Blue Jays: A War of Veterans for the Final Two Bullpen Spots

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27: John Axford
DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 27: John Axford /
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DUNEDIN, FL – FEBRUARY 22: John Axford
DUNEDIN, FL – FEBRUARY 22: John Axford /

John Axford

John Axford already seems to be the feel-good story of Blue Jays spring training. Canadian-born, life-long Blue Jays fan, and veteran reliever, Axford his chance to live out his boy-hood dream and play for the Toronto Blue Jays. Pictures of young Axford in his Blue Jays pyjama pants are sure to grace the Rogers Centre big screen this year.

Axford’s strong spring training already makes a case for this to come true. In 2.0 IP, a very small sample size, Axford has allowed one hit, no earned runs, and has done it against a strong 8.2 OppQual.

However, there is cause for concern in Axford’s numbers in 2017. Pitching for the Oakland Athletics, he managed 21.0 IP with an abysmal 6.43 ERA. Even worse, he allowed 17 free passes while only punching out 21 batters. Add in a dreadful 11.3 H9, and it’s clear why he struggled with a 2.095 WHIP.

Projections are much kinder to Axford than his 2017 numbers were. Currently, steamer projects Axford at 10.0 IP with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP. As well, Baseball Reference sees him with a stronger 42.0 IP and a similar 4.71 ERA. While these are not jump off the page numbers, they are serviceable for a sixth or seventh reliever. Someone that is put in games to clean up, not shut down.

Also, Axford’s velocity in 2017 was very encouraging. Despite struggling through his age-34 season, Axford still averaged a fastball at 95-96 Mph; strong velocity for a veteran relief pitcher on the wrong side of thirty.