The Blue Jays bullpen has performed well this season but there are signs that their early season success may not continue.
In a recent column, Chris Henderson opined that the Blue Jays bullpen will change as the season progresses. Henderson suggested that Aaron Loup’s tenure on the 25-man roster may be short-lived and he also noted the need for a long reliever. I concur with these opinions.
This article is the first of a two-part series. Part One will examine the need for the Jays to add a long reliever. Part Two will delve into the forecast game and project how the bullpen will perform as the rest of the 2018 season unfolds.
Part One – The need for a long reliever
How busy has the Blue Jays bullpen been?
After the games of Sunday, May 6, the Jays starters have pitched 193 innings, which is 6th most in the AL but only 3 innings fewer than the team with the third-most innings. The median and mean innings pitched is 186. On the reliever front, the Blue Jays bullpen has contributed 117 innings to the cause, which is 10th most in the AL. The mean innings pitched by a bullpen to date is 117; the median is 118. By these measures, the bullpen is not overworked on a relative basis.
Ah, but there are more numbers, no?
When evaluating a bullpen’s workload, there are measures other than innings. The number of appearances, average number of pitches thrown by a reliever, and the number of multi-inning appearances are worth considering.
American League Relievers
Sources: Data is from the start of the 2018 Season up to and including May 6 games. The pitches thrown by pitcher data is courtesy of Baseball Savant and includes pitchers who have thrown more than 100 pitches as a reliever. There are 125 relievers in the sample. The other data was obtained from Baseball Reference.
What does the bullpen data show?
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- The Blue Jays bullpen have had an above-average number of appearances; only the Angels and Rangers have more appearances;
- In terms of pitches thrown per pitcher, the Blue Jays on average are close to the top-quartile (most to least) of AL relievers;
- The Jays have 4 pitchers who have thrown in excess of 274 pitches, the top-quartile break: Tyler Clippard, Seung Hwan Oh, Danny Barnes, and Ryan Tepera;
- Of the named relievers, only Barnes is younger than 30, which raises questions about injury risk and future performance given the age of these relievers; and
- The Blue Jays have the fewest multi-inning relief appearances in the AL, notably 18 fewer than the league average.
All of the data presented supports the view that the Blue Jays need to add a long reliever to their bullpen. Perhaps the Joe Biagini starter experiment should be ended and his role converted into that of the long reliever. Other long-man candidates include Chris Rowley, Taylor Guerrieri, and Deck McGuire.
The last word
The Jays bullpen has excelled so far this season; their 3.06 ERA is best in the AL. However, despite having the sixth fewest innings pitched, the Blue Jays bullpen has the third most appearances. The lack of a designated long reliever has contributed to the elevated number of outings. Furthermore, the number of innings per game that would be handled by the bullpen may increase if the starters continue to struggle. All these factors point to the need for the Blue Jays to designate someone as their long reliever. I believe that they will do so in the not too distant future.