Blue Jays reliever Ryan Tepera got an extended look in 2015, but amid a crowded bullpen competition entering spring training his 2016 role remains uncertain
It was a long road to the major leagues for right-handed reliever Ryan Tepera, who made his debut with the Blue Jays this past season as a 27-year-old. An unexpected contributor heading in to spring training one year ago, Tepera split his time equally between the triple-A Buffalo Bisons and MLB roster.
Entering the coming season, Tepera is one of several pitchers that will likely be vying for the job of Toronto’s fifth right-handed option out of the bullpen. Given the presence of Roberto Osuna, Drew Storen, potentially Aaron Sanchez, and the possibility of a true long-man, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Especially given the quantity of arms around him.
2015 Production Recap
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Tepera was expectedly more dynamic at the triple-A level across 34.0 innings pitched, where he held a 1.32 ERA and struck out 9.8 batters per nine innings. With the big club, Tepera made it in to 32 games (33.0 IP) with a 3.27 ERA and K/9 of 6.0.
Given the available depth last season, Tepera was what the Blue Jays needed. Not spectacular, but wholly capable of keeping the team above water while sporting a sub-3.00 ERA for the majority of his season.
2016 Role and Steamer Projection
Nothing is guaranteed in 2016 for Tepera, so even if he enters camp and takes a step forward from last season’s performance, a stronger offering from elsewhere on the roster could still push him out. If he is able to make the club, it would likely be in the role of that fifth righty who takes the mound for lower-leverage situations of approximately one inning.
FanGraphs Steamer projections are forecasting a relatively similar performance to last season, with Tepera throwing 40.0 innings of 3.90 ERA ball. The system also projects that his strikeout numbers jump to 8.07 per nine innings, which would help his cause considerably (although a 3.25 BB/9 is projected).
What could go wrong?
A 2015 FIP of 5.77 (!) led to Tepera getting tagged with a -0.4 WAR, so there’s reason to worry that his small sample size from 2015 simply won’t carry over. While he may get by in shorter call-up stints, stretching him across ~60.0 innings is a risky proposition.
What could go right?
Tepera could really vault himself into the conversation by manufacturing more swings and misses. He’s already able to sit comfortably in the mid-90s with his fastball, so this spring I will be looking for him to add some bite to the slider he threw nearly one quarter of the time in 2015. Even if it comes at the cost of some control, his ability to create strikeouts will be his only ticket to higher-leverage situations (both in the MLB or in Buffalo).
The Bottom Line
While he won’t draw many headlines over the next month and a half, Tepera is the type of arm that every organization needs. He may be the eighth or ninth man in the bullpen pecking order even if all goes as planned, but he does represent an option that is a relative known commodity.
Aaron Sanchez landing back in the bullpen will only make Tepera’s case more difficult, but with the guarantee of a bullpen churn in every major league season, he should be given the opportunity to make some sort of impact throughout 2016.