So, I write this book called The Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook and, in working on the 2019 edition while watching the spring unfold, I’ve noticed that there isn’t exactly a lot of depth in the ranks of the Blue Jays’ southpaws.
In pitchers who are coming off a decent season as a bullpen lefty, we’ve got Tim Mayza. That’s it. On the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, the only lefties are Mayza, Ryan Borucki, Thomas Pannone and Clayton Richer. If we go beyond the 40-man and look at the non-roster invitees, we add Ryan Feierabend (who has already been sent to minor league camp) and Shawn Morimando.
So where does this leave the Jays for lefty talent? Either they’re going to have to bring someone in from outside the system or use someone who has been a starter as a reliever, or just go with one lefty in the ‘pen, Mayza, and, as I’ll explain below, that doesn’t really accomplish the goal of what a LOOGY is meant for.
If the folks at MLB and the MLBPA have their way and force pitchers to pitch to at least three batters, then the concept of the LOOGY is moot. But let’s look at the LOOGY. The term stands for Lefthanded One Out GuY. This is a guy who sits in the bullpen until a tough lefthanded hitter is up (say, David Ortiz in years past) and his job is to get him out late in the game. Aaron Loup fulfilled this function until he was traded last season, leaving the door open for Tim Mayza to come up and take over that role. While Mayza had a phenomenal finish to the 2018 season, one stat of his is pretty intriguing. Over the course of his entire 2018 season, Mayza got righties out more than lefites.
Wait, what? Ok, I’ll qualify this by saying that he had “normal” splits in MLB action, where, versus 62 lefties, Mayza had a .575 OPS against and had a phenomenal 18-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. Against 89 righties, he allowed a .784 OPS against and had a 22-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. All super cool but over the course of the WHOLE season, including his time in Buffalo, Mayza had a .672 OPS against righties and a .750 OPS against lefties. Those splits regulate a bit when we go back to 2017, when he had a .680 OPS against versus lefties and a .778 OPS against versus righties.
So, the guy who projects to be the Blue Jays’ primary lefty out of the bullpen has a mixed recent track record getting lefties out.
On the 40-man roster, who else is there? Ryan Borucki is going to be a starter, either in Toronto or Buffalo. Clayton Richard will probably begin the season in the rotation but could transition into the bullpen if another starter emerges. Thomas Pannone would actually be a good candidate to be a second lefty, although he’s been a starter throughout his professional career will probably get at least another year to see if he can start whether it’s in Buffalo or Toronto this year (although putting him in the bullpen could very much help his below-average velocity play up). For what it’s worth, in a very small sample size of being used in a relief role in 2018, Pannone was WAY better than in a starting role, with a .572 OPS against (albeit facing just 30 batters) while he had a .748 OPS against versus 151 batters as a starter for the Blue Jays. At the big-league level, he was actually better against righties than lefties, with about a 106-point difference in OPS against.
Beyond the 40-man roster there’s really just two pitchers in Ryan Feierabend (who we already mentioned went back to minor league camp and was a starter for the last four years in Korea) and Shawn Morimando who has been only a starter for the last two years. Morimando had a .929 OPS against versus righties and just a .618 OPS against lefties although in 2017, that flipped around and he had a .932 OPS against versus lefties and a .751 OPS against versus righties.
What does all of this number crunching tell us? There are no LOOGYs on the 40-man roster or in big league camp. Beyond Tim Mayza (whose track record against lefties is spotty but recent evidence points in the right direction), there is no one who has performed the role in big league camp.
If we go further down the depth chart, we get Matt Dermody, who has 25 1/3 innings of big league experience in 2016 and 2017 but was out for most of 2018 with an injury. He’s also been removed from the 40-man once and wasn’t invited to big league camp. He definitely fits the LOOGY mold, though, with a .663 OPS against versus lefties (with a nine-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio) and a 1.040 OPS against versus righties (with an 11-to-four strikeout-to-walk ratio). That said, he’d have to do better against righties because even a LOOGY is going to have to pitch to righties once in a while and you don’t want them all getting around the bases.
Even further down the depth chart is side-armer Kirby Snead who is in the Chad Girodo mold, barely touching 90 mph but with a ton of movement. In his first year pitching in Double-A (with a month in Advanced-A Dunedin), Snead had a .481 OPS against versus lefties and an .841 OPS against versus righties, walking more righties than he struck out, while he had a 29-to-eight strikeout-to-walk ratio. We also have Danny Young who showed better control in his second year in New Hampshire, posting a .538 OPS against versus lefties and an .878 OPS against versus righties. Young is also a side-armer and, when I saw him last year, his velocity sat 86-88 mph.
The last name I’ll throw out is Jake Fishman, a younger pitcher who pitched his entire season in Dunedin last year. Fishman, going into his Age-24 season, did get one game in Buffalo last year and had a more even split in 2018, with a .591 OPS against versus righties and a .500 OPS against versus lefties. He throws a little harder, sitting 89-91 mph but he also needs to get more experience at higher level, so I wouldn’t see him making an impact in 2019.
So who is going to add lefty depth for Toronto in 2019? I think that role may very well go to Pannone, but he may not work out of the bullpen until a September call up if (and only if) the Blue Jays have a starting rotation that they’re sticking with. Dermody is a possibility if he proves he can still pitch after his long layoff last year and Morimando is also a possibility as he’s got a little bit of major league experience from 2016. But that’s about it.
Or maybe the Jays sign a lefty reliever before camp is over. What do you think?
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