Benoit. But from now until the potential wild-card game? I’d hold on for what could be a bumpy ride.

The loss of Joaquin Benoit is MASSIVE.

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Brendan Panikkar
About the Author

Brendan Panikkar is a graduate of Brock University's Sport Management program. Currently, he is the Vice-President, Customer Service at North Aware. He loves all sports but baseball and football take precedent over hockey and basketball. Teams: Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts, San Francisco 49ers, Toronto Raptors

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