Toronto Blue Jays reliever Ryan Tepera got quite familiar with the trip back and forth from Buffalo in 2016
The majority of Major League teams, the Blue Jays included, run a seven-man bullpen with the last spot consistently churning throughout the season. In many ways, it’s a hybrid eight or nine-man group.
This could be due to injury, performance, or situational need, but right-hander Ryan Tepera was often the reliever to feel the pinch (or get the call) when that time came.
Tepera was optioned to the triple-A Buffalo Bisons five different times in 2016. All five trips were matched with a trip back up to the big club soon after, of course, but the 28-year old did well to keep his performance in check while in a constant state of movement. With plenty of team control, the Blue Jays can continue to make use of Tepera in some capacity this coming season.
In 20 relief appearances spanning 18.1 innings, Tepera managed a 2.95 ERA and really held his own. This was never terribly visible as Tepera could not stack up dominant outings consistently before his next phone call, but when all was said and done, he gave the Blue Jays some clean and tidy innings.
He was also excellent in his time with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons — which, yes, does matter. In 37 games, Tepera pitched 45.1 innings with a 2.58 ERA. He eventually took over as the Bisons’ full-time closer after Dustin Antolin and David Aardsma had seen time in the role and recorded 18 saves. Tepera was very strong with the Bisons in 2015, as well (1.06 ERA over 34.0 IP).
After posting a -0.4 Wins Above Replacement in his extended 2015 look with the Blue Jays at the MLB level, his 18.1 IP this year were good for a WAR of 0.1. He also forced ground balls at a 58.5% rate, something that could be of great help to him if sustainable. Averaging 95.2 MPH on his fastball, Tepera remains one of the Blue Jays hardest MLB-level throwers.
Each team has a Ryan Tepera. Some have several, and of those hundred Ryan Teperas league-wide, a small percentage break through as legitimate and full-time impact arms while the rest continue on as quadruple-A depth. Which is Tepera?
The 2017 season will likely represent his last option year, so the pressure will be on for Tepera to prove that he can stick at the MLB level in the sixth bullpen spot, not the seventh. He’ll need to keep his control in check to achieve that as he walked 3.2 batters per nine in triple-A and 3.9-per-9 at the MLB level. Tepera leans heavily on a fastball and cutter/slider (classification depends on source), but needs a stronger secondary pitch to take the next step.
Toronto’s bullpen is far from a logjam right now, so there should be plenty of opportunity for Tepera again in 2017. He did crack the opening day roster this past season as a “second lefty”, though that designation was very short-lived with the addition of Franklin Morales.
Regardless of role, Tepera is a very valuable piece for the Blue Jays organization. While many teams are forced to recall unpredictable arms from the triple-A level, the Blue Jays will be able to utilize a known commodity in that depth role and both levels should benefit from that small luxury.
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