J.P Howell is not a starting pitcher, and he is not a closer. He is a left-handed reliever, and going into 2017 he is by far one of the most important Blue Jays on the roster.
J.P Howell, the 11 year major league veteran, is the only LHP in the Blue Jays bullpen as of right now. With the likes of Aaron Loup, Tim Mayza and Matt Dermody competing to be the second lefty in the bullpen, it is safe to say there is a good chance he will be the only southpaw in the pen on opening day. Even if he is not the only left-hander, it will be tough to rely upon the other possible options late in the game.
Brett Cecil had been a huge part of the Blue Jays bullpen for the last four years. He was a dominant lefty out of the pen and had the ability to get right-handed hitters out, along with left-handed hitters. With him and his wipeout curveball now in St. Louis, he leaves a huge void that J.P Howell looks to fill.
Although Howell is not Cecil, he has been a very reliable reliever since he became a relief pitcher in the 2008 season, when his role changed with the Tampa Bay Rays. When Howell was a younger pitcher in St. Petersburg, he could overpower you with a fastball in the mid 90’s, but after missing all of the 2010 season due to a left shoulder strain, he came back a different pitcher. J.P. lost his power fastball and started relying heavily on his off speed pitches, which include a change-up, slider, and a very good knuckle-curve.
Over the course of his career, Howell has had more success against left-handed hitters as opposed to right-handed hitters (as you would expect). Lefties have hit .229/.306/.317 off of Howell, compared to .249/.339/.389 against right-handed hitters. He’s no slouch either vs the opposite side, as he performed better against right-handed hitters during his 2016 campaign.
Howell has been a very durable pitcher since 2011, and has pitched in at least 55 games since 2012. He has also mostly excelled pitching on back-to-back days during his career.
The AL East is the best offensive division in baseball, with the most hitter friendly ballparks. Even with David Ortiz retired, there are still some big left-handed power hitters in this division, and Howell will be the man to face them late in games. Howell’s ability to pitch on back-to-back days will be taken advantage of in this division.
Howell, as he has shown with the Rays and Dodgers, can pitch in a big game. He loves the spotlight and has delivered some huge outs in postseason play.
Bullpen’s can make or break a season and having a strong left-handed pitcher is a huge key to a strong bullpen. With so much uncertainty involving the final 2 or 3 spots in the pen, J.P’s importance is even greater. If he can’t bounce back from the poor season he had last year, where he posted a 4.09 ERA, the Blue Jays are in serious trouble, but his 3.50 FIP is a good sign that he just had a lot of bad luck last year. It is reasonable to expect him to perform better with the Blue Jays strong infield defence around him.
J.P Howell is a very important factor to the Blue Jays success, making him one of the most important Blue Jays going into the 2017 season. Moving from the NL to the AL is not always a guarantee for success, example A being Drew Storen. But J.P. has been a dominate reliever in the toughest division in baseball before, and excels in a big game situation.
The $3 million deal J.P Howell signed back in mid February could be a real bargain. If, as we expect, he can be the dominate lefty in the back of the bullpen like he was two years ago.