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Scouting Pitchers: Blue Jays' Bullpen

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

(Statistics as of 9/30/08)

Welcome to the 2009 Scouting Pitchers column! I hope you all enjoyed my article in the yearly magazine, and are excited for the upcoming season. This is where you can get some of the raw data, as well as some expert analysis, on many of the best pitchers in baseball. I look at pitchers across the major leagues and chart their velocities, pitch selection, and motions. This helps you make informed decisions about who you want to invest in on your team.

In 2009, I'll be making some changes to the column. I'll spend less time on players' histories and more on their current repertoire. I will keep the "Radar Love" feature, as this was a popular addition last year. I'll stop re-printing the 20-70 scouting scale each week, as by now you guys know what that is. These changes will hopefully give you more of what you like, and less of what you don't. As always, I appreciate feedback, so chime in at the bottom of each column.

This week, we'll look at the Blue Jays' bullpen options - yes, I'll also be looking at more relievers in 2009 after covering starters almost exclusively in 2007 and 2008. The Jays' relief corps posted a major-league-best 2.94 ERA while working the fewest innings (425) in 2008. They have brought back the entire crew, and closer Ryan said he is ready to throw more sliders in 2009 after two full years of recovery from Tommy John surgery.

The left-handed B.J. Ryan (6-6, 255, Born 12/28/1975) was not regarded as a top prospect, and he toiled five seasons for the Orioles (2000-2004) before winning the closer role. Ryan earned his shot in 2004 by striking out 122 in 87 innings, finishing second in strikeouts among AL relievers to Francisco Rodriguez. In 2005, his first and only season as the Orioles' closer, Ryan led AL relievers in strikeouts (100) as he converted 36 of 41 save chances. Toronto then signed him to a five-year, $47 million deal that runs through 2010.

Ryan had a sterling first season as a Blue Jay in 2006, going 38-for-42 in saves and posting a miniscule 1.37 ERA. After having surgery in May 2007, he worked his way back and made his 2008 debut on April 14. Ryan went 32-for-36 in saves despite relying mainly on his fastball, the Toronto Star reports: "Before when I fell behind I could always get back in the count with a slider. I could throw it for a strike or I could throw it for a strikeout pitch. Last year...I really didn't have a slider all year. It's tough pitching out there when you're a two-pitch guy and you've got one-and-a-half."

B.J. Ryan: (Lifetime G/F 0.72)
		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	65		70
Curveball	N/A
Slider		60		30
Changeup	N/A
Control	65
Delivery	40
Composure	60

Ryan's fastball is slightly above average for a left-hander at 88-90 mph, but it plays up because his motion is so deceptive. He drops his forearm during his delivery and doesn't give the hitter a good look at the ball. Ryan's fastball has some run to it, and it seems to jump on hitters, who have a hard time squaring it up. Often they look as though they are reacting late to it. Ryan hit 93 MPH before his surgery, and he might regain a little more velocity in 2009. He still struck out a batter per inning in 2008, when he couldn't rely on his slider and sometimes couldn't crack 90, so he can be effective as long as he is healthy.

Ryan broke off 83-88 mph sliders before he was injured, and it was clocked from 81-84 last year. He doesn't mind throwing it for a strike, and comes more over the top with it than he does with his fastball. Ryan generally tries to zing the outside corner with his fastball and induces a lot of pop-ups and strikeouts. He works quickly, generally throws strikes and is a competitor who shows his emotions.

Like other flyball pitchers, Ryan can pile up high pitch counts. Among AL pitchers who threw at least 40 innings last year, his 18.7 P/IP was seventh-highest. Ryan was very efficient in 2006 (15.2 P/IP), but his career norm is around 17 P/IP. Given that he will be 34 this year and his motion is far from pretty, it would help him to improve his efficiency.

Ryan seems solid to save games as long as healthy, but if he doesn't regain any more velocity or shows other signs of wear, the Jays have other options.

The left-handed Scott Downs (6-2, 210, Born 3/17/1978) has an 88-91 mph fastball and a high-70s curveball that he can bury underneath right-handers. He has quietly been one of the best setup men in the AL in the last two years, with a 1.98 ERA in 128 2/3 innings over that period.

The right-handed Jeremy Accardo (6-2, 190, Born 12/8/1981) saved 30 games with a 2.14 ERA for the Jays in 2007, when Ryan was hurt. He missed most of 2008 with a forearm strain that did not require surgery. When healthy, Accardo throws 90-94 with a 78-82 mph split-finger, working quickly and throwing strikes. He has a sound motion but doesn't have the smoothest arm action, as he twists his arm a bit. Accardo is supposedly healthy, and he has thrown two innings already this spring.

The right-handed Brandon League (6-2, 200, Born 3/16/1983) is an enigma with a great arm who has battled health and control problems. League slings 94-98 mph sinking fastballs, and his lifetime 2.02 G/F ratio attests to the heaviness of his ball. He throws sliders and splitters in the high-80s, but has little idea where they are going. Since League's motion is low-three-quarters, his splitter moves sideways instead of diving downward, and isn't effective. He's worth keeping an eye on in cases he ever harnesses his stuff.

The left-handed Jesse Carlson (6-1, 160, Born 12/31/1980) throws in the high 80s with an effective low-80s slider. He has some sinking action on his fastball and seems to jump at the hitter. Carlson posted a 2.25 ERA as a rookie in 2008 after making the jump from Double-A. He profiles as a situational lefty.

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Radar Love: Early fastball readings:

91-92: Fausto Carmona against the Padres on February 27.
90-92: Francisco Liriano against the Yankees on February 28.
86-90: Joba Chamberlain against Minnesota on February 28.

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In two weeks: AL Bargains for 2009: Honorable Mention category. I'll take a look at some AL pitchers who just missed the cut in my article for the yearly magazine.

 

Article first appeared 3/1/09