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Joe Biagini: The Key to the Blue Jays Bullpen?

Awkward. If there was one succinct way to describe Joe Biagini, it would be awkward.

Biagini doesn’t shy away from himself – a guy who admits himself he’s a weird character and not everybody gets his sense of humour. If it were anybody else, it might seem like an act, but as John Gibbons would say, Biagini is a “different breed”.

At 6’5″ and 240 pounds, even Joe Biagini’s setup on the mound is a little awkward. As unorthodox as Biagini looks on the mound and as awkward as he sounds in front of the camera sometimes, it works.



The often misunderstood relief pitcher spoke with Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet back in March about the very subject. It gave some context about a guy who’s still discovering where he fits on the Blue Jays roster.

In 2016, Joe Biagini flew under the radar as a “rule five guy”, but this year, the sophomore reliever will be relied upon much more. In fact, Biagini could be the key to the Blue Jays bullpen in 2017.

Although the team dabbled with the idea of converting him to a starter this season, the Blue Jays will wisely leave Biagini in the role where he flourished last year; in the bullpen. Long term, Joe Biagini could be more valuable to the franchise as a starter, but for now, his services are needed in the bullpen.

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What Joe Biagini did for the Blue Jays last year was practically unheard of. Not only was he the rare exception of a rule five draft pick which survived the entire season, but as a rookie, he racked up 67.2 innings in 60 appearances during the regular season.

Biagini tacked on additional six appearances in the postseason (all scoreless, by the way). Although he began the season pitching in low leverage situations, Biagini gradually worked his way into high pressure appearances.

Joe Biagini was thrown into the fire right away; he made his big-league debut facing the heart of the Boston Red Sox order during the Blue Jays Home Opener. Biagini pitched like a seasoned veteran, retiring all three hitters and striking out David Ortiz for his first MLB strikeout.

 
Biagini was no stranger to pitching under the bright lights in 2016. If you remember correctly, Joe Biagini entered Game 162 at Fenway Park with the Blue Jays’ playoff hopes hanging in the balance.

With the tying run at second base in the form of Chris Young and the Blue Jays’ Wild Card spot at stake, Joe Biagini retired Dustin Pedroia and struck out Brock Holt to hold the lead for the Blue Jays.



Biagini was entrusted with the sixth and seventh innings throughout the 2016 playoffs, and he didn’t bend one bit. That may have been an indicator for John Gibbons as to the ability of Joe Biagini to deliver under high leverage situations.

There’s no doubt that Jason Grilli was a godsend for the Blue Jays’ bullpen last year, but judging by the way he fizzled out during the final month of the regular season, I feel like the Blue Jays may be playing with fire by keeping Jason Grilli as the team’s setup man.

That role could be better suited to Joe Biagini.

In a bullpen that was in a constant state of flux throughout 2016, Joe Biagini eased himself into John Gibbons’ “bullpen circle of trust” as one of the Blue Jays’ few reliable and trustworthy relievers.

Armed with a 94 mile per hour fastball and a devastating set of breaking pitches, Biagini has the makeup and the arsenal to take over the setup role for the Blue Jays in the very near future.

Depending on what happens with the starting rotation this year, I’m sure the Blue Jays may revisit the experiment of throwing Biagini into the rotation of an injury occurs to one of the starters. But in the meantime, the bullpen is absolutely where Biagini should be.

While Roberto Osuna is essentially a reliever at this point, the door is still open for Joe Biagini to start down the road. It behooves the Blue Jays to at least explore the option, but not at the risk of compromising their bullpen in 2017.

Earlier this year, John Gibbons said Joe Biagini was “too valuable to be a long reliever”, and I’d tend to agree. If Biagini’s going to pitch out of the bullpen this year, it may as well be in high leverage situations – the very same situations where he thrived last season.

Personality-wise, no one really knows what to expect from Joe Biagini – what he’ll do or say to get people’s attention. But on the mound, he’s been anything but unpredictable.

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez “mine” incident. He’ll also retell the story of Game 5 of the ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.




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