The comments lauding the quality and depth of the Toronto Blue Jays’ bullpen heading into the 2012 season (‘three closers!’, ‘experience!’ ‘late-inning shutdown guys!’) seem all-too-familiar. It was just last season that the very same things were being said about a unit headlined by Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel, none of whom are back for the coming season and all of whom contributed to what was a disappointing year for the team’s relief corps (Francisco managed to salvage the year with a strong second half, but he couldn’t make up for the trio’s early struggles).
This season, however, things are a little different. Unlike last year’s open competition for the ninth inning role, there is no question of the team’s 2012 closer. Sergio Santos was a costly (Nestor Molina) acquisition when he came over from the White Sox, but he impressed in his first full season as a closer (30 saves), doesn’t carry a ton of mileage (115 career innings) and, perhaps most impressively, vexed opposing hitters to the tune of 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings last year.
Fellow late-inning arms Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero, along with the newly-extended Casey Janssen will serve as both a bridge to Santos and insurance in case of setbacks by the 28-year-old.
The Previous Guy(s)
Closer: Frank Francisco / Jon Rauch
Middle-Inning Relievers: Octavio Dotel, Casey Janssen, Jason Frasor, Marc Rzepczynski, Shawn Camp, Luis Perez, Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch
How Did The Jays Fare?
It actually wasn’t as bad as some fans may be inclined to believe. The Jays’ 2011 ‘pen finished with a 3.88 ERA, slightly below the major league average. However, while middle relievers like Janssen, Rzepczynski, Frasor, Perez and Villanueva performed reasonably well, it was the supposedly reliable back-end veterans Francisco, Rauch and Dotel that couldn’t always be depended upon. The trio contributed to the team’s 25 blown saves, leaving them third in the majors in the category. Interestingly, if the 2011 team had managed to hold the lead in 12 of those 25 blown saves, the Jays would have finished with 93 wins and sole possession of the wild card spot.
Where Are They Headed?
I offered up an overview of how the club’s bullpen shakes down here, but that was prior to Cordero’s signing. Now, with the 36-year-old stepping in as the right-handed set-up man alongside the southpaw Oliver, it locks down another one of what are expected to be seven relief spots to be filled. With Santos, Cordero, Oliver, Janssen and Frasor all but certain to begin the season in the ‘pen, that leaves two spots open for what is expected to be a three-way battle between Litsch, Perez and Villanueva, barring a breakthrough spring by a farmhand like Trystan Magnuson or Joel Carreno. Regardless of who fills out the final slots, this unit (MLB.com recently ranked Toronto’s group ninth in the majors) should be much-improved over their 2011 selves.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher