Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Super Bullpen

What's that on the field a catcher an outfielder, no it's the Super Bullpen
Yesterday the Blue Jays signed former closer (not that it matters) Francisco Cordero. Surprsingly to some fans at only 1 year and $4.5 million Cordero's contract is the largest guaranteed free agent contract that Alex Anthopoulos has signed in his short tenure as Blue Jays General Manager. Now as the offseason is coming to a close Anthopoulos has acquired four top end relievers in Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver, and now Cordero. With the Jays having already had Casey Janssen they now have five different guys with late inning experience. To me that doesn't matter, but to the fans who believe in the flawful (Yes I made that up) save statistic, it carries a lot of weight.

Beyond that on paper the bullpen surely looks good, definitely one of the better bullpens the Jays have had in the past decade, well until we see the production of course. Collectively Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Francisco Cordero, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Carlos Villaneuva, Litsch had a 3.23 ERA in the 2011 season. That number would rank 6th in the league, which is 15 spots higher than where the Blue Jays 3.88 bullpen ERA ranked this year. Of course that looks good, but rather than hyping up the bullpen as many are, I thought I'd take a conservative approach.

As I said before the bullpen sure looks good on paper and has pretty good depth with Joel Carreno, Chad Beck, and more, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will perform. Last offseason the Jays signed Jon Rauch and traded for Frank Francisco expecting a couple of pretty good pitchers. In 2010 the collective ERA and FIP between the two of Rauch and Francisco was 3.44 and 3.03 respectively. Only one year later at the end of the 2011 season their collective ERA and FIP was 4.20 and 4.53. The collective ERA was 0.76 points higher and the FIP was a whole 1.50 points higher. Granted some of the production loss can be attributed to injury, but injuries are just another potential issue with relief pitchers.

Now getting to this year's potential relief pitchers there is some upside, but there's also reason to be concerned.

Sergio Santos
Being a converted shortstop, despite being 27 this will only be his third year in the MLB. So far he has been effective with a 3.29 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 31 saves if you care about that stuff. On top of that Santos raised his strike rate and lowered his walk rate in 2011. Though all that is encouraging what also happened last year is Santos' HR/FB% raised to 11.3% and his BABIP was a concerning .269. Granted these numbers could be statistical anomalies as both were more "average" in 2010. I guess the real problem here is just that there isn't a lot of data on Santos, but he does have one of the best sliders in the league and doesn't have a whole lot of innings on the arm.

Darren Oliver
Oliver at 42 is almost twice the age of Brett Lawrie, but like a fine wine has only gotten better with age. The whole thing on Oliver is that he has posted a better ERA every year for the last five years, but what is even more encouraging is the 2.77 FIP that he posted in 2011. One thing to consider is that his strikeout rate dropped last year, but so did his walk rate so it kind of balances it out. The only real knock on Oliver would be his age and how long he can sustain success, but even that is a argument with really no basis.

Francisco Cordero
Cordero on the surface looked to have a pretty good year in 2011 with a 2.45 ERA and 37 saves (Whoopee!), but just a quick look at his FanGraphs page has quite a few reasons why he wasn't very good in 2011. For starters Cordero's FIP was at 4.02 and 1.57 points higher than his ERA, which is never a good thing. Beyond that it looks like he was pretty lucky in 2011 with an unsustainably low BABIP at .214, 80 points lower than his career average and a LOB% at 82.3%, 5.4% above his career average. Finally the stuff seems to be declining as according to Pitch/FX (via FanGraphs) he lost 1.5 MPH on the Fastball velocity. All of this sums up to an interesting 2012 for Cordero, if he doesn't get lucky again, we could be looking at a long season.

Casey Janssen
Janssen had a very good 2011 and was arguably Toronto's best relief pitcher. Beyond that there isn't much need be said. The peripherals match up with the ERA, the velocity was consistent. The only real knock I see on Janssen is that from year to year he has been a bit inconsistent, but this year and previously in his career he has shown he can be a great relief pitcher. The question really is will we see that great pitcher in 2012?

Jason Frasor
Frasor was a piece of the Colby Rasmus trade at the 2011 trade deadline and now its seems the Jays only payed pennies on the dollar to re-aquire Frasor. Besides that, over his career Frasor has been as consistent as a relief pitcher not named Marian Rivera can be. He has only posted an ERA above 4.50 once and and posted the third best numbers of his career last year. I'd really like to point out something wrong with Jason Frasor, but to my knowledge there just isn't anything.

Carlos Villaneuva
Last season Villaneuva was the swingman of sorts for the Blue Jays. He filled in when the Jays needed a starter and he wasn't as bad as Jo-Jo, but that sure isn't saying much. This year with a bevy of options for the rotation Villaneuva will almost surely be in the bullpen, where he belongs. Though despite that what is concerning about Villaneuva, last year he almost cut his K% in half, which is never a good thing. Maybe it was the extra innings that caused a lack of Ks, but I'm not so sold. Villaneuva had similar production to the rest of his career, but if he doesn't start striking guys out it could be difficult to sustain success and he could add another half a point on his ERA to match his xFIP.

Jesse Litsch
I remember the days when Jesse Litsch was pitching way above his head to a sub 4.00 ERA as a starter and how the peripheral stats suggested he would regress. Now he has reached that point and stats like xFIP and SIERA suggest that he will get better and sometimes I just don't get it. If he pitches to his peripherals again he could put out some very good production and if he doesn't well then he just won't be a very good pitcher, kind of like last year.

Final Thoughts
On paper the Jays bullpen looks scary good and maybe the best they've had since the early 90s. But as we baseball fans should know bullpens are volatile and things don't always turn out the way they were "supposed" to. Notwithstanding the great bullpen that Anthopoulos built, I don't really see the value in all the money on the bullpen, when for example you could have let Joel Carreno pitch instead of Francisco Cordero and he could not have possibly been much worse. Some say that Anthopoulos is stockpiling arms for the trade deadline, but once we get to the deadline I'm sure we'll realize teams are willing to pay as much as they used to.

The reason being that in past years when a good, but not great relief pitcher went to free agency he'd likely end up being a Type B free agent, meaning the Jays could have gotten a supplemental first round pick out of him. That means that in negotiations at the deadline Alex could have always said that whatever you're offering, it better be worth more than a supplemental first round pick.

Now with the new CBA nixing the Type A and Type B free agent systems all of these good, not great relief pitchers will be worth nothing come the offseason. So rather than having the leverage of the possible pick that Anthopoulos could obtain, if he really wants something out of them, he'll have to take whatever he can get. More often than not I'm guessing the "prospect" will not be better than a supplemental first round pick, nor will it be worth half of the salary that is paid out to the reliever. If Alex Anthopoulos truly wanted a good bullpen thats fine he built one, but to suggest he's stockpiling arms seems a bit naive.

Of course we haven't seen how the market will react to the new CBA, so come July 31st I could be the one looking like the idiot. Because we all have to remember that last year Anthopoulos did trade some relief pitchers for one of the better young outfielders in the game at last year's trade deadline. At the very least this "Super Bullpen" should shush up the FAN 590 Jays Talk callers, and for both our sanity as well as Mike Wilner's I sure hope that happens.

As a side note I know the last couple posts have been kind of crapping on people's expectations, but in the next post their will be something quite a bit more optimistic so you can stay tuned for that.

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1 comment:

  1. Matt

    On balance I think the pen is mightier than the pen.

    In the first half last year Rauch, Francisco (injured) and Dotel (before Farrell learned his right from his left) pretty much doomed the team. Santos is a MASSIVE UPGRADE in talent - production we'll see. With Perez and Carreno sitting near by ready to right the ship if necessary - I think this is our strongest pen in near living memory. Cardero is my only minor concern - but the rest of the pen is well above average and there are replacements available.

    As to crapping on peoples expectations as a married man - I find that a daily occurrence - no skin off my a**.