There exists an old line about relief pitchers needing short memories. They are supposed to forget when they fail as they could well be in a very similar situation the very next day. In a cruel twist of fate, relievers require short memories but when they suffer, fans tend not to forget.

It is the reason Frank Francisco and BJ Ryan and other former saves-compilers leap to the minds of Blue Jays whenever the guy in the job now starts sucking even a little bit. That Frank Francisco rebounded after a crappy May to put together a damn fine season and BJ Ryan posted a ridiculously good season in 2006 and a decent season in 2008 matters little. Blown saves live long in the memory.

The current Blue Jays bullpen is off to an ugly start. Francisco Cordero blew the “save” last night, reaching “point of no return” status with the fanbase – he forever sucks. No manner of bullpen excellence can save him in the eyes of many. No matter how many clean innings between now and the end of the season, the sight of Francisco Cordero emerging from the left field bullpen will send some fans into fits.

Last night, Cordero coughed up a lead to the Rangers and the knives came out. Did he deserve it? It’s safe to say he does, even though he didn’t pitch that badly. Two quick outs and then Cordero gets ahead 0-2 on Kinsler. As Tabler intones “KEEP THAT BALL AWAY FROM HIM”, Mathis calls for a slider down and away. Cordero throws a great pitch. Kinsler somehow fouls it off.

Coco then comes back inside with a two-seamer down and in, another good pitch. There is very little Kinsler can do with a fastball thrown there. Kinsler fights it off, pullig it well foul. Kinsler dumps the next pitch he sees — another decent slider away — into right-centre field for a single. Simply a great at bat by a great hitter.

Cordero didn’t get hit hard at all in the ninth last night but he still allowed three base runners. Which, as a Capital-C closer, cannot happen. The Blue Jays bullpen, especially in ninth innings, has been awful. Nobody wants to hear that the pen will be better or, more specifically, cannot possibly be worse. The Jays pen has the worst FIP in baseball and the worst ERA and six blown saves. Ugly.

They rank ninth in win probability added, probably the best measure of how good/bad a bullpen can be, thanks to their series of long extra innings games, me thinks. But that masks the front to back awfulness of the pen in general.

The Jays bullpen corps is getting killed by the long ball. As a staff, their home run/fly ball ratio is 21%. The widely accepted baseline for that HR/FB is about 10%. That, last time I checked, means the Blue Jays rate is double what can be “expected.”

Which speaks to the nature of relief pitching, in a way. Casey Janssen was great last season, throwing strikes and keeping hitters off balance. He allowed 47 fly balls and 32 line drives in 2011, if you buy batted ball information. Two of those went over the fence. Two home runs allowed for an entire season. That’s great. But, just like Janssen’s 30% HR/FB rate this year, it isn’t going to stay that way for long.

There is no easy way to fix what is wrong with the Blue Jays bullpen. They just need to keep pitching. The home runs will slow down and the eventual return of Sergio Santos slots Cordero back down into the safety of lower leveraged situations. Farrell already came out and said Cordero is “still his guy” for the ninth inning. Managing to the save is bad. The bullpen as whole isn’t pitching well enough that one guy deserves to take the job from Cordero, sadly.

Late-inning losses (or wins that become losses only to become wins again) sting. They linger. They don’t go away. The volatility of relief pitching matters not when you watch your team gag away wins. But it is a real thing. Shit happens. Shit happens when you pitch an inning at a time with everything on the line.

Spend on a proven closer? Develop an in-house guy? It all has the potential to go pear-shaped when you have one of the game’s best hitters grinding out at bats and flipping innocent singles into the opposite field. It sucks. But it is the nature of the beast.

Comments (21)

  1. The problem with relief pitching is how poorly the best guys are used. It is as simple as using your best guys in the highest leverage situations. Don’t leave you’re starter in to finish an inning when there are 2 on and 1 out, bring in your best guy. Sadly there is not a single manager who actually follows this logic.

    • except that your best guy probably is your starter.

      • This is pretty much not true at all.

        • Protip: that’s why he’s starting

          • A starter who’s already thrown a hundred pitches, and who the other team has seen two or three times each is not likely your best option for that situation. Unless you’re a team with an awful bullpen and a fantastic starter (like Seattle when Hernandez is on the mound).

          • But you’ve also had many innings to see if your starter can or cannot locate his pitches that day. Sounds like you would make another fine MLB manager though.

            Also relievers are sometimes your best pitchers, they just don’t pitch a style or have the stamina to go 90+ pitch count.

          • That was in response to coach obv.

  2. Also highest leverage situation is rarely the so-called ‘save situation’. This is where managers always will fail. Farrell too.

  3. I am glad we have Cordero for the 9th leaving Jansen, Frasor, Oliver & Perez for the 7th-8th inning jams.

  4. The save situation / stat is the thing that seems to cripple managerial decisions, though, and in some cases I think it could have been more appropriate to bring out, say, Luis Perez than Coco. I, too, got caught up in the Coco dislike last night because that game was a hell of a rollercoaster, and obviously when you come back from 5-0 to get up 7-6 you want the cleanest of clean innings to close it out.

    However: RH are hitting .333 off Cordero. LH are hitting .379. Those aren’t the sorts of numbers you want to see from a guy who’s supposed to hang on to your lead – obviously in some cases it was our inability to score runs that put him in a very difficult situation, but I think a small amount of the apprehension has thus far been warranted.

    Not to say that Cordero won’t come out of it. I think he’ll even out soon and things will settle down. But you’re right. Fans will remember the Blown Save long before they remember the good stuff (just like with Franky Frank and that great game we lost in Cleveland, as opposed to his last half of 2011, which was awesome).

  5. I remember that BJ drove me crazy not because he didn’t do well enough in 2008, it was just that he had a string of outings where he got the save in the most nerve-wracking way. I’m not surprised he is remembered poorly given all the roller coaster rides he took the fanbase on.

  6. Whether you believe in proven capital-C Closers or not, Coco simply does not profile to be an effective arm out of the pen in any situation, let alone effective in high-leverage situations, moving forward for any reason other than the saves column on the back of his baseball card.

    The alarming drop in his K/9 the last couple of years, coupled with a ridiulously low BABIP last season is well-documented.

    Yes, relievers are susceptible to volatility, and yes shit happens, but shit is far more likely to happen when you can’t miss bats.

    Francisco missed bats and was effective as a closer. BJ Ryan stopped missing bats and was out of baseball altogether within a year. Jon Rauch never in his career missed bats. Gregg missed bats, but would put runners on just as often.

    Santos misses bats at rates previous (and current) Jays bullpen arms could only dream about, so much so that it probably compensates for his Gregg-like command. The premise of this piece applies to Santos far more than it should to Coco.

    Maybe the Francisco scorn comes from the Wilner crowd, but I think most DJF commenters are capable of thinking for themselves and appreciating Francisco’s fantastic final 2/3 of the year last year.

    • Lets take look at April 2011 vs April, 2012 for saves: Rauch’s line was 5 saves no blwn saves. 1 win, 1 loss, and an ERA of 2.45. Rauch never was suposed to close games for the Jays but Franciso was in bad shape when he reported to Spring training. Rauch did have major issues toward the end of the season with his appendix problem and bum knee which he also got fixed which resulted in some bad numbers. We all know what the save record for this year is and it has not been pretty. Santos is the real deal and i am sure when he comes back the saves will come in time.

  7. Can’t believe he fouled that pitch off.

  8. all three singles last night were under the “good piece of hitting” category. Coco did his job last night.

    p.s. i refuse to put a loonie in the cliche jar if i use either real or air quotes.

  9. I think that developing in-house talent for these situations would be a good ploy, especially when you consider some of the guys (Drabek, Hutch, Alvarez) that seem poised to stay in the rotation. Maybe use Carreno as a Neftali Feliz type – back-end bullpen guy that can be turned into a starter if needed. I’d love to see Carreno come out of the ‘pen this year if he’s needed there and see what he can do in a one-inning situation.

  10. focus on mathis in the gif. not everyday do you see a catcher react like that to a pitch he wanted. to me, that really cements how good the pitch was, and how impressive IK’s at bat was.

    it looks like mathis shouted an expletive in the gif. having had a chance to meet him on several occasions (he’s a humble, polite, shake your hand, look you in the eye when you speak type person), i’m gonna assume that he said “hamburgers!”.

    p.s. good post Drew

  11. I like your take on things, Drew. Reasonable, constructive, and informative. It’s too bad your cohorts have become so intolerable, though I admit to still reading Stoeten on occasion.

    I agree w/ Brumfield’s note: Coco can’t close. But more than anything I am just frustrated that JF probably had no other thought than to bring him in, because he has amassed over 300 saves in his career and he’s the “9th inning guy” while Santos is out. He’s shown no ability to negotiate through high-leverage situations this year, so why put him out there in a one-run game against the league’s best offense? Because “closer rules” say so. Questionable management, to be sure.

    Looking forward to the return of Santos, despite his dreadful start. And again, Drew, nice piece.

  12. it really wasnt that bad an appearance… just an occasional reality of facing a good offensive with a 1 run lead. the hits were not lasers, but neither were they bleeders, just the work of talented hitters managing to get the barrel on some difficult pitches.

    coco pitched decently, i believe there was even a missed strike that would have ended the game. on the other hand, he kind of inexplicably struck out adrian beltre on two meatballs down the middle for the second out. few innings in baseball go exactly as they should.

    i agree with the commentary on the rest of the bullpen. there is talent down there, just give them time.

  13. I think Cordero will be fine if he keeps his velocity up. I was at the Mariners game this past Sunday and Cordero initially got hit hard on his offspeed stuff, but really started working well once he dialed the fastball up to 94.

    I don’t have the numbers, but I’d be curious as to whether he is tossing more fastballs now vs appearances earlier in the year. I’d also be curious as to any changes in velocity. (Drew, I leave it to you to inform us all of the answers to these questions).

    Anyway, no doubt a terrible start to the season, but if he keeps tossing at 94, I’m happy sticking with him (until Santos is back at least).

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