Jays lose 7-5, and we’d better talk about the bullpen: Ostensibly a game recap

Baseball is stupid sometimes. Monday night, for example.

Sure, there are constructive criticisms to be made of the way this team is going right now. Brett Cecil, an excellent reliever, hasn’t pitched well. The other members of the bullpen not named Roberto Osuna are not exactly picking up the slack (and it’s fair to start wondering how well they ever will). The near-perfect Osuna had a blip of his own over the weekend. And John Gibbons, while not having done anything especially egregious, certainly hasn’t done a great job pulling the strings.

And the thing is, while I truly disdain the way that making criticisms seems to give the howling man-babies of Twitter license to pile on with negativity that goes far beyond the reasonable, I can’t pretend that there aren’t areas of concern that we’ve all seen. And I wouldn’t want to avoid the issue just to avoid the onrush of their bleating. Even if the obvious conclusion here is still to be optimistic that most issues will resolve themselves in time, and that 21 games worth of trending — especially for relievers, where we’re still talking about fewer than 10 innings — just doesn’t mean much.

Bad execution, bad luck, and some confusing usage have conspired to make things feel a little bit worse than they really are. And you can hardly blame people for the frustration of giving three-and-a-half hours of their lives to a game like that one. I mean… for fuck sakes.

But Cecil should be fine. The curveball isn’t clicking yet, and we can see that in some of the underlying numbers. The whiff rate of 27.8% Cecil generated on the pitch in 2015 is sitting after Monday night at 14.5%, and he’s thrown it just 30.4% of the time for strikes, compared to 43.2% last year, according to the data at Brooks Baseball. His percentage of swings on the pitch has gone from 52.2% to 39.1%.

Fewer swings, fewer whiffs, and fewer strikes? Yeah, that’s not good, and it has shown in the results.

Probably also not good is the fact that to believe he’ll figure it out again requires a little bit of faith — faith in the fact that he’s still the same guy (and nothing about his arsenal looks especially different, in terms of velocity, release point, etc., as far as I can tell — though it’s perhaps noteworthy that he’s not been elevating his fastball the same way he was last year) and faith in the fact that he’s started slow and has pulled himself out of these kind of deep funks before.

It’s not easy to have faith because relievers are volatile, sure, but 10 innings shouldn’t fundamentally change what Cecil is — or what he has been, which is a genuinely elite reliever. He’s earned a little patience. Let’s not forget how gutted we (rightly) felt when he went out injured in the playoffs, or the fact that the last time we were worried about him he responded with a ridiculous streak of dominance.

But memory is a funny thing. Not only do we struggle to remember what Cecil was last year and the year before, but we have difficulty remembering the successes he’s had this year, too. They haven’t been plentiful enough, but four of his eleven appearances have been totally clean, with one more registering only a single that was immediately doubled up. That’s not exactly a rate to crow about, and knowing it won’t make his outings any easier to watch, but it’s at least a reminder that his appearance in a game doesn’t instantly portend doom.

The other guys in the bullpen, though? We don’t have nearly as much to work with, as far as soothing our fears goes.

Drew Storen had three straight appearances with his fastball averaging more than 93, but then it dropped below 92 in his most recent outing. Looking at 2015 by month, his lowest average fourseam velocity was 94.2, which is… problematic. Especially for a guy who was kind of leaky to begin with.

Gavin Floyd, despite having given up the hit that scored Monday’s game winning run (which was charged to Cecil) has been quite good so far (five hits and three walks over 9.1 innings with 11 strikeouts) as has Jesse Chavez (seven hits, one walk, 12 Ks, over 7.2 IP), despite the fact that he gave up the knock that scored the insurance run. That run was charged to Pat Venditte, whose ambidextrous abilities make him a nice idea when it all works (and, for the record, I was OK with him pitching to Jimmy Rollins on Monday), but who has certainly struggled when called upon so far. Uh… and then there’s Joe Biagini and Chad Girodo.

It’s not a bad bullpen, really. Honestly! And certainly not some cheapskate affront to fans, as at least one of the more unhinged users of Twitter dot com was hilariously insisting to me on Monday night. You’ve got some guys with a little upside who are basically interchangeable with relievers in Buffalo depending on who’s going well, a couple solid veterans in Floyd and Chavez, a truly elite young arm in Osuna, and then Cecil and Storen, both of whom were elite as recently as last year.

It should work — well enough, at least. It shouldn’t be blown up or lamented, except when it again doesn’t do its one damn job. It shouldn’t be faced with “IS THIS A CHAMPIONSHIP BULLPEN???” haranguing when, at this moment of the season, it really doesn’t have to be.

Yes, it would be nice if everything clicked from day one, but there’s a reason many clubs choose to build bullpens on the fly — and no, it’s not singularly that they’re cheap.

Think about the Jays’ own history of eventually sorting things out. In 2012 Aaron Loup blossomed and Luis Perez had a nice year out of the bullpen. In 2013 Steve Delabar became an All-Star and Neil Wagner looked like he might really be something. In 2014 it was Aaron Sanchez who came up to give the ‘pen a sudden jolt. Last year Liam Hendriks emerged from nowhere, and Roberto Osuna didn’t get his first save until June 22nd.

June 22nd!

As I wrote the other day, I understand that people hate being told “it’s early,” but that’s not to say that these losses are unimportant, rather, it’s to say that the trends we see now don’t necessarily mean anything. It also means that there is plenty of time for whatever’s not working to get right.

Now someone please, for the love of fuck, be sure to remind me of that next time I see a tweet from John Lott about Marcus Stroman’s lower velocity! [tugs collar]

  • Bad Dabbler

    Please explain to me the point of getting Osuna up in the pen if you arent going to use him in the 9th down , up, or tied? Seems to me like he was up in the pen incase they took a lead in the 8th. they did not. he sits down. another run is given up in the top of the 9th doubling the deficit.

    i thought gibby was master of not dry humping relievers.

    his pen use has sort of gone to crap ever since the playoffs.

  • Barry

    Oh well, I guess whatever poor sucker the Sox put on the mound today is going to have to endure the Jays’ offence taking out their frustrations on him.

    Ah, I feel sorry for the guy. Hold on a second while I look up who that starter is …

    I see. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have to stick a soldering iron into my eyeballs.

  • DAKINS

    Stroman’s swing and miss % is going down, and his contact rate is going up. His velo is also down, which instigates lower batted ball velo.

    All this tells me, is that he’s moving away from a strike-out pitcher, to a ground-ball, pitch to contact pitcher.

    Why not take advantage of the improved defence behind you, and lower your pitch count?

    I am not alarmed by this in the slightest.

    • 0noggin

      I agree, and I think it’s deliberate. When you have a sinker like his, you pitch to contact, which is what he did from innings 2-6 last night, which were clean. The disaster in the 7th started with two groundballs that both found holes, which happen. Nothing to be alarmed about there, either.

  • ThePowderedWhig

    BlueJays 8-48 when scoring 3-runs or less in 2015. 1-7 record in such games to start 2016.

    They are 9-4 in 2016 when scoring 4-runs or more. Two of those losses were meltdown by the ‘pen: a 7-2 lead in the 6th evaporated vs Boston (4/9) and yesterday’s 5-1 lead in the 7th vs CWS. Not unreasonable to say they should be 11-2 when scoring 4-runs or more.

    My point is, 2016 will go down like 2015 — the offense scores, we roll. Yeah, the ‘pen has sucked (lol at inherited runner percentage!) so far, but I find the offensive numbers — which they seem to be picking up lately — more concerning thus far.