2011 Toronto Blue Jays: Frank Fransisco and How to Fix Their Broken Bullpen

Jeff WahlCorrespondent IMay 31, 2011

Why so glum, chum?
Why so glum, chum?Abelimages/Getty Images

Toronto’s current four-game win streak has helped take the sting out of a previous string of losses that can largely be blamed on their bullpen.

With eight blown saves and countless more lost leads late in games, the Blue Jays relief corps needs to be fixed if they are to remain competitive this season.

Here is the stat line on Toronto’s bullpen as of midnight, May 30 2011:

Casey Janssen: IP 22.1, K 17, ERA/WHIP 1.61/0.98, Saves 0, BS 0

Jason Frasor: IP 22, K 21, ERA/WHIP 1.64/1.09, Saves 0, BS 1

Shawn Camp: IP 26, K 12, ERA/WHIP 2.42/1.15, Saves 0, BS 1

Carlos Villanueva: IP 34, K 30, ERA/WHIP 2.62/0.93, Saves 0, BS 0*

Mark Rzepczynski: IP 23, K 21, ERA/WHIP 2.74/1.04, Saves 0, BS 1

Louis Perez: IP 11.1, K 6, ERA/WHIP 3.97/1.24, Saves 0, BS 0

Jon Rauch: IP 20, K 14, ERA/WHIP 3.92/1.11, Saves 6, BS 2

Octavio Dotel: IP 13.1, K 18, ERA/WHIP 5.40/1.72, Saves 1, BS 0

Frank Francisco: IP 13, K 16, ERA/WHIP 6.59/1.61, Saves 5, BS 3

*includes two starts.

I’ve outlined three possible solutions for Toronto’s beleaguered pen.  None by themselves is a magic pill but any combination of the three has the potential to right the ship.

1. Trade

This is almost assuredly the solution most fans are clamoring for but it’s also the most difficult to execute.  Its not as if other teams are flushed with talent that they can’t wait to rid themselves of (aside from the Pirates, of course).

However, I’ve identified a few pitchers who could become available as the trade deadline nears.

Matt Capps, Minnesota Twins: The Twins are just plain awful this year and with a payroll of $113.27 million, they must be looking to shed salary. Capps has seven saves on a bad team and although his 4.88 ERA is indeed unsightly, his 0.88 WHIP and .227 BAA are much more indicative of his performance this season.

However, what would it take to pry him loose and would Toronto even want to trade assets for a player making $7.15 million on an expiring contract? Also, Capps is very streaky and is prone to blowing saves in bunches (four BS this season), so that may be a red flag as well.

If the Twins are willing to part with Glen Perkins (1.59/1.19, 8.9 K/9 in 22.2 IP) then he may be a better target.  His price tag is attractive at $700,000 and he has that former first-round pick pedigree that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos seems to like (22nd overall in 2004).

Failing either of those, the following are several other possibilities: Tyler Clippard, Sean Burnett (WAS), Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan (PIT), Chris Ray (SEA), Chad Qualls or Heath Bell (SD).

2. Promotion

This is the most likely scenario as Anthopolous has been building this team with a very measured approach. A call-up from Las Vegas would be perfectly in line with that philosophy.

One name to consider is the well-traveled Wil Ledezma. At 30 years of age he is clearly no longer a prospect, but he could have some value as a stabilizing force. In Las Vegas (AAA) he is showing well enough with a 3.67/1.25 split with 33 K in 27 IP.

The recently re-acquired Danny Farquhar is another option. He’s struggling a bit right now in his first taste of AAA as his 4.67/1.67 split shows; however, he has lit up minor league hitters since he was drafted by Toronto in the 10th round in 2008. In 2010 while in Double-A New Hampshire, he had a 3.52/1.20 split in 76.2 innings to go with 79 strikeouts and 17 saves.

3. Change Roles

I’m sure John Farrell has considered this already, so altering roles in the pen isn’t exactly revelatory.

First, let’s briefly discuss the Octovio Dotel experiment. It hasn’t worked out. Cut him.

Second, I honestly don’t believe Frank Francisco is as bad as he’s pitched lately. In 297 career innings (all relief), he’s struck out 331 batters with a 3.88/1.30 split. In 2009 he led  the Texas Rangers with 25 saves and added a 3.83/1.11 slash line and 11.6 K/9.

FranFran is clearly struggling right now. Perhaps he needs to take a breather and come out as a setup man or situational reliever until he gets his head right. But who will replace him?

One option is Jon Rauch being slipped back in to the closer role. Although his 6:2 saves-to-blown saves ratio is only a sight better that FranFran’s 5:3, Rauch’s peripherals are much better. This seems like the most likely scenario.

However, another option could be either Jason Frasor or Casey Janssen. Not only are these two Toronto’s most reliable pen arms this season, they are both armed with the requisite K rate that most closers need to be successful.

Beyond the closer struggles, there is an option that may seem a bit out-of-left-field compared to the others:

Call up Brad Mills and return Villanueva to the bullpen.

Charlie V is a valuable asset as a versatile pitcher but he’s best served as a long reliever. Mills however is still young at 26 years old and has been pitching very well for Vegas. He’s only walked 15 batters in 66.2 innings to go along with a 2.70/1.14 slash line and although he’s had middling success in his previous two call-ups, 30 MLB innings is an incredibly small sample size.

What are your thoughts on the state of the Toronto bullpen?


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