Bullpen Remains Key to Toronto Blue Jays Success


Bullpen Remains Key to Toronto Blue Jays Success

When you glance over the American League standings, you might be surprised to see the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins sitting atop their divisions. Meanwhile, our beloved Toronto Blue Jays are dead last in the American League East, sitting 4.5 games back of the New York Yankees.

A major reason for the early success of the Astros and Twins, is the same reason the Blue Jays have struggled to find any of their own. It’s the bullpen.

Entering last night’s action, the Astros ranked third in the majors with a 2.23 bullpen ERA, trailing only the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. While the Twins ranked 18th with a 3.72 bullpen ERA. As for the Blue Jays, they rank 22nd in the majors with a 3.87 ERA.

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You might be wondering how the Twins bullpen is a strength if their ERA is slightly above the Blue Jays.

Well, according to Win Probability Added (WPA), the Astros and Twins’ bullpen has been lights out this year, while the Blue Jays has been anything but.

WPA is a metric for both pitchers and hitters that evaluates the result of each plate appearance and how it changed the win probability for their team. Essentially, it quantifies the difference between a base hit in a tied ball game, and a base hit in the seventh inning of a 9-1 ball game.

Using this metric, the Astros and Twins have thrived this season, ranking No. 1 and No. 3 in WPA. A large reason for the Twins success, according to WPA, has been the performance of closer Glen Perkins. Perkins has dominated this season and it’s reflective by the Twins 27-0 record when leading after eight innings.

The Blue Jays have had similar success this season, as they are 21-0 when entering the ninth inning with a lead. The problem, though, has been holding leads prior to the ninth inning.

Middle relievers like Aaron Loup, Jeff Francis and Miguel Castro all have WPAs below -0.62, which has inflated the team’s overall WPA to a dreadful -6.08. But even with the demotions of Francis and Castro, the bullpen still boasts a -4.29 WPA, indicating that the entire Jays’ bullpen has struggled this season. Compare that number to the starters -2.35 WPA and you’ll see that the Jays’ bullpen has actually hindered their success this season more than the starters have.

If you don’t think bullpen WPA matters and it’s just another fancy sabermetric stat, take a look at where the last three ALCS and NLCS teams have ranked at the end of each regular season:

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  • 2014:

    Kansas City Royals — 1st
    Baltimore Orioles — 3rd

    San Francisco Giants — 8th
    St. Louis Cardinals — 5th


    Boston Red Sox — 13th
    Detroit Tigers — 15h

    St. Louis Cardinals — 10th
    Los Angeles Dodgers — 12th


    Detroit Tigers — 18th
    New York Yankees — 8th

    San Francisco Giants — 16th
    St. Louis Cardinals — 22nd

    You could easily make the case that a team can survive with a sub par bullpen. But does this current Blue Jays bullpen even classify as that? I doubt it.

    There is no denying that this bullpen will probably progress to the mean a bit. However, that doesn’t the Blue Jays shouldn’t address this issue. We all saw what the Royals did last postseason, when they literally ended games in the seventh inning with the power-arm trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.

    Although the Blue Jays can’t replicate that trio, they can certainly invest in the bullpen and find a way to replicate the Royals’ success.

    With a juggernaut offence and a mediocre starting rotation, a reliable bullpen could do wonders for the Blue Jays. It would certainly help relieve some pressure from the offence and it would probably even mask some deficiencies in the rotation, since you know the Jays’ offence will likely keep them in games.

    Of course, fixing the bullpen is easier said then done. But if the Blue Jays consider themselves contenders this season — which they are — they should invest in their bullpen now, before they have to pay a premium price at the trade deadline.

    Next: Josh Donaldson: Rightful Heir to the Month of May