Blue Jays: An entire bullpen worth of disappointment in 2021

Aug 26, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Brad Hand (52) delivers against the Chicago White Sox in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 26, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Brad Hand (52) delivers against the Chicago White Sox in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Blue Jays made the decision to admit a misstep in acquiring Brad Hand in July, designating the veteran left-hander for assignment. Unfortunately he barely lasted more than a month with his new team, as he was acquired on July 29th just ahead of the trade deadline.

He appeared in 11 games and threw just 8.2 innings for the Blue Jays, but it went about as poorly as it could have. Last year’s American League leader in saves posted a 7.27 ERA with a 1.85 WHIP, and it got to the point where there really wasn’t a role for him. That’s a pretty disappointing development when you consider his resume, and the need for the Jays have had before and since they acquired him to help for the late innings.

Unfortunately Hand is just the latest disappointment from the 2021 bullpen, and I’m sure it’s an area of the roster that has given GM Ross Atkins some new grey hair. To the front office’s credit, they’ve acquired enough arms over the course of the last year that this should be a quality bullpen. They’ve been better lately, but I don’t think anyone would against the statement that the ‘pen has been the biggest weakness as a whole.

The more I think about it, the more I shake my head. In fact, now that Hand has joined the list of departed Blue Jays relievers, I’d argue that there is an entire bullpen worth of arms that on paper, should have been quality contributors and even made up for a formidable group.

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Do your best to forget what you’ve seen in 2021 and look at this list on paper. It’s enough to keep a person up at night.

1- Kirby Yates
2- David Phelps
3- Julian Merryweather
4- Brad Hand
5- Rafael Dolis
6- Tyler Chatwood
7- Ryan Borucki
8- Patrick Murphy

Honestly, if you loaded that group up as your reliever corps in MLB the Show, you’d probably have a lot of success. You’ve got multiple veterans with late-inning experience, All-Star appearances, 98-100 mph arms, and even some length. And yet, the leader of this group in bWAR is Julian Merryweather with 0.7, and he only pitched in four games this season. I could have made the list longer and includes others like A.J. Cole and Anthony Castro, but I’m sure you get the point.

For those that haven’t been following along, I’ll give you a quick recap of what happened over the last six months. Merryweather’s problem has been staying healthy, but hopefully he’ll be able to pitch in the big leagues again before the season is over. Unfortunately that won’t be the case for Yates or Phelps, who were both lost for the season back in the spring. There’s a hope that Borucki can still find his way back to the active roster in 2021, but it’s mostly been a lost season due to injuries for the southpaw as well.

Dolis went from being one of the most trusted arms in Charlie Montoyo’s bullpen to an unusable option. He posted a 5.63 ERA and a 1.750 WHIP over 39 outings covering 32.0 innings. He likely got a longer opportunity to turn things around than others would have, and that’s somewhat understandable after he was good for a 1.50 ERA and a 1.250 WHIP across 24 appearances last season. When it was clear that he just didn’t have the same to offer anymore, the Blue Jays had no choice but to designate him for assignment and give his spot on the 40-man roster to someone else.

There was a point earlier in the year when Tyler Chatwood looked like a bargain on his one year, three million dollar deal. And then the wheels fell off, and he hasn’t been able to find that same form again since. He started the season without giving up a run in April across six appearances, posted a 4.50 ERA in May, and then fell apart by June when it was 10.29. The Blue Jays eventually decided that the experiment was over and he was DFA’d as well, only to be picked up by the San Francisco Giants. Unfortunately that didn’t last long either, as he found the same fate again after two appearances with his second team of the year.

Last but not least is Murphy, who doesn’t have the same pedigree as most of the pitchers on this list, but still flashed a lot of potential and had a lot of us excited about him pitching again after battling injuries last year. I was disappointed when the Blue Jays designated him for assignment in August, but I’ll admit that he didn’t exactly seize his opportunity in a needy bullpen.

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Thankfully the Blue Jays have had solid seasons from the likes of Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza, and have been boosted by the acquisitions of Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards, but it’s hard not to think about what could have been with this group. With an area of the roster that’s as volatile as it is, hopefully next season brings better health, and better luck all around.