Even though running eight relievers seems like the perfect insurance to a very young rotation, it begs one question: Even though there's quantity, do the Jays have quality in their 'pen?
Well, I thought, what better way to answer that question than to compare the Jays' relief corps to those of their major competitors in the AL East, and those who are also thought to have solid relievers—the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox?
Answering the question won't have the best answer due to the fact that injuries, slow starts, etc. will all have an effect on the bullpen's seasons, but looking deep into the statistics should help us understand who is projected to have the stronger bullpen based on last season's production from all the pitchers who are part of the three teams.
Boston Red Sox
Projected Bullpen: Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Matt Albers, Daniel Bard, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Tim Wakefield
Projected Bullpen Stat Line: 3.94 ERA, .245 BAA, 1.17 WHIP
The Red Sox bullpen can be considered a hit or miss type of relief team. If the team reaches even half its potential, their overall ERA will be much below 3.00, while teams will struggle to hit against them. However, if all their relievers play like last season or close to it, the above stat line is quite realistic.
Jonathan Papelbon will most likely start the season as closer, but if he falters, he will have two other pitchers just as capable in Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard waiting.
The Sox will also have trouble with left-handed batting, as all their relievers—with the exception of Bard—had ERAs above 4.80 when pitching against lefties last season. They should specialize against righties.
New York Yankees
Projected Bullpen: Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, David Robertson, Pedro Feliciano
Projected Bullpen Stat Line: 3.00 ERA, .226 BAA, 1.21 WHIP
The Yankees most likely have the deepest pitching staff in baseball—in terms of the back end of it. Mariano Rivera will surely have yet another stellar season, while Rafael Soriano is another premier closer who will set up for the veteran. David Robertson is a fine complement to that fantastic duo.
Who has the best bullpen?
However, when you look at the long-relieving options for the Yankees, well, there really aren't any. Joba Chamberlain can be considered a long reliever, but his stamina has been questionable of late and can't be fully relied on. Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan are better suited as middle or late relief than long too.
The question remains, what happens when A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes has his trademark "off night?" It's a question the Yankees are hoping to answer with Chamberlain and perhaps some of their younger arms still in the minors, like Ivan Nova.
The Yankees should be fine when batting against lefties, as even though Soriano's and Rivera's strong sides are against righties, their BAAs vs. lefties are still quite respectable. Logan and Feliciano should also help shut down left-handed batting.
Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Bullpen: Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson, Casey Janssen, David Purcey
Projected Bullpen Stat Line: 3.70 ERA, .246 BAA, 1.30 WHIP
The Blue Jays don't really have an electric-type arm like the Yanks and Sox have, but they do have something the other two don't—reliability at both ends of the staff and on both sides of the ball. They will rely on Casey Janssen and Shawn Camp for long relief, while the rest will combine to form a solid middle and late relief team.
Toronto will also have some versatility in their relief team. Relievers Camp, Janssen, David Purcey and Jon Rauch will be able to pitch at both ends of the bullpen, while they will also specialize in certain roles.
Rauch may close for the team, while Carlson and Purcey will be relied on to shut down left-handed batting. Camp should be one of John Farrell's go-to relievers, given his proven reliability.
Something the Jays don't have is a sure-fire closer. They will have a bevy of relievers competing for the job, most notably Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco. Others who will battle for the position include Jason Frasor and former All-Star Chad Cordero. However, they do have quantity at the position, so if anyone falters, there will always be a fallback option.
If you match up all the 'pens against each other, the Yankees are the clear-cut winners based on stats. They have the best closer in the game, probably the best setup man in the game and one of the better left-handed specialists as well. Nonetheless, their long relief will remain a question, simply because of the known inconsistency their rotation will inevitably face.
The Red Sox are also strong at the closing position but will face some real struggles with left-handed batting. No one in their bullpen is really a specialist in terms of lefties. Also, despite completely cleaning the house of relievers in the free market this winter, the Red Sox still don't have a reliable long relief option either. Most of their better relievers are suited for setup/closing roles.
The Jays, I think anyway, have the best bullpen of the three. Despite not having a sure-fire closer, they do have numerous reliable options at the position to fill in for the dominance the Sox and Yankees have at the position. The Jays also have numerous long relief options, which should pay dividends for a young rotation. The Jays are also strong on both sides of the plate, where the other two are only dominant on one side.
The Jays are committing a lot of money to their relief corps this season, and it should pay off well, as Toronto not only has quantity but has quantity too. This should put them a step ahead in terms of pitching vs. the Red Sox and Yankees.