Almost ever reliever we’ll talk about in today’s report spent at least some time in the major leagues this season. While some were more effective than others, it can be seen as both a positive (that so many pitchers would pitch well enough in Buffalo to get a major league look) and a negative (that the Blue Jays still had so many bullpen issues going down the stretch).
Hawai’ian righty Dustin Antolin finally got a taste of The Show in 2016 in the midst of a stellar campaign for the Buffalo Bisons. Our Reliever of the Year, Antolin led the Bisons with 46 appearances and threw 53 innings with a 2.04 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 27.1% strikeout rate and 12.4% walk rate. Obviously, that walk rate was on the high side, keeping Antolin from really being dominant but the strikeout rate more than made up for it. Antolin did all this with a normal BABIP at .292 although he stranded 84.1% of runners, a rather high number, contributing to a more realistic 3.36 FIP. Antolin pitched two innings with the Blue Jays, getting shelled with three runs on four hits (including a home run) and a walk with a strikeout. Antolin was designated for assignment and sent to Buffalo outright. He could be a free agent at the end of the season and is playing in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.
My #2 choice for Reliever of the Year was Ben Rowen, 27, who logged 47 1/3 innings with the Bisons in 2016 with a 2.47 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 17.2% strikeout rate and 5.7% walk rate. Rowen, a submarining righty, was on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster but was designated for assignment on August 1 to make room for one of the Jays’ post-deadline additions and he was claimed by the Milwaukee Brewers on waivers. He gave the Brewers’ Triple-A club 10.2 outstanding innings, allowing just two runs on 11 hits and three walks with 12 strikeouts before getting a September call up in which he allowed six runs (five earned) over three innings.
If anyone is familiar with bathroom stops on the QEW between Buffalo and Toronto, it’s Ryan Tepera. The 28-year-old Texan righty bounced between the two clubs, pitched well in both environments. He had a 2.58 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in Buffalo, striking out 26.5% of batters and walking 8.8% in 45 1/3 innings while throwing another 18 1/3 innings in Toronto with a 2.95 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 21.2% strikeout rate and 9.4% walk rate. Tepera spent September with the big league club and earned a spot on the playoff roster after some injuries and ineffectiveness among the relief corps.
Like the other pitchers we’ve discussed so far, Chad Girodo got himself some major league service time this year, making his big league debut on April 22. While Girodo took advantage of the injury to Aaron Loup, it’s actually a tossup whether his performance was better in Toronto or Buffalo. Girodo threw 25 2/3 innings in Buffalo, with a 3.79 ERA but a 1.63 WHIP (and a 4.74 FIP), striking out 15.5% and walking 8.4%. In Toronto, he threw 10 1/3 innings with an even-lower 11.4% strikeout rate but a 4.6% walk rate, gettnig the benefit of a low BABIP and posting a 1.26 WHIP and 4.35 ERA. The 25-year-old lefty is still on the 40-man roster and could get another shot to be the club’s LOOGY in 2016.
Bo Schultz returned to the Blue Jays from offseason hip surgery and bounced between the majors and the minors. Schultz began his rehab in late April with the Dunedin Blue Jays, making three appearances before moving to New Hampshire for two outings. He rejoined the Buffalo Bisons in mid-May, throwing 17 innings with a 4.24 ERA, but walked only three batters and struck out 14 before getting recalled to the Blue Jays. He was up and down with the big league club, making three appearances for Toronto before getting sent down for a game, then made six more appearances with the big club before returning to Buffalo for two , then Toronto for one. By the end of the season, Schultz had gone from minors to majors or majors to minors nine times and he wasn’t used by the Blue Jays after September 18 as the club headed down the stretch. In 33 2/3 innings with Buffalo, he had a 3.74 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP, 16.2% strikeout rate and 5.4% walk rate. His strikeout rate fell again in Toronto to 14.7% and he had a 4.4% walk rate with a 5.51 ERA but a 1.22 WHIP and 4.85 FIP and 3.90 xFIP. The concern with Schultz is the decline in his strikeout rate despite his velocity being fine (it was averaging 96.1 mph, up from 95.8 mph in 2015) although his lower walk rates are encouraging. We’ll have to see what happens with Schultz next year as he’ll probably be another relief pitcher walking that fine line between Triple-A and the majors.
The Blue Jays took a chance on switch pitching Pat Venditte and the 31 year old was at least worth a little bit of intrigue. he started the season in Buffalo and made two appearances before the Blue Jays recalled him. He was up and down until early August when the Blue Jays traded him to Seattle (ultimately for infielder Tim Lopes). Venditte had a 4.37 ERA and 1.49 WHIP with the Bisons, striking out 32.3% and walking 8.1% with a low 2.68 FIP in 35 innings. In 8 2/3 innings with the Blue Jays, he had a 5.91 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 15.9% strikeout rate and 9.1% walk rate. After the trade, he struggled with Tacoma and Seattle but did get into seven games with the Mariners.
Chad Jenkins‘s rough ride with the Blue Jays finally came to an end in 2016. The former first-round pick struggled in a relief role with the Buffalo Bisons and was released at the end of June. Jenkins through 29 2/3 innings with a 5.16 ERA, and 1.96 WHIP, striking out only 14.2% and walking 11.5%.
Aaron Loup pitched more in Buffalo than he did in Toronto and so we include him here. Loup had a 1.83 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 19 2/3 innings with the Bisons, striking out a whopping 32.1% and walking 3.7%. In the majors, he threw 14 1/3 innings, walking only 6.5% and striking out 24.2% but had a very high BABIP and allowed a 5.02 ERA (but 4.33 FIP) and 1.33 WHIP. Loup has made it onto the roster for the Division series and can be another bubble pitcher for the Jays in 2017.
Another pitcher who didn’t last the season in the Blue Jays’ organization was lefty Pat McCoy. McCoy made 17 appearances for the Bisons, throwing 21 1/3 innings with a 4.64 ERA and 2.03 WHIP, walking 15.0% of batters and striking out 17.8%. He was traded to the Rockies, pitching the rest of the year in Albuquerque with somewhat improved numbers.
The Blue Jays had hoped that veteran David Aardsma, 34, would be able to challenge for a big league spot this season. He didn’t, struggling with mechanics in Buffalo before opting out of his contract to try to figure things out on his own. The former big leaguer threw 13 2/3 innings with nine walks and 14 strikeouts, giving up eight runs.
37-year-old Bobby Korecky spent much of the 2017 season on the DL, pitching sporadically (yet somewhat effectively) throughout the season. In 23 innings, Korecky had a 4.30 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 20.0% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate. The frequency of his DL stints smell more like the “phantom DL” rather as if they were due to an actual injury, leading me to believe that Korecky may not have his contract renewed to make room for the younger, homegrown relievers that the Blue Jays have in spades.
Franklin Morales pitched very little in 2016, going on the DL due to “shoulder fatigue” after just two appearances for the Blue Jays. The lefty rehabbed in late June with Dunedin and then returned to Buffalo before getting another shot in the majors. The former top prospect was solid in Buffalo, giving up two runs on six hits and four walks over nine innings with six strikeouts but, when recalled to the major leagues, struggled and was released.
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