With all of the big name free agents changing teams this offseason, Jays fans can be forgiven for being disappointed about our team’s lack of activity. But that all changed with the news that Toronto finally made a splash in the free agent market.
The Jays didn’t go with a big name, however.
They went with an old name.
And by old, I don’t mean an old member of the club coming back to Toronto.
I mean old. As in well aged.
The key word in that last sentence, however, is well. Lefty Darren Oliver may be 41-years old, making him one of the elder statesmen of the major leagues, but he is still good. Very good. As has been well stated in the baseball media, Oliver’s best four seasons have been his last four seasons. His ERA has declined in each of his past four years (two spent with the Angels and two with the Rangers): from 2.88 in 2008 to 2.29 in 2011.
Oliver is a shining example of what career transition means for a pitcher. He made his major league debut in 1993 (a great year for Jays fans!) as a starter. He was used primarily as a starter until he missed the entire 2005 season. His career numbers as a starter? Sub-par – 5.13 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 1.44 K/BB.
However, in 2006 he was converted to a full-time reliever, and blossomed. His career stats as a reliever prove it: 3.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.44 K/BB.
Baseball, like all sports, is a “what have you done for me lately” industry. It might be nice that you were dominant five years ago, but if you can’t cut it now….
That is why Oliver, despite a fairly hefty $4-million price tag, is a good signing. Not only has he been getting better with age, but he has been saving his best for last.
In 2011 he held left-handed hitters to a .227 average and .587 OPS. His WHIP was a tidy 1.14. Best of all, he pitched well against the AL East. Yes I realize that it is a small sample size, but he tossed 4.1 scoreless innings against the Yankees, 3.2 scoreless innings against the Rays, 1 scoreless inning against the Orioles, and allowed 3 ER in 4.2 innings against Boston. All in, that’s a 1.98 ERA against the teams Toronto will face most often in 2012.
But the Oliver signing is about more than just adding a quality arm to the Jays ‘pen. It is about adding a quality lefty arm to the Jays ‘pen. Take a quick look at all lefty relievers that the Jays employed in 2011 and tell me if you get excited. The best by a landslide was Marc Rzepczynski, and he’s gone now, off celebrating a World Series title. The rest? Luis Perez was decent, but inconsistent, evidenced by his 4.27 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, and .775 OPS against as a reliever. Wil Ledezma, Rommie Lewis, Trever Miller, David Purcey, and Brian Tallet combined for an 11.42 ERA – and all are now off the team.
So not only do the Jays get a lefty, they get a good lefty. They also get a veteran lefty, one who has 18 seasons of experience, a career WAR of 17.5 (7.0 in the last four years), and 30 games of playoff exposure.
On a young team, that could prove more valuable than anything.
Besides, even if he doesn’t pitch well, he’ll be visiting Bay Bloor Radio a whole lot more, right @dsharpdavis?