Blue Jays must realize the existence of Liam Hendriks


While the Toronto Blue Jays have sought out help for their bullpen, the club has also struggled to work their current relievers into roles with any level of consistency or definition. This is now improving with the addition of Aaron Sanchez shifting all other arms back one spot in the pecking order. Where the Blue Jays still have me confused, however, is in their usage of Liam Hendriks.

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Upon rejoining the Blue Jays last offseason, Hendriks was assumedly going to ride out 2015 as a depth starter or bullpen rubber arm, eating low-leverage innings like Todd Redmond has done in recent seasons. That all changed when he threw his fastball.

The shift in roles, which allowed Hendriks to condense his impact and effort as opposed to stretching it across six innings, saw his average fastball velocity jump from a 2014 mark of 91.3 MPH all the way to 94.1. Hendriks has ridden this heater to a career high in K/9 at 8.5. Equally important is the fact that the Australian has not sacrificed any control, posting a 1.3 BB/9 that is comfortably below his career average.

July has seen Toronto roll out a struggling Aaron Loup with some consistency, and give Ryan Tepera and Steve Delabar innings to determine the victim of Sanchez’s promotion. Hendriks, on the other hand, has appeared in just four ball games. Getting to my point: this doesn’t make sense.

John Gibbons and Alex Anthopoulos have both mentioned Hendriks as their “long man”, perhaps by default, but his categorization as such cannot continue to keep him out of games for such extended periods. Although one of his more recent outings against the Chicago White Sox on July 8th was a bump in the road, statistically speaking, he’s been Toronto’s best option not named Roberto Osuna.

According to FanGraphs, Hendriks’ 2.28 FIP ranks him second in the bullpen, narrowly behind the impressive mark of 2.16 from Osuna. His 0.43 HR/9 also ranks him 2nd on the entire pitching staff just behind Osuna, while his 0.9 WAR shows him to be Toronto’s 5th-most valuable pitcher, starting rotation included. Opponents have hit .219 off Hendriks.

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Now, perhaps this is not a call for a change of role altogether. Sanchez, Osuna and Bo Schultz seem to have the back end taken care of, with the popular line of the week being that their presence can “shorten the game to six innings”. We’re being a little bold with the Kansas City Royals link here, but why not shorten the game even further to include Hendriks on a more consistent basis?

Last night in Seattle, for example, Drew Hutchison was without his velocity and clearly struggling on the mound. I believe that if the bullpen is needed before the seventh and a righty is at the dish, Hendriks should become the first man called. Every time. If Gibbons had of turned to Hendriks one or two batters earlier, perhaps the Blue Jays wouldn’t have even needed Ezequiel Carrera to play hero.

At the end of the day, this seems like misuse of a commodity. Just because Hendriks offers the team a “long man” does not mean that he should be saved for those situations alone, collecting dust on the bullpen bench while seeing the mound just four times in a month. The Crocodile needs to be fed, not tamed.

Next: Is Alex Anthopoulos being held back ahead of deadline?

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