It was over two months ago when we advocated for the Toronto Blue Jays to give reliever Burke Badenhop a look as a potential free agent target. Now, in the waning days of free agency, it appears as though the Blue Jays finally heard our call.
According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Washington Nationals have been in contact with Badenhop’s representatives at ACES Inc.
As Keegan Matheson outlined for us earlier this winter, Badenhop is far from the sexiest pick on the relief market, both in name and statistics. With a lifetime K/9 ratio of 6.34 and 4 career saves, he hardly causes a blip for teams looking for late-inning help.
However, it is the little things that Badenhop excels at.
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At 6’5″ tall, Burke Badenhop generates a ton of downward motion on the ball, which leads to a ton of ground balls, to the tune of 55.6% over the course of his 7-year MLB career. Keeping the ball on the ground also keeps it in the park, with Badenhop having surrendered just 31 home runs over 446 innings pitched, or a 0.63 HR/9 rate. Additionally, he’s done quite well at stranding runners over the course of his career, leaving 70.8% of runners on base.
That was all on full display as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2014. In 70 appearances for Boston, Badenhop posted a career-best 2.29 ERA, a 3.08 FIP, and a 3.30 SIERA over 70.2 innings of work. That lead to the first season in Badenhop’s career where he registered a full win above replacement.
The 2014 success appears to be attributable to a change in philosophy. After posting his two lowest ground ball rates of his career in 2012 and 2013, Badenhop reduced his reliance on the slider, throwing it a career-low 10.7% last season. He replaced that with an uptick in his fastball usage (72.5%) and through his change-up 16.8% of the time, the highest usage of his career. That lead to a career-best in both ground ball rate (79.2%) and a career-low in HR/FB (2.3%).
That all plays well in homer-friendly Rogers Center, where ground balls are a premium and keeping it out of the air is a boon.
With that in mind, the Blue Jays could be catching the 31-year-old on the way up. While he doesn’t necessarily come with the closer’s pedigree, neither did Casey Janssen, and we was successful for the most part in a Blue Jays uniform. That said, Badenhop still fits best in a set-up role, with Brett Cecil the most likely candidate to become the full-time closer this coming season. However, having another heavy ground ball pitcher to compliment Aaron Loup in the set-up corps from the right-hand side, would be a definite upgrade to a shaky bullpen situation.