Blue Jays: Bullpen’s Unsung Hero Dominic Leone
By Jason Lee
The household name of relief pitchers for Jays fans is Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays’ young closer. If you pay a little more attention than the average fan, you may know of Joe Biagini and Ryan Tepera, two talented, effective setup men. However, if you are a true Jays fan (and stuck with the team in 2017), then you should know Dominic Leone, the bullpen’s unsung hero.
Dominic Leone was drafted in 2012 in the 16th round by the Seattle Mariners. After enjoying a dominant debut season with Seattle (2.17 ERA, 66.1 IP), Leone wasn’t able to replicate his success in the following years and bounced around the minor leagues before the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers in the 2016 offseason. However, 2017 has been a different story for Leone as he has returned to his debut season form. To see just how dominant Leone has been, consider the following data:
Player A: 2.97 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 30.1 IP
Player B: 2.59 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 48.2 IP
Player A is Aroldis Chapman, the New York Yankees’ flame throwing closer who is getting paid $15 mil in 2017. Player B is Dominic Leone, owner of MLB’s base salary (for those wondering, around $550,000). Bottom line? Leone has been a cheap option performing at a high level for the Blue Jays in 2017.
What’s Behind the Revival?
Like many other pitchers, Dominic Leone is at his best when he’s striking out batters. When he was struggling in 2015 and 2016, Leone’s SO/9 were at below-average rates of 5.4 and 7.7. In 2014 (debut season) and 2017, the rates jump up to 9.5 and 9.4 which directly correlates with his impressive ERA.
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Furthermore, in his years of success, Leone manages to reign in his command issues and cut his walk rates. Again, when he was struggling in 2015 and 2016, Leone’s BB/9 sat at an ugly 5.4 and 4.0. However, in his years of success in 2014 and 2017, the rates decrease to 3.4 and 3.6, a much more respectable figure.
Finally, Leone’s 2017 success can also be attributed to his ability to avoid the long ball. His HR/9 in his years of success (0.5 in 2014 and 0.8 in 2017) provide a sharp contrast compared to his years of struggle (1.2 in 2015 and 2.3 in 2016).
Not only is Leone’s success encouraging, he is controlled for 4 more years and is quite young (25 years old). Although Leone maintaining his success in the following years is far from guaranteed, in an era of baseball where the price of dominant relievers are skyrocketing, being able to cheaply control an effective asset like Leone is pivotal if the Blue Jays want to keep competing in the AL East.
Leone’s control also gives the Blue Jays flexibility and multiple options. The front office can keep Leone for 2018 and beyond to help with another run at contention. However, if the Blue Jays falter again and management elects to undergo a full rebuild, then Leone could be a valuable piece to trade that could bring back young talent for the future.
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Leone provides value for both the present and future. His 2017 success is overlooked by many fans due to the overall struggles of the Blue Jays, but Leone has posted numbers that are among the top tier of relievers. For the future, if he maintains his success, Leone can be a valuable contributor to the Blue Jays bullpen or a trade piece that brings back players for the future for the new wave of Toronto Blue Jays.