Blue Jays: Could J.P. Howell be on the brink of DFA?

May 6, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher J.P. Howell (56) throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Toronto Blue Jays signed veteran left hander J.P. Howell back in January, they thought they were finding their replacement for the departed Brett Cecil. It has been the complete opposite for Howell and the Blue Jays. With the roster close to being healthy again, I think Howell could be on the brink of a DFA.

J.P. Howell is a veteran of 12 seasons spent with the Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers and now the Blue Jays. He began his career as a starter and was largely ineffective. The Rays sent Howell to the bullpen and his career took off.

Aside from a disastrous 2011 season with Tampa, Howell has not had an ERA above 4.09 in his career. That 4.09 ERA came last season and was skewed by a rough first month of April. His FIP of 3.50 clearly shows he was more effective as his ERA may lead you to believe.

Howell has become more of a LOOGY as his career has gone on and he’s never thrown overly hard. In fact, his sinker averages just 85.3 MPH. As a soft-tossing lefty, he throws what come call slop. It’s Howell’s ability to locate that helped him be an effective left hander but his demise so far in 2017 has been his inability to locate.

Howell has a BB/9 of 11.57. That is only in 4.2 innings, but he has walked 6 batters in 4.2 innings. Unfortunately for Howell, basically started the season on the DL and came back in late April.

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When you look at what could be a large reason for the ineffectiveness of Howell, look no further than the opposition’s plate discipline against him with career averages in brackets:

  • Zone Contact -100% (87.9%)
  • Contact – 92.9% (76.4%)
  • Swing Percentage – 31.8% (39.5%)
  • Swinging Strike Percentage – 2.3% (9.3%)
  • O-Contact – 81.8% (55.0%)

Simply put, Howell has been hit and hit HARD. He also isn’t fooling anyone as they make contact on pitches outside of the strike zone at a staggering 81.8%! If you’re looking for optimism, one can take these numbers with a grain of salt due to the fact that Howell has only thrown 4.2 innings. With a lot of the numbers Howell has posted, it is hard to find optimism other than the fact that the opposition won’t continue to make contact on pitches in the zone 100% of the time, or contact outside of the zone 81.8% of the time. Those should even out. However, the other numbers like swinging strike percentage and swing percentage may not get much better. He hasn’t had good stuff all year long.

The Blue Jays are going to have some big decisions to make in the coming weeks. The returns of 3 disabled list players in Josh DonaldsonTroy Tulowitzki, and Francisco Liriano are imminent. There will be some shuffling of the bench players with the returns of Donaldson and Tulowitzki, but there certainly will not be a 9 man bullpen.

In order to avoid putting guys on waivers, Cesar Valdez will be one guy going down to Buffalo. The other could be a second bullpen arm and quite simply, there have been much better options that the Blue Jays could consider keeping around. That is where Howell could be a candidate to be DFA’d.

Jason Grilli is the other reliever that has appeared to be toast. Grilli, like Howell, has been extremely ineffective, and both arms who figured to be pitching in high leverage situations have been relegated to low leverage situations in favour of Danny Barnes and Ryan Tepera.

Grilli and Howell are both being paid $3 million, so when thinking of who is likelier to be DFA’d, cost will not be taken into consideration. The main thing is whether or not the Blue Jays feel comfortable with only 1 lefty in the bullpen in Aaron Loup. Loup also has not pitched in any high leverage situations. The Blue Jays are lucky that Tepera, Barnes, and Joe Smith have proven to be able to get both sides of the plate out.

If the Blue Jays want a 2nd left hander, Howell stays. Aside from a grand slam surrendered to Matt Carpenter in St. Louis, Howell would not have allowed a run against lefties. He’s handled lefties decently, and that could improve. If the Blue Jays feel that Howell’s struggles will continue, he likely will be the odd man out if there is a DFA.

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I think the roster decisions on the bullpen are still a bit away, but as of now, the ineffectiveness of J.P. Howell has me thinking that if anyone gets designated for assignment, it’s could be him.