Jays Get Pronked, The Jays Pen Just Isn’t “Right”


I went to bed after a long hard day believing that the Jays had this one in the bag. But, knowing that things happen quickly sometimes, I changed the channel on my TV, brought it back to the game (so it wouldn’t add 2 hours of baseball I had watched to the DVR) and set it to record the last inning. What I saw when I watched it this morning was about as horrible a game-ending as one could imagine.

First, I’d like to start with the fact that the Jays have other options to close out games than Frank Francisco. Before he was brought into this game, Frank had a 4.81 ERA and had recently blown a big game. Having said that, he also came into the game with a big lead and wasn’t exactly under that much pressure to close the game out. Whether it would be Jason Frasor or even Luis Perez, the Jays had other options available to them. I’m not sure whether or not they were “forced” to use Frank since he had last pitched 3 days earlier, but that may be the case.

Second, how can you go wrong using the guy who is “supposed” to be your “closer”? Well, apparently there are some who believe that the Jays don’t really have anyone leading the closing role and that they may be better served randomly selecting pitchers to close out games. I’m not sure that’s a “fix” by any means, and believe that the issues in the pen lie deeper still than in the closing role.

Before I get into where I believe the issue lies, let me clear up a few things. I have no idea how the pen is handled, who is teaching them or advising them on things as the season wears on, and who is or could be to blame for their “under” performance so far in 2011 (we’re just past the halfway point of the season and the pen has already blown 14 saves after blowing only 16 saves in all of 2010!!!).

However, here are the observations I can make based on the facts I am provided with. In 2010, the 2011 group of Jays relievers that pitched in the majors had the following stats:

  • Shawn Camp: 72.1 IP / 2.99 ERA / 71 hits / 24 ER / 8 HR / 4 HB / 18 BB / 46 SO / 1.23 Whip
  • Jon Rauch: 59 IP / 3.12 ERA / 61 hits / 20 ER / 3 HR / 1 HB / 14 BB / 46 SO / 1.30 Whip
  • Octavio Dotel: 64 IP / 3.70 ERA / 52 hits / 29 ER / 9 HR / 3 HB / 32 BB / 75 SO / 1.31 Whip
  • Frank Francisco: 52.2 IP / 3.76 ERA / 49 hits / 22 ER / 5 HR / 1 HB / 18 BB / 60 SO / 1.27 Whip
  • Jason Frasor: 63.2 IP / 3.68 ERA / 61 hits / 26 ER / 4 HR / 4 HB / 27 BB / 65 SO / 1.38 Whip
  • Marc Rzepczynski: 63.2 IP / 4.95 ERA / 72 hits / 35 ER / 8 HR / 5 HB / 30 BB  /57 SO / 1.60 Whip

From those performances above, half have gotten better overall in 2011.

  • Jason Frasor: 35 IP / 3.34 ERA / 28 hits / 13 ER / 4 HR / 2 HB / 12 BB / 29 SO / 1.14 Whip
  • Octavio Dotel: 24.1 IP / 3.70 ERA / 18 hits / 10 ER / 4 HR / 2 HB / 12 BB / 27 SO / 1.23 Whip
  • Marc Rzepczynski: 36 IP / 3.00 ERA / 27 hits / 12 ER / 2 HR / 3 HB / 14 BB / 29 SO / 1.14 Whip

They represent what is “right” in the pen this year. The problem with their getting save opportunities is how they’ve done when those opportunities arose. Rzep and Frasor have had 5 save opportunities between them and haven’t completed one of them, blowing all 5. Meanwhile, Dotel did complete his 1 save opportunity but blew 6 of hi 28 in 2010 and has serious issues against LHB. Therefore, unless the Jays know that they won’t be putting Dotel out there only to face 2-3 LHB, they can’t rely on him as the “closer”.

As for Camp (3.82 ERA, 1 BS), Rauch (4.08 ERA, 2 BS), and Francisco (5.92 ERA, 4 BS), I have no idea what Pat Hentgen is telling them or what their issues are, but whatever they’re doing isn’t working. All 3 seem to have lost a lot of faith in their abilities and seem to be pressing on the mound. While Rauch has actually been able to keep hitters to nice average (.239), he has walked more batters, which has hurt him. Camp and Francisco, meanwhile, are giving up a lot more hits, as they have a .283 and .301 average against respectively.

Finally, the last option for closing duties would be Luis Perez, but he is inexperienced and has also blown his 2 save opportunities. His 3.94 ERA isn’t exactly inspiring and he’s still getting used to relieving overall, nevermind the added pressures that come with closing.

Possible changes to the pen

The problem with making changes to the Jays pen is that it is filled with veterans. Not only are there barriers to sending vets to the minors, but these are also relievers that could reap the Jays some Type A or B picks if they’re able to put up certain caliber numbers this season. Therefore, it’s in the interest of the club to get these guys right pronto and get them into a position that increases the flexibility of the team overall. If Alex Anthopoulos wants to keep 2 or 3 vets around for 2012, having them “right” before he makes those decisions would really increase his chances of making the right calls.

If you’ve been watching the Jays this season, you know that Kyle Drabek has had some major issues and is sorting those out in AAA. His last 2 starts have been encouraging (6 IP with 1 ER and 6 IP with 3 ER respectively) and it seems likely that Jays fans could be watching him pitch in Toronto again in the second half. I’m not sure when it will or could happen, but I’m sure the trade deadline will have a lot to say about that. His possible and eventual return does beg the question “who will be out of the rotation when Kyle returns to be part of it?”. Chances are that it will be Jo-Jo Reyes who has his number pulled, and he could also replace Luis Perez as a LHP relief option if that were to happen. Could he close? I sincerely doubt it and wouldn’t put any bets on the Jays giving him a shot in that role this season.

There is, however, the option of keeping both Perez and Reyes in the pen, and using Marc Rzepczynski solely in closing opportunities and running with that for a good period of time to see where it leads. Of all 3 relievers who have been “right” this season, he’s the most likely to stick around long term, so why not give it a shot?

Simultaneously, I’ll still argue that Danny Farquhar is ready to be tested in MLB. If the Jays were able to move one of their many veteran relievers for what the value they place on that arm, he would provide the Jays with an interesting option in the pen. They won’t want to throw him in the fire immediately, but as he warms to pitching in The Show, he could make his way to setting up the closer fairly quickly. It doesn’t hurt that Danny has 66 saves to his credit in the minors and is effective against RHB (.239 average against). The problem with Danny is his performance vs LHB, which is as bad as Dotel’s (.340 average against and a 5.11 ERA against them).

Casey Janssen

I was seriously pissed when I saw that Casey Janssen landed on the DL. If there’s one pitcher aside from Rzep that I thought could do well if he got a shot at closing, it was Casey. Sorry, it still is Casey. He does very well enough against both RHB and LHB, has a very low Whip (1.19), completed his 1 save opportunity this season, and holds a nice 2.93 ERA. I’m not sure how well he would run with the role if handed it, but a split of opportunities between him and Rzep once Janssen gets healthy seems to make some sense to me since both are likely to be around in 2012.

If the Jays are in fact going to be forced to go out on the market and spend big bucks on the likes of Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell, or any other reliever, they should first find out what they have to work with in-house. That’s why I endorse handing the ball to Rzepczynski and Janssen in the 9th from here until the end of the season. If they plan on extending Jason Frasor at some point this season, then put him in the mix as well because he has certainly shown the ability to close games in the past. Don’t just hand the ball to Francisco and Rauch because they’re the most highly paid and experienced in the pen or because you want the highest draft picks possible in return for them when they walk.

The benefit of giving Rzep a shot in the 9th also extends to the older relievers, who can either relax a little more while pitching the 6,7,8 innings, or can use his promotion to that role as motivation to amp it up whenever they get a shot.

The Jays do seem to have to do “something” in order to get the pen back on track. I’m not sure if the issue is deeper than meets the eye, meaning that coaching or use have something to do with the issues they have. All I know for certain is that if the Jays keep blowing saves at this rate, the second half will be ugly to watch and could turn off a ton of fans. If Rzep can be part of the answer for this problem, give him the ball. He has the goods to do the job, does not get hit very much at all and needs to be tested before the Jays decide to hand someone else the role in 2012 because they perceive no pitcher in-house can do it.

- MG

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