Blue Jays: Something in the bullpen has gotta give

SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 9: Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, second from left, pulls relief pitcher Aaron Loup
SEATTLE, WA - JUNE 9: Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, second from left, pulls relief pitcher Aaron Loup /

Despite the fact that the Blue Jays’ bullpen has been pretty good so far, it’s a group that will need to change as the season goes on, one way or another.

Let me start off by saying that I’ve got very few complaints about the Blue Jays’ bullpen so far this year. Sure, there have been some rough performances , but all in all it’s been a successful start to the 2018 campaign.

We expected the Blue Jays to have Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and even Aaron Loup in the fold, but the rest of the group was pretty unknown before spring training. The final three spots have been occupied by a cheap signing in Seung hwan Oh, and two minor league deals with Tyler Clippard and John Axford. So far, all three have worked out quite well in adding to John Gibbons‘ bullpen aesenal.

Oh has already appeared in 15 games and has posted a 2.03 ERA thus far. He’s looked a little shaky at times, but 1.200 WHIP isn’t bad, and he’s struck out 15 hitters in 13.1 innings of work. Considering the Blue Jays scooped in and signed him after a failed physical with the Rangers (for a lot more money), they have to be happy with the investment so far.

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The same could be said for their pair of minor league contracts. Axford has been a pleasant surprise as well in 2018, throwing hard again at the age of 35. He’s been even better than Oh and has a 1.65 ERA and a 1.163 WHIP in 16,1 innings. He hasn’t been used in a lot of high leverage situations, but when he’s been handed the ball he’s been largely successful. Clippard has been the best of the group, posting a 0.918 WHIP and a 1.65 ERA in 17 innings pitched, already earning 0.7 bWAR and a surprising 4-0 record.

When you add Tepera (2.30 ERA, 1.021 WHIP), Barnes (2.57 ERA, already demoted), and Osuna (8 saves, 1.116 WHIP), that’s a formidable group of six regulars, all of whom are performing at admirable levels. Danny Barnes was optioned to Triple-A mostly because the Blue Jays needed fresh arms. He had looked outstanding in the first couple of weeks before getting roughed up a bit more recently, but you can expect him to be a big part of the bullpen this year.

That leaves Aaron Loup as the lone left-hander, a narrative that has been discussed quite a bit in Blue Jays’ circles. We’ve all heard that guys like Tepera and Barnes are good at getting lefties out, and Clippard has been stingy this year so far, but even at that it’s tough to roll with just one southpaw. What that lefty is hardly a specialist at getting same side hitters out, then it’s even less ideal.

So far this year the 30 year old has a 5.56 ERA and a 1.676 WHIP in 13 games and 11.1 innings pitched. In the admittedly small sample size, things haven’t been very good for Loup regardless of how you look at it. Right-handed hitters are slashing .320/.308/.560 in 26 plate appearances, while lefties are feasting on Loup at .375/.423/.500, also in 26 plate appearances. Gibbons hasn’t exactly leaned on him yet this year, and with good reason by the numbers.

Things could obviously change in a real hurry, as we’ve seen on the offensive side with recent injuries, but if the Blue Jays hope to keep all of their right-handers together throughout the season (assuming Barnes is back soon), Loup likely ends up as the odd man out at some point. Perhaps Gibbons and the Jays feel they need a second lefty as well, which would mean one of those six would have to move at some point if everyone stays healthy, but I don’t think that changes Loup’s fate. The Blue Jays could also badly use a long reliever in their bullpen, so if they aren’t going to employ a second southpaw, it seems like an arm capable of multiple innings would be the next logical step.

Loup isn’t really either of those things for the Blue Jays right now, and while I appreciate Gibbons’ loyalty to his players, it wouldn’t break my heart if they moved on from him. In fact, despite giving up a home run against the Rays on Friday night, I felt like Tim Mayza had more to offer as the lefty out of the bullpen, and I wasn’t alone in that thinking, at least according to Twitter.

For now it could be a game of juggling who is all healthy and fresh, and Barnes is still in Buffalo at the moment anyway, so I don’t expect the Blue Jays to do anything drastic just yet. However, it seems like as the season wears on that something will have to give, and my guess is it’ll be Aaron Loup’s roster spot. Every time I’ve said that in the past he’s gone on a stretch of solid pitching right afterward, and I’d be okay with that too. In the long run though, I don’t expect him to last the entire season on the 25 man roster, not with the way the rest of the group is built and are performing.

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