Blue Jays Year In Review: The Good, Bad, & Ugly – Dominic Leone

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Dominic Leone
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Dominic Leone /

Jays Journal takes a look back at 2017, and the good, bad, and the ugly of each individual performance from the roster. We stick with the recent theme of relievers from the bullpen, as we cover breakout reliever Dominic Leone.

Dominic Leone didn’t even start the 2017 season on the active 25 man roster, but was called up within the season’s second series at the Tampa Bay Rays when J.P. Howell went to the disabled list. Even though Leone did a bit of a yo-yo act when guys went on and off the disabled list, he was one of the best arms in the Blue Jays bullpen in 2017.

The Blue Jays picked up Leone off of waivers back in November after a tumultuous few seasons at the MLB level and some small stumbles in the minors. However, Leone had flashed some potential of being a really good bullpen arm back in 2014 with the Seattle Mariners, when he went 8-2 with a 2.17 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 9.50 K/9.

Luckily for the Blue Jays, they got the Dominic Leone that had shown potential in Seattle this past season. He’s pitched himself into being a bullpen lock for 2018 and should be a key piece at the back end of the bullpen. Leone is arbitration eligible after barely surpassing the Super Two cutoff, so we shall see what he gets for salary in 2018, but he will yet again be a big piece in the bullpen.

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The Good

We saw a lot of good from Dominic Leone in 2017 and it starts with his ERA and FIP. His ERA of 2.56 and FIP of 2.94 was good for first and second respectively in the Blue Jays’ bullpen. He was relied upon for some big outs during the course of the season as manager John Gibbons began to see Leone could be trusted to pitch in more high leverage situations.

Leone also posted the highest K/9 in his brief career at 10.36, or 29% of batters he faced in 2017. He really had the strikeouts working with his 95.1 MPH fastball and 84.4 MPH slider. He also mixes in a cutter and sinker which helps keeps hitters off of his fastball and slider. Leone also was able to mix in a decent amount of groundballs with all the strikeouts. His assortment of pitches allowed for Leone to handle both left handed, and right handed batters extremely well.

For those who believe in using fWAR for relief pitchers (I think it’s a good but not great measure for relievers), it’s pretty incredible to know that Dominic Leone’s 2017 fWAR of 1.5 was the 27th best amongst all qualified relievers. I don’t think anyone saw this amount of good coming from Dominic Leone in 2017, myself included in that. It took a while for me to believe in Leone, but I’m now 100% sold on him being a good back-end arm for 2018.

The Bad & Ugly

It wasn’t all roses for Leone in 2017. He did get off to a rocky start and due to there being so little bad and no ugly from Leone in 2017, I’m combining both of the sections into one here and classifying them as bad.

Leone struggled a bit out of the gate for the Blue Jays with an ERA of 4.76 and 2 home runs surrendered in 11.1 innings pitched. Due to how dominant his numbers were from June onwards, his 3.38 ERA looks bad when in reality, it’s a fine number.

If there’s anything that you’d want to see Leone improve upon in 2018, it’s the command. While he didn’t post outrageously bad walk totals, a BB/9 of 2.94 isn’t ideal for a late inning reliever. It was a lack of command that hurt Leone during his time in Arizona, so that was about the only thing I can point to as a caution heading into 2018. If he trims that total in 2018, you could be looking at an incredibly dominant back-end arm.

Projecting 2018

I’ve said this time and time again but relievers are extremely fickle creatures which make them difficult to predict. Do I think Leone will be the 1.5 fWAR reliever he was in 2017? It’s possible, but given his big workload of 70.1 innings, it’s possible he regresses to something more along the lines of what you can expect going forward.

For prediction purposes, I’ll say he will be between 0.8 and 1.2 fWAR in 2018 with around the same strikeout totals and walk totals. I do believe that he will open the season as a 7th inning arm and will instantly be put into high leverage situations.

We shall see how a heavy 2017 workload affects Dominic Leone in 2018, but I think it’s safe to say you should be confident in Leone every time he takes the mound early on in the 2018 season.

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