DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
Although the bullpen was among the Toronto Blue Jays biggest areas of need entering this years offseason, the general consensus is that the signings of J.P. Howell and Joe Smith have at least stabilized the bullpen somewhat. By signing Howell for 1 year and 3 million dollars, the Blue Jays added to a frighteningly thin group of left handed relievers for the Toronto Blue Jays. When the team later added Joe Smith on an identical contact, the belief was that the Jays had simply added a solid middle reliever to a relatively mediocre bullpen.
Essentially, the latest moves have led most of us to believe that the Blue Jays bullpen should perform reasonably well in 2017. But what do the projections say, and is this bullpen really capable of at least average performance, or is it destined to fail in a similarly miserable way to the bullpen of 2016's first half. To find out, I turned to some projection systems to decide whether or not the Blue Jays bullpen can perform up to snuff.
For this article I will be using ZiPS and Steamer projections in order to find the expected performance of several of relievers currently on the Blue Jays 40 man roster.
The Locks for a Roster Spot
ZiPS: 72 G, 71.1 IP, 10.42 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, 2.76 ERA, 3.01 FIP, 1.4 WAR
Steamer: 65 G, 65 IP, 10.21 K/9, 2.72 BB/9, 3.43 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 0.9 WAR
If you consider Osuna's lack of a long term track record, and the volatility traditionally displayed by young relievers, than you understand why these projections expect some regression in the performance of Osuna from previous seasons. However, I believe that Osuna has a reasonably good chance of exceeding these projections assuming he stays consistent and healthy. These projections are balancing the best and worst possible seasons for Osuna, and not necessarily considering the likelihood of each actually coming true.
ZiPS: 47 G, 41.3 IP, 11.55 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 3.70 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Steamer: 65 G, 65 IP, 10.18 K/9, 3.63 BB/9, 3.85 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 0.4 WAR
Considering his age, and his wild career trajectory, these projections seem relatively fair. Due to his general streakiness, I expect Grilli to post numbers similar to those of his projections. If he can do this, than the Blue Jays have a solid setup/middle relief option to place in their bullpen.
ZiPS: 60 G, 66.7 IP, 8.50 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 3.78 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Steamer: 33 G, 71 IP, 6.70 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 4.35 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the projections seem to anticipate a decline in the success of Joe Biagini next season. The reason is quite similar to that of Osuna, as Biagini has just one season of major league experience. Interestingly, ZiPS projects Biagini to make zero starts however, Steamer projects 8 starts for Biagini in 2017. Since Biagini is probably the sixth starter going into spring training, one could probably expect him to make several starts for injured rotation members next season.
ZiPS: 60 G, 45 IP, 7.80 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 3.60 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Steamer: 55 G, 55 IP, 6.91 K/9, 3.58 BB/9, 4.09 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 0.2 WAR
After considering the projections for Howell, it appears that his decline in performance last season is largely here to stay. Howell had his worst season since 2011, recording a 4.09 ERA in 2016. Even if performs similarly to how he did last year, he is still a solid contributor to the Blue Jays next season, either as a lefty specialist or as a middle relief arm. If he returns to his 2012-2015 form, than the Blue Jays have a solid, left handed reliever in the bullpen, for the bargain price of 3 million dollars.
ZiPS: 62 G, 52 IP, 8.07 K/9, 2.79 BB/9, 3.41 ERA, 3..77 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Steamer: 55 G, 55 IP, 7.39 K/9, 3.07 BB/9, 3.90 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Although Smith has never had a season with an ERA greater than 3.83 (back in 2010), the projections seem to believe that Smith is going to regress somewhat in 2017. Perhaps the projections are concerned with his 4.99 FIP in 2016, but I expect Smith to play decently enough anyways to justify a middle relief role. Even if he matches his projections, his value to the Blue Jays is still good, because like Howell before him, he would be a solid middle reliever at a bargain price.
The Contenders for a Roster Spot
ZiPS: 50 G, 66.3 IP, 9.41 K/9, 3.68 BB/9, 3.53 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 0.7 WAR
Steamer: 45 G, 45 IP, 9.06 K/9, 2.84 BB/9, 3.67 ERA, 3.71 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Perhaps surprisingly, the projections for Danny Barnes are actually quite solid. If Barnes can put up these kind of numbers, than the Blue Jays bullpen becomes substantially deeper, with as many as six quality weapons for John Gibbons to use. If Barnes can approach these projections - which I believe is quite possible - than the Blue Jays have a serious new relief option in 2017.
ZiPS: 26 G, 112 IP, 8.92 K/9, 3.38 BB/9, 4.58 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 0.9 WAR
Steamer: 6 G, 36 IP, 8.09 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 4.38 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 0.5 WAR
Even though Boslinger is probably the clubs seventh starter as spring training approaches, these projections seem to believe that Boslinger is going to make a rather high amount of starts as opposed to relief appearances in 2017. Despite the usually reasonable projections, I tend to disagree this time because Boslinger is out of options, and therefore unable to be sent to AAA without passing through waivers. As a result, Boslinger probably opens the season the the Blue Jays long reliever, capable of making a spot start here and there, while pitching a fair number or relief appearances throughout the season. This increase in relief appearances probably causes results which are substantially different from the above projections.
ZiPS: 57 G, 47 IP, 8.81 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 3.94 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Steamer: 40 G, 40 IP, 8.29 ERA, 3.10 BB/9, 3.53 ERA, 3.74 FIP, 0.4 WAR
After performing solidly throughout his first three seasons, Loup has struggled since 2015. Even if the days of being a solid arm with a mid 2.00's ERA for Loup is gone, the projections seem to believe that Loup is at least worthy roster consideration as a left handed specialist. If the club decided to go with an 8 man bullpen (PLEASE NO!!!), than the chance of Loup making the roster as a second lefty goes up dramatically. Otherwise, he'll need a strong camp if he expects to be on the opening day roster in 2017.
ZiPS: Not available. This will be updated if found.
Steamer: 30 G, 35 IP, 8.03 K/9, 2.63 BB/9 , 3.94 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 0.2 WAR
Considering Sparkman has exactly zero innings of major league experience, this projection is actually quite decent. Steamer seems to believe that Sparkman has enough skill to be a decent middle relief option. Despite this, it's highly likely that Sparkman ends up outside the Blue Jays organization come opening day as a result of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft. He would need to have a very strong spring training to make the team and therefore remain with the Blue Jays. Even if he isn't necessarily a second coming of Joe Biagini, it is possible that Sparkman could put up decent numbers out of the bullpen if he makes and stays on the roster.
ZiPS: 53 G, 61 IP, 8.85 K/9, 3.39 BB/9, 3.98 ERA, 4.07 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Steamer: 35 G, 35 IP, 8.60 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, 3.93 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 0.2 WAR
The truth about Tepera is that he probably won't start the season on the roster, but he will probably end up being scuttled between AAA and the big leagues several times in 2017. His projections are generally in line with his career numbers, and Tepera's best asset is probably his consistency. We know that Tepera is going to give you decent middle relief with an ERA of about 4.00, and the his 2017 projections seem to agree.
As for other arms on the 40 man roster (not including the starting rotation) such as Ryan Borucki, Matt Dermordy, Dominic Leone, Bo Schultz, and Chris Smith, there is a small chance that they could make the opening day roster. Whether through a very good spring, an influx of injuries, or something else, the chance remains there, regardless of how slim.
If you move outside the 40 man roster, recently DFA'd Chad Girodo strikes me as a player with a chance of making the big league club out of spring training. Gavin Floyd also has a chance of making the team provided he has a good spring. Besides them, perhaps a middle tear pitching prospect such as Angel Perdomo, or Jon Harris could impress the front office enough to fast track them to the big leagues through the bullpen spot. However this is extremely unlikely, and I believe that the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen will consist of the locks I mentioned above (Osuna, Grilli, Biagini, Howell, Smith) as well as Mike Boslinger, Aaron Loup, and possibly Danny Barnes if the Jays start the season with an eight man bullpen (please no).
Despite these projections, how individual pitchers perform in spring training will have a dramatic impact on how this bullpen is constructed for opening day. But since none of the games have been played yet, and pitchers and catchers don't report for another three days, all we can do is speculate on what's going to happen.
In addition, it's also nice to see that the Blue Jays bullpen does have a decent amount of depth if certain players struggle or are injured. Even if they don't all perform to expectations, I identified at least ten pitchers with enough talent to perform as average middle relievers. Combine them together, and it's easy to see why many are confident in this years bullpen. Regardless of how the opening day bullpen shapes up, I expect to see several arms performing at a high level by the end of the season.