Blue Jays: The case for Mike Bolsinger over Joe Biagini in the bullpen

Sep 25, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger (46) throws in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 25, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Mike Bolsinger (46) throws in the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

With recent additions to the bullpen, the Blue Jays have some flexibility with how they handle the construction of their bullpen in regards to Mike Bolsinger and Joe Biagini.

Just a few weeks ago, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was looking very bleak. The only arms penciled into the bullpen was Roberto OsunaJason Grilli, and Joe Biagini. The team has since added left hander J.P Howell and right hander Joe Smith, for 5 solidified arms for the bullpen.

The addition of Howell and Smith allow for some flexibility when trying to determine the final two spots in the bullpen. However, I believe there’s a strong case to see rookie standout, Joe Biagini, start the season in AAA with the Buffalo Bisons, with Mike Bolsinger taking the place of Biagini in the bullpen.

When Biagini came to the Blue Jays last year, it was as a Rule 5 pick from the San Francisco Giants. After a decent spring combined with the fact Biagini had to be on the Blue Jays 25 man roster, or he would be returned to San Francisco, he ended up breaking camp with the team. He never looked back. Biagini started as the long man and as the season went along, he started pitching in high leverage situations in the 7th and 8th innings. He even pitched in big spots in the Blue Jays run to the ALCS.

In 67.2 innings, Biagini had a 21.0 K%, 6.4 BB%, 3.06 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, and a 1.2 fWAR. All of those are fantastic numbers. Nobody could have projected the kind of season Biagini had as a Rule 5 pick. Last season was the first season in his career that he pitched as a reliever. He succeeded with his arsenal of 4 pitches. Thinking long term and short term, Biagini does play as a starting pitcher, like he was in the Giants organization. This is where the case for him beginning as a starter in Buffalo in 2017 has some serious merit.

Mike Bolsinger was acquired at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Dodgers for Jesse Chavez. Bolsinger saw just 27.2 innings in 2016, largely caused by injury. In 2015, he threw 109.1 innings with the Dodgers in 21 starts. He was a successful back of the rotation arm posting 21.0 K%, 9.7 BB%, 3.62 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, and a 1.1 fWAR. For a back of the rotation arm, it’s a solid season.

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Like Biagini, Bolsinger does project as a starter long term, but given the Blue Jays current roster and a few years down the road, it would be a awhile before he could potentially fit in the Blue Jays rotation. That is assuming he is still with the team. Bolsinger goes into 2017 out of options, meaning that if he does not make the roster and starts in Buffalo, he would need to clear waivers before joining the team.

Many people still could say that Bolsinger would be starting depth in Buffalo, but given the fact he is out of options it make things a bit more difficult. Biagini now has options with the Blue Jays, which would make him easier to use as depth for the rotation. The current plan for the Blue Jays heading into the spring is to stretch out Biagini to use as a 6th starter in the event of an injury.

Going into 2017, behind the penciled 5 starters, there is virtually no depth in Buffalo in the event of an injury. The fact that Biagini is already going to be stretched out, and the fact he has options and Bolsinger does not, make it a smarter play to have Biagini as the 6th starter as opposed to Bolsinger.

After the 2017 season, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano are free agents. The team could still bring Estrada back, but Liriano likely will be gone after this season. Biagini would slide right into the rotation as a useful piece, which would given them 4/5 starting pitchers or 3/5 if both Liriano and Estrada depart. Starting a full season in Buffalo where Biagini can work on all his pitches consistently can benefit the team for both 2017 and 2018.

The current battle for spots in the bullpen with Biagini penciled in there includes the likes of Bolsinger, Ryan TeperaDanny BarnesMatt DermodyAaron Loup, Bo SchultzChad GirodoGlenn Sparkman and many other roster invitees like Gavin FloydLeonel CamposJeff BeliveauWil BrowningT.J House and more.

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Tepera, Barnes, Dermody, Loup, and Girodo all have options. Bolsinger and Schultz are out of options and Sparkman is a Rule 5 pick from the Kansas City Royals. With Biagini starting the season in AAA that could allow for the Blue Jays to have the likes of Schultz, Sparkman, and Bolsinger in the bullpen to see what they have in those arms. Biagini starting in AAA as starting depth allows for this roster flexibility.

The obvious concern on the minds of many going this route would be the big production lost from Biagini. Comparing Biagini’s 2016 as a reliever and Bolsinger’s 2015 as a starter, they both have the same K% but Bolsinger does walk more batters. Diving into the splits of the two of them, it looks as follows:

  • Biagini vs. LHP: .281/.347/.378
  • Bolsinger vs. LHP: .285/.377/.416
  • Biagini vs. RHP: .236/.296/.348
  • Bolsinger vs. RHP: .220/.282/.354

Both handle left handers and right handers very similar. Both have a wide assortment of pitches, something that benefitted Biagini as a reliever in 2016. Bolsinger features 5 pitches which can be used to a similar benefit to Biagini.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks
MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks /

When considering the pitchers who have options and those who don’t, the case for the Blue Jays to bring Bolsinger north on the 25 man roster is pretty strong, in my mind. In the event the bullpen starts off on the wrong foot, the easy solution for a reliever to slide in is calling up Biagini to pitch out of the bullpen again. Whoever makes the team can be swapped out for Biagini.

The ability to use Biagini as starting depth in 2017 allows for roster flexibility, and it allows for the Blue Jays to have a quality arm to slide into the rotation if there is an injury, as he could be called up in a flash to spot start or pitch out of the bullpen. The same luxury cannot be said for Bolsinger.

There will be a lot of answers in the coming months in regards to how the bullpen will shake down after spring. If the non-roster invitees do not impress enough to justify being given a spot on the roster, Biagini would stay. If Bolsinger has a terrible spring the team could risk him being the 6th starter in AAA and hope he sneaks through waivers.

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The final product could very well see Biagini staying in the bullpen for 2017. I would love if Biagini pitches out of the bullpen again in 2017, as he was highly effective last season. However, with the plan being to stretch Biagini out in the spring, I do think the front office is thinking along the lines of using him as starting depth. That move would be easier to make if a few arms in camp emerge. The decision to keep Biagini in the bullpen would also be easy if nobody impresses enough to make the team.

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes down, but looking long term to keep Bolsinger around for 2018 and to have Biagini as a starter in 2018 and a depth guy for 2017, there is a strong case to be made for this to happen.

Whatever happens, Joe Biagini will still be a key piece to the Blue Jays making another run in 2017.