There is no secret as to why the Jays walked over the rest of the division last season en route to their first American League East pennant in over two decades. The Jays outscored every team in the majors by a wide margin; their bats carried them to the ALCS. Although it's unlikely the Jays offense will be quite so potent, the Toronto bullpen is poised for success, and they will have multiple options in high-leverage and late-inning situations.
Last season the Jays pen largely finished in the middle of the pack. Toronto relievers accumulated 3.7 fWAR, ranking eleventh in the majors. Their 8.68 K/9 (a 23.2 percent strikeout rate) ranked eighth in the majors as they finished with the ninth-best bullpen ERA and the fifteenth-ranked FIP. Overall, the bullpen was mediocre.
Toronto's 2016 Top Four Projected Relievers - 2015 Stats
22 pitchers tossed a combined 475.2 innings of relief for Toronto during the 2015 season. Five relievers threw the vast majority of the innings: Roberto Osuna (69.2), Liam Hendriks (64.2), Brett Cecil (54.1), Bo Schultz (43), and Aaron Loup (42.1), and all but one of those pitchers is set to return in 2016. Hendriks is being replaced by former Nationals reliever Drew Storen.
Last season only 16 relief pitchers in the AL struck out more than 70 batters, and three of them were on the Blue Jays. Adding Drew Storen only intensifies the firepower in the Toronto 'pen. 20-year-old Roberto Osuna was a key cog in the Jays ‘pen, throwing 69.2 innings and striking out 75 batters for a 27.7 percent K-rate.
Brett Cecil was not far behind, as he struck out 70 batters in 54.1 innings for a 32.7 percent strikeout rate. Of the current projected Jays relievers, Cecil posted the best strikeout per nine rate at 11.6 K/9 and the highest fWAR (1.4).
Despite Alex Anthopoulos' departure from the Jays' front office, his fingerprints are all over the bullpen roster construction for 2016. He put together a majority of the relief corps via the draft with one key international signing in Roberto Osuna. Cecil, Aaron Loup, and Aaron Sanchez are all products of the AA draft room.
The Blue Jays have yet to commit to defined roles for their relievers, but regardless of the inning they should be able to quell rallies. Most outfits have Roberto Osuna penciled into the closer role with Storen, Cecil, and Loup available in middle relief. Of the three, Loup put up the lowest walk rate, so it makes sense to use him as a seventh- or eighth-inning firefighter. He's almost as likely to strike out a hitter while less likely to give someone a free pass.
There really is no bad choice between closing games with Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna. Last season the Yankees split closing time with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, though Miller served as the primary ‘closer'. With the addition of Aroldis Chapman, New York is smart in fielding the best ‘pen they can without keeping ‘closers' in their defined role.
The Jays would do well to follow this example. With Drew Storen signing only a one-year deal, lowering his ‘saves value' (which somehow is still a thing in today's MLB) may make him a bit more affordable for 2017 and beyond. It helps that the Jays have relievers as good as, if not better than, Storen in their pocket. Storen is already set to earn over $8 million this year and will be expensive going forward. With Roberto Osuna taking a nice step forward in 2015, he can certainly close games out as well. Osuna is still going into only his age-21 season; the Jays can keep him cost-controlled instead if they have Storen close out games.
The Jays should follow the example of the Yankees making their relievers more flexible. The highest leveraged situations are often not in the ninth inning, and deploying matchups, flamethrowers, and the best relievers in the highest leveraged spots provides the most value. Toronto has plenty of excellent relief options; if their starting pitching can get them into the latter three innings, they should be in great shape going into 2016.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano.