Toronto Blue Jays: Upgraded Bullpen or Just a Band-Aid Fix?
Good pitching beats good hitting every time, any smart baseball person knows that.
What the Jays have going for them, is a management staff that is slowly but surely putting the pieces together. The one glaring weakness that I can find is the bullpen.
The line-up is full of potential, talent ready to blossom. The rotation is five deep, a nice mixture of hard-throwers and finesse.
The bullpen on the other hand, has had yet another retooling.
The Toronto Blue Jays have never really had a dominant bullpen since their World Series days. Back then, you could say they were the innovators of the strategy the Yankees adopted in their late 90’s – early ‘Oughts; have your starter go six strong innings, and rely on your late-inning experts.
It was music to your ears in the early 90’s for Toronto fans everywhere; Mike Timlin to Duane Ward to Tom Henke. It sounds almost as good as Mariano Rivera to John Wetteland or Ramiro Mendoza to Jeff Nelson to Rivera.
Since the Jays drop from grace, the bullpen has been consistently inconsistent, lacking one or two players that could literally elevate their win total by four or five games.
Whether the club had a once lockdown closer like Billy Koch or B.J. Ryan, it is very rare when the Jays had that complementary middleman like Paul Quantrill to hand the ball off to the set-up man than the closer without a problem in the exchange.
Experiments like Kelvim Escobar were deemed successful, until injuries derailed that option. Mark Hendrickson, Cliff Politte, Josh Towers, and Brian Tallet are some that have tried to solidify a late-inning roster spot, all relegated to mop-up duty or being traded as time went on.
The last two to three seasons the bullpen has improved with the addition of Scott Downs, the emergence of Jason Frasor, Brandon League, Shawn Camp, Casey Janssen and Jesse Carlson. The disconnect remains; how the three moving parts; hitting, starting rotation and bullpen never quite seem to be on the same page.
2010 gave us a glimpse of what the Jays can do when they all work together. MLB leading power combined with an up-coming starting rotation and a bullpen when on, did a nice job.
Now one year later, one of the premier specialists/setup-man Scott Downs is headed Halo country, and saves leader Kevin Gregg becomes the veteran for a rebuilding Baltimore Orioles club. 2011 will again showcase newcomers to the team in Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, and Jon Rauch while Jason Frasor and Jesse Carlson are looking to rebound from a year where both didn’t round in to mid-season form until it was too late.
The new additions to the pen bring years of experience, especially Dotel (37), Francsico who had moderate success in Texas, and Rauch who made it through those early Washington National days in one peice. The "big three" all bring a calming ease to a club who has been witness to many meltdowns in the late innings; Gregg, Tallet, Frasor, meaning the younger guys can continue to develop without the pressure of the bright lights focused mainly on them.
Little appreciated Shawn Camp continues establish himself as one of the best at his position and most reliable the players the team has had in years. Camp put together another solid campaign as the stopper when things began to slide in the late innings. The journeyman right-hander has really blossomed in his three years in Toronto culminating with team leading 70 appearances and garnering the respect of at the very least, his arch-enemies in the American League East.
If Camp, along with Fraser and the rest of the relievers can keep the game in check till the seventh, Rauch, Francisco and Dotel have the ability to shut the door. If not, it’s going to be a painfully long season, something fans have experienced for much too long.
Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective
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