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.