Will The Toronto Blue Jays Bullpen Sink Their Hopes?

The Toronto Blue Jays bullpen is the biggest question mark this team faces as they’ve sprinted out to a three-game lead in the AL East in this final month of May. Toronto is atop the American League in runs scored and their starting pitching ranks fifth in the league. But the bullpen ERA is at the bottom of the AL.

There are two reasons the bad bullpen ERA hasn’t bit the Jays yet, and those reasons are directly related. The first is that it hasn’t translated into a serious problem with blown saves. The Toronto pen has closed 18/25 chances, and that 72 percent success rate ranks sixth in the American League.

The second reason is that closer Casey Janssen recently returned from the disabled list and has been lights-out. Janssen has closed all eight save chances, quickly revived the back end of the bullpen and has yet to give up an earned run.

Toronto Blue Jays bullpenJanssen, like the offense, might not be quite this dominant all year, but he will continue to pitch well and won’t be the reason for any potential Toronto failure. So let’s further narrow the scope of the concern and look at the three pitchers who are now in key setup roles.

Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Aaron Loup are the arms who are going to have sustain the pen during the long summer months ahead. Here’s a rundown on what they are doing this year, along with a look at what they did in 2012 and 2013, so we have a good handle on what they’re capable of.

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Steve Delabar
2014: 4.29 ERA
2013: 3.22 ERA
2012: 3.82 ERA

Aaron Loup
2014: 2.96 ERA
2013: 2.47 ERA
2012: 2.64 ERA

Brett Cecil
2014: 3.80 ERA
2013: 2.82 ERA
2012: 5.72 ERA

One thing to note on Cecil is that 2012 marked his transition out of the rotation and into the pen, which has obviously worked better for him.

When you look at this staff, Toronto has reason to feel optimistic. All of these pitchers have shown track records, albeit limited, of being able to pitch at modestly higher levels than what they have been doing. It’s not as the Jays’ pen struggled with a bunch of has-beens and never-will-bes, to borrow a phrase from the 1989 movie Major League.

The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays relief corps might not conjure up images of the Nasty Boys the Cincinnati Reds trotted out in 1990 (Rob Dibble, Norm Charlton and Randy Myers) to win a World Series, but they have the capacity to be better what they have been.

There are still questions Toronto faces—can the Jose Bautista-led offense continue to churn out runs? Can Mark Buehrle and the rest of the starting rotation keep up their steady pace? Can Janssen stay strong in the ninth inning? All are fair subjects for exploration. But the most obvious concern about Toronto’s staying power is their bullpen depth, and the evidence suggests a group that can pitch better.

I won’t say I don’t still question the Blue Jays. At this time in 2011, the Cleveland Indians were off and running in the AL Central. The 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers were rolling in the NL West. The 2013 Arizona Diamondbacks were doing the same.

None of those teams made the playoffs, and in fact, all were well off the radar by the time the year ended. Toronto could be the same. But as a partisan Boston Red Sox fan, I felt a little worse after researching this post than I did when I began. That’s something the Jays fans can hang their hat on.