As a whole, Jays relief pitching ranked 9thin the league this year in both ERA and WHIP. In 2012, the Jays were 25th in ERA and 24th in WHIP—quite a difference. And beyond the numbers, it was just a better feeling this season after a call to the bullpen.
Moves to acquire relief pitching was one of the few things that panned out in 2013. Re-signing Darren Oliver—who was a steady veteran reliever in that rollercoaster 2012—was a good idea. Trades for Brad Lincoln by dealing Travis Snider; or for Steve Delabar by dealing Eric Thames, all made sense. These were necessary moves to rebuild a very troubled bullpen.
You might even say Alex Anthopoulos went a little overboard trying to fill the void for relief pitching. Looking back, acquiring Esmil Rogers for Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles did indeed come back to haunt the Jays as they certainly could have used catching and middle infield depth last season. Gomes, in particular, went on to hit .294 with 11 homeruns for the Indians.
Relievers are an almost schizophrenic bunch, going from moments of being nearly unhittable, to moments where they look like they have forgotten how to throw. Take John Axford who received Cy Young votes in 2011 with the Brewers, then declined to the point of being removed from his closer role. After being traded to the Cardinals in late August of this year, Axford pitched with brilliance right through to the World Series.
Does it now make sense for the Jays to trade away a lot of these arms? Well, you could argue that a strong bullpen only translated to 74 wins. Sure, but without a strong bullpen it would have been worse. Can you imagine the bullpen of 2012 having to eat up the required innings this past season?
Depth is not a bad thing, especially with relief pitching. We don’t know who will show up next season. Will Sergio Santos be the guy we saw in 2013, or the ugly monster we saw briefly in 2012? Maybe Esmil Rogers will find his groove and make that trade worthwhile. With the steady veteran Darren Oliver now gone, losing even one more solid reliever may be too many.
And at this point the issue is that you would need to give up a fair bit in relief pitching to obtain a need, such as a rotational starter or a catcher. It would certainly require the Jays to trade away someone decent, paired with additional pieces. The ideal time to deal relief pitching would have been during the season before the trade deadline, but that didn’t happen.
Last week Anthopoulos indicated there has been plenty of interest around the league about Jays relievers, but he wants to keep the bullpen as a strength. This may be the right decision. Don’t mess with what’s not broken.