Image courtesy of SI.com

Blue Jays going after Heath Bell?

It’s been a lackluster July so far for Jays rumors leading up to the trade deadline at the end of the month. The phrase “teams have inquired about Jays relievers” has gotten tiresome, and it’s been the only whisper of the Blue Jays amongst trade deadline chatter over the last few weeks.

That all changed a few hours ago, when FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal dropped the earth-shattering news that the Jays have inquired about the available parts of the San Diego Padres’ bullpen, specifically popular closer Heath Bell.

Okay, so it’s definitely not the most exciting news, considering half of the teams in baseball are doing their due diligence on Bell, and if we’ve learned anything about Alex Anthopoulos in the past it’s that no one ever has a clue about anything he is going to do before he strikes, but here’s a breakdown of what Bell would bring to the Jays, just because.

In 40 games this season, Bell is worth 0.5 WAR and has managed a tidy 2.52 ERA with 32 hits, 11 earned runs, and 15 walks allowed, going 27-for-29 in save opportunities. His 1.195 WHIP, 7.3 H/9, 0.2 HR/9, and 3.4 BB/9 are virtually identical to what he managed in those categories in 70 innings last year, and very similar to what he put up in 69.2 innings in 2009.

While Bell has been as consistent as a reliever can be from year to year since 2007, the one glaring difference about his 2011 season from years past is his number of strikeouts. After notching 71 strikeouts in 2009 (10.2 K/9) and 86 last year (career-high 11.1 K/9), Bell has struck out 28 in 39.1 innings this season, good for a career-worst 6.4 K/9. The significant drop in strikeouts hasn’t affected his traditional stats, and a more in-depth look at his pitching this season outlines possible reasons for the K drop-off.

While Bell has the ability to throw a slider, he hasn’t used it since 2009, so he currently uses a three-pitch repertoire: fastball, curveball, changeup. He’s using his fastball less and barely using his changeup this season, so he’s been relying on his curveball more this season than in any other. While he has gotten ahead in counts 0-1 more this season by throwing first-pitch strikes, opposing hitters are also making contact on his pitches this season more than any other in his career. 91% of hitters (a career-high) are connecting on Bell’s offerings in the strike zone, up 7% from the last two years, and almost 66% (also a career-high) of hitters are connecting on offerings outside the strike zone, up 8% from last year. Worth mentioning as well are Bell’s career-low 41.7% ground ball rate, career-high, albeit still solid, 3.96 xFIP this season, and the fact that he has given up more fly balls from 2010-2011 than any other point in his career.

Bell becomes a free-agent at the end of the season and is making $7.5 million this year. It’s unclear as to what kind of asking price the Padres have for Bell, or why the Jays would even want to go after him right now considering their excess of right-handed relievers. Anthopoulos could be looking to improve a Jays bullpen that sits right in the middle of baseball in a variety of relief stats.

Outside of Bell, the Padres have other intriguing relief options in Chad Qualls (2.66 ERA/3.64 xFIP in 47 innings), Luke Gregerson (2.70 ERA/3.75 xFIP in 33 innings), and Mike Adams (1.23 ERA/2.87 xFIP, 0.72 WHIP in 44 innings), though it’s unlikely any team lands Adams since the Padres are apparently asking for two top-100 prospects in any deal.

Considering how sought after Bell seems to be, it’s highly unlikely he’ll arrive in Toronto. It’s even more unlikely that Anthopoulos is doing anything more than his due diligence on inquiring about Bell, if that.

Should the Jays go after Heath Bell?

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-JM

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Tags: Alex Anthopoulos Chad Qualls Heath Bell Mike Adams San Diego Padres Toronto Blue Jays

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