The Toronto Blue Jays Sign J.P Howell

by Brendan Panikkar | Posted on Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
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J.P Howell will slide into the backend of the Blue Jays bullpen.

J.P Howell will slide into the backend of the Blue Jays bullpen.

The Toronto Blue Jays have made a splash by signing left hander J.P. Howell to a year 1 deal worth $3 million (or so, according to FOX Sports Ken Rosenthal). The move comes on the heels of the recent re-signing of Jose Bautista and the signing of backup catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Now, the Blue Jays have all but completed their shopping for the off-season in the free agent market before pitchers and catchers report in 2 weeks.

Howell comes to Toronto after spending the past 4 seasons as a very effective high leverage reliever for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Those die-hard fans might remember J.P Howell from his 6 year tenure with division rival Tampa Bay Rays. If you’re die-hard enough, you might even remember Howell started some games for the Rays back in the day. I could be wrong, but I do seem to recall him starting the season finale back in the late 2000’s at Toronto. Regardless, Howell has turned himself into a nice left handed reliever, something the Blue Jays desperately needed after the early off-season departure of Brett Cecil.

Howell’s 2016 was a bit of a disappointment when you look at the numbers on the surface like ERA, where he posted a 4.09 ERA. However, when you dig a little deeper and look beyond that, it wasn’t a terrible season by any means for Howell. Despite the 4.09 ERA, you can look at his high BABIP of .338 and FIP of 3.50 on the nose and say he may have been the victim of some bad luck. Certainly seems that way when you see the 21.5% soft contact on balls hit against him. It does seem odd that he would be the victim of some suspect defense with the Dodgers infield and outfield behind him, but he may have just gotten unlucky.

Throw 2016 away and zero in on Howell’s previous 3 seasons with the Dodgers and he posted some really good numbers. Here are Howell’s numbers:

  • 2013 – 4-1, 62.0 IP, 2.18 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, 22.0 K%, 9.4 BB%, 1.05 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
  • 2014 – 3-3, 49.0 IP, 2.39 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 3.52 xFIP, 24.1 K%, 12.6 BB%, 1.14 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR
  • 2015 – 6-1, 44.0 IP, 1.43 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, 20.5 K%, 7.4 BB%, 1.39 WHIP, 0.3 fWAR

That is some pretty good consistency from J.P Howell over the course of those 3 seasons. 2016 was not as good, but his FIP and xFIP totals were around the same, as were his K% and BB% numbers. One could say that Howell could be due for a bit of a bounce back season.

Howell doesn’t throw overly hard. He features a sinker, knuckle curve, and changeup. The sinker clocked in at 85.3 MPH in 2016, the knuckle curve at 78.4 MPH, and the changeup at 81.8. One thing that could be a reason for Howell’s down 2016 would be the loss of velocity on his sinker. He lost an average of almost 2.0 MPH, which could have led for it to be more hittable than in years past. He is basically a two pitch pitcher, throwing his knuckle curve 46.9% of the time and his sinker 51.8% of the time. When one of those isn’t working, he is hittable.

Looking at the splits of Howell, you can see that he handled right handers effectively but as a left hander, he struggled against left handed batters. Lefties hit .299 with a .340 OBP and .412 SLG against Howell. Against right handers it was .257 with a .336 OBP and .373 SLG. Howell has typically handled left handers well over his career with a .226 average, .306 OBP, and .317 SLG. Right handers he has also been effective against with a .245 average, .339 OBP, and .389 SLG. If Howell goes back to handling left handers like he has for his career, he will be a very good back end arm.

What bodes well for Howell in the Rogers Centre which I love and personally believe will make him quite successful in Toronto is his 59.1% groundball rate from 2016 and his low home run rate. Howell does keep the ball on the ground and does not allow many home runs, which is what will make him successful in Toronto.

As things currently sit in the Blue Jays bullpen, you see things shaping up nicely at the back end. As of now, it looks like:

After that, you have a mix of:

Given the fact that J.P. Howell’s deal is extremely cheap at only $3 million, this could mean the Blue Jays still add another arm for the bullpen to give 5 solidified positions and have a decent competition for the final 2 spots in Spring Training. Currently still without a job are the likes of:

There are still quality right handers and left handers on the free agent market. Given it’s about 2 weeks until pitchers and catchers report, some of these arms will likely sign short term, relatively cheap contracts to get on a team before Spring Training gets underway. I’d imagine with a bit of money still to play with, the Blue Jays sign one more arm, whether it’s another left hander or a right hander. Sign one more arm and you can all but confidently say that going into Spring Training, the 2017 Blue Jays on paper could be equally as good as the team who went all the way to the ALCS in 2016.

The signing of J.P Howell is quality. A solid left hander who will slot in the back end of the bullpen for only $3 million is a fantastic signing by Ross Atkins. Solid move for a solid left hander. Welcome to Toronto, J.P Howell.

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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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