As the Toronto Blue Jays' bullpen has floundered in recent weeks, the number of relievers manager Charlie Montoyo can count on has dwindled.
Beyond closer Jordan Romano, trustworthiness has been hard to come by amidst a group that’s combined for -0.1 WAR since May 1 and been hung with more losses than any relief corps besides the historically awful Arizona Diamondbacks.
In the middle of that maelstrom of poor performance, a rare bright spot has emerged in recent weeks in the form of Tim Mayza. The southpaw -- who missed all of 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and entered the season as a wild card on the fringes of Toronto’s roster -- has settled in as a primary setup man for the club. In 13 June outings -- most of them in high-leverage spots -- he’s posted a 0.90 ERA without allowing an extra-base hit.
While 10 innings of work generally isn’t enough to assume a player is turning a corner, Mayza is providing a reason to believe that his stellar production is rooted in something concrete.
For instance, his velocity is steadily improving, jumping 1.1 mph on his sinker -- and even more on his slider -- from April to June.
That velo bump has coincided with a significant rise in sinker usage, which is up to a massive 80.8 per cent this month:
The idea of a relief pitcher coming and pumping almost exclusively fastballs isn’t a totally foreign concept -- it worked for Travis Bergen earlier this year -- but it’s a totally different look for Mayza, who threw his slider 41.1 per cent of the time between 2017 and 2019.
Going to a sinker-heavy approach hasn’t happened on a whim for Mayza; it’s clearly reflective of a pitch that’s getting better. While the 94.5 mph Mayza has averaged on the pitch in June isn’t too far removed from his career norms, the movement has taken a significant step forward since he debuted in 2018 -- particularly vertically.
Mayza hasn’t become prime Zack Britton overnight, but there’s a little late movement to that sinker now.
As compared to previous years, when it could get awfully flat at times.
A more effective sinker that he's going to often has changed the contact hitters are making against Mayza. There’s a pretty straight line to be drawn between the left-hander’s improving sinker and his ability to induce ground balls.
Mayza has quietly turned himself into an effective ground baller -- a type of pitcher that may be more valuable in an environment where a crackdown on foreign substances could reduce the effectiveness of pitchers who rely on high four-seamers and curveballs. There’s nothing about Mayza’s game that relies on high spin rates.
For the Blue Jays to escape their current bullpen predicament they’ll need both internal and external reinforcements. The influx of talent this roster needs isn’t imminent, though. To stay in the race until such time as it arrives, the team needs some of their less-heralded relievers to perform. Considering Mayza put up 0.0 WAR season in 2019 then had his 2020 wiped out due to Tommy John surgery, it's safe to say he fits that description.
Not only has the left-hander been doing his part, but he’s also starting to look like someone with a significant role to play in this group even when it reaches full strength.