The Toronto Blue Jays strengthen their bullpen after reportedly agreeing to a one-year deal with southpaw reliever J.P. Howell.
In the process, the Blue Jays got the left-handed pitcher they’ve been looking for, to add to their bullpen. A further report from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, indicates the deal will be in the $3 million range.
Understandably, certain factions of the Blue Jays’ fan base might be less than enamored with the signing. After all, Howell is coming off arguably his worst campaign in five seasons, which included a 4.09 ERA and 1.401 WHIP in 50.2 innings of action.
Further, as detailed by the excellent MLB Trade Rumors, the 33-year old had some issues with left-handed batters last year, as evidenced by a .302/.343/.417 batting line. He also saw his strikeout rate against lefties drop to 21.4 percent.
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In this respect, any decision by the front office would have come down to determining if 2016 was a one-off, or the start of a decline for Howell. Along those lines, agreeing to a one-year deal represents a minimal risk.
Of course, the Blue Jays will be hoping last season’s performance was just an off-year. This seems like a fair assumption to make, given that the southpaw had an excellent 1.97 ERA in 155 innings of action for the Dodgers, between 2013 and 2015.
In fairness to Howell, it wasn’t all bad in 2016, as evidenced by averaging 7.8 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. Further, as per Fangraphs, his 59.1 percent ground-ball rate was 15th in the Majors, among pitchers throwing at least 50 innings.
Regardless, a further reason any perceived gamble was worth taking — quite literally — comes down to the $3 million the 2004 first rounder will be making. Considering he earned $6.25 million in 2016, less than half of that amount makes him excellent value for money, again taking into account his resume in recent seasons.
In terms of what Howell can bring to the mound, his main weapons are his 86 mph sinker and 79 mph knuckle-curve. His sinker is considered especially dangerous, as it has a heavy sinking action which produces a superior number of groundballs compared to other pitchers.
The Modesto, California native is also capable of throwing an 80 mph change-up, although he rarely uses it. More generally speaking, scouting reports describe him as having a solid command of all three pitches.
Overall, there is no denying bringing Howell on board has some risk involved, specifically relating to his dip in productivity during 2016. However, gambles are often a big part of baseball (and professional sports in general) and his previous form combined with the relatively low cost, make this a worthwhile move by the Blue Jays.
How confident are you in the Jays’ bullpen as it stands? Are you happy to move forward with the current options, or are you still looking for more arms? Further, what are your thoughts about Howell specifically? Share your thoughts in the comments section.