Who Will Emerge from the Crowded Jays’ Pen?

by Eno Sarris // 

What a week it has been for the Toronto Blue Jays. First, they traded Vernon Wells to the Angels for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, shedding Wells’ considerable salary. Then the flipped Napoli on to the Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco. Paired with the other pickups of the off-season, Francisco makes for a newly crowded bullpen. As always, for fantasy purposes the million-dollar question is “Who will close?”

The first reliever with closing experience acquired by the Jays this off-season was Octavio Dotel, who came with 105 career saves and a double-digit career strikeout rate (10.95 K/9). Given the state of the Jays’ pen at that time, our Tommy Rancel was right to name him the favorite for saves this season. His 4.09 walks per nine innings and some major struggles vs. left-handed hitters remained serious concerns, though.

Perhaps it was Dotel’s wonky control that led the Jays to go out and get Jon Rauch a couple weeks later. While he doesn’t own the same strikeout punch as Dotel (7.34 career K/9, and a slower fastball that hovers around 91 mph), Rauch had also closed before (47 career saves) and shown much better control (2.80 career BB/9). He proved himself as a capable closer in Washington and Minnesota before, so maybe he’d make for a good backup plan.

Now, enter Francisco to the discussion. He’s a little more Dotel than Rauch – he has shown a 10.01 K/9 and 4.03 BB/9 over his career – but like both he has experience in the closer role. Francisco is six years younger than Dotel, who has also lost at least three miles per hour off of his peak fastball speed, and he’s got more punch than Rauch. On the other hand, the former Ranger has only averaged 53 1/3 innings in his “healthy” seasons and lost all of 2005 to surgery. Will there be an open competition for the role?  

JaysPen.jpgThere’s one big asterisk that tilts the scale quickly towards Francisco. You want your closer to be able to get batters out no matter which side of the plate they call home. Look at the chart above, and you’ll see that both Rauch and Dotel see their effectiveness dive against lefties, while Francisco’s statistics are more stable.

Of course, Francisco’s health is an open question and the team will likely need to call upon more than one of these options during the course of the year. Going into the season, however, Francisco is the favorite for saves. Plan your drafts accordingly.

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