Should the Blue Jays Consider Replacing GM Ross Atkins?
This has clearly been a big Achilles’ heel of the team during Atkins’ tenure. Despite repeatedly talking about the importance of run prevention, and “swing-and-miss” relievers, the Jays bullpen has ranked 17th in Major League Baseball with a 4.07 ERA and 21st with a 6.2 fWAR since the 2020 season. Given they’ve made the postseason in two of those three years, that’s just not good enough.
Despite having a prolific offence this season (as per FanGraphs, the Jays had “the fifth-lowest strikeout rate in baseball during the regular season, ranked third in slugging, and second only to the Dodgers in team wRC+“), FanGraphs questioned the 2022 bullpen in their ALWC preview, asking:
"Is Toronto’s bullpen good enough to make a deep run? Closer Jordan Romano passes the late-inning smell test, and the limber Adam Cimber is an excellent, disorienting “look” reliever. The rest of the bullpen is fine, but not typical of a contending team. Toronto is in the bottom third of baseball in bullpen fastball velocity and contact rate and in the middle of the pack in strikeout rate. The group, as a whole, throws strikes (for all the middling other statistics, they’re top five in bullpen walk rate, and the pitching staff as a whole is third), but the Jays have just one lefty to call on (Tim Mayza) and have leaned heavily on Yimi Garcia, who’s more of a low-leverage middle inning type at this point."
Certainly, a case can be made that the 4th place AL East finish in the 2021 season, despite the team having a +183 run differential, the AL Cy Young winner, and two of the three AL MVP finalists, was due to an awful bullpen in May and June that year when the bullpen lost 14 games and blew nine saves while posting a 4.51 ERA (ranked 20th in MLB over that stretch) and 0.5 fWAR (23rd in MLB).
There was no competitive depth after the planned bullpen of Kirby Yates, David Phelps, Julian Merryweather, Tyler Chatwood, Ryan Borucki and Rafael Dolis was either injured or ineffective. In fact, the only good news to come out of those dark days was that Jordan Romano was finally anointed as the Jays go to Closer.
That lack of depth was the fault of Ross Atkins, who had at least two damning injury reports on Kirby Yates before signing him, yet still went ahead anyway. He then tried to replace the injured relievers with a succession of uncompetitive dumpster dives like Anthony Castro, Jeremy Beasley, Carl Edwards Jr., Tyler Chatwood and Rafael Dolis.
Again in 2022, the bullpen was just average, posting a 3.77 ERA (ranked 13th in MLB), and an fWAR of only 3.0 (16th). Note that all of the remaining teams in the 2022 postseason had top ten bullpens in terms of fWAR.
More damning might be that in his end-of-season remarks, Ross Atkins acknowledged the importance of swing-and-miss arms in the bullpen, and how they needed to be better there to take the next step toward a deep postseason run.
However, words are one thing. Ross Atkins has to be held accountable, with a commitment to resource allocation to add two or three new high-leverage, swing-and-miss arms to the bullpen to upgrade and improve upon what we’ve endured in the past few seasons, including the historic failure of the bullpen in blowing an 8-1 lead in the 6th inning of game two of this year’s ALWC series.