Despite adding closer Sergio Santos at last week’s Winter Meetings in Dallas, we learned that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is still looking to improve his bullpen before the spring. According to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi late last night (via Twitter), one hurler that is on the Jays’ radar is left-handed reliever George Sherrill.
I last took a look at Sherrill at the beginning of October as a free agent option for the Jays, and if John Farrell could cater to his strengths, he remains a possible option as a lefty specialist in 2012.
Jays fans know all about Sherrill, as he spent his entire career in the American League with Seattle and Baltimore until midway through 2009. He suffered the worst season of his career with the Dodgers in 2010, posting a 6.69 ERA/5.20 FIP in 36.1 innings, and was particularly awful against right-handed hitters who hit .427/.516/.707 off of him.
But, as a member of the Atlanta Braves’ top-ranked bullpen this past season, Sherrill was used more in situations where he was likely to succeed, and the results speak for themselves. He allowed 33 hits and 12 earned runs in 36 innings (3.00 ERA) striking out 38, which was good for a 9.5 K/9, his highest mark since 2008. Sherrill’s 3.08 FIP and 3.0 BB/9 almost identically matched his previous career-lows, and he was exquisite with inherited runners, as only four of 37 (11%) scored.
In addition to the numbers, though, what was really noticeable about Sherrill this past season was how he completely revamped his approach on the mound. He got ahead in the count by throwing first-pitch strikes 69% of the time, which was not only a new career-high, but well over 8% higher than any figure he recorded in his previous seven seasons. This mindset also helped him record a career-high 45% ground ball rate, his highest in over five years, and a new career-low 33% fly ball rate.
The key to Sherrill is using him almost exclusively against left-handers, as it’s well-known that he has a hard time getting righties out. While the .236 average and .722 OPS he held right-handers to in 2011 were below his career norms, Sherill did record a 5.06 ERA against them as well; a stark contrast to his tidy 1.35 ERA against lefties. Plus, 11 of the 12 walks he allowed in 2011 were to right-handed hitters.
Though he pitched a career-low 36 innings this past season, Sherrill’s new mindset on the mound and the fact he wouldn’t command a large salary make him one of the more appealing left-handed relievers remaining on the free agent market. His dismal 2010 campaign has ensured he won’t rank on Elias’ list of free agents, so he wouldn’t cost the Jays anything in terms of draft pick compensation, either.
If the Jays could afford to carry a lefty specialist for the season, Sherrill could be that guy if worse came to worse. But with tonight’s non-tender deadline, there could be a few options that emerge on that front first.