Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Postseason Pitching at a Premium
By Ian Hunter
Whether it's Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright, Max Scherzer or even David Price, there have been no shortage of clutch pitching performances in the playoffs.
It should come as no surprise, because for most teams, solid starting pitching is what got those teams to the postseason in the first place. Of the top ten starting rotations in all of baseball this past season, eight of them made the playoffs.
Of the ten teams in total that clawed their way to the postseason, not one of their starting rotations sported an ERA under 4. The Blue Jays had a starting rotation ERA of 4.81, which was the second worst in all of baseball.
While a team can probably survive a 162 game schedule with a volatile bullpen or even a somewhat lacklustre lineup, it cannot survive without a solid starting rotation. Its something that was clearly evident with the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.
If anything, you'd think that a potent starting lineup would be more sustainable over the course of a season. It turns out it's actually pitching, not hitting that often gets teams into October.
Only four of the top ten hitting teams in baseball this year made the playoffs. In fact, it's almost baffling that a team like the Pittsburgh Pirates that hit .245 all season and averaged 3.9 runs a game managed to win 94 games.
Offensively, the Toronto Blue Jays appear to be in okay shape heading into the 2014 season, but the glaring weakness of their squad is starting pitching first and foremost.
It wasn't just the quality of their starting rotation either, it was the starting pitching depth (or lack thereof in the Blue Jays case). Just look to the St. Louis Cardinals, who've had Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly make crucial starts for them in the postseason.
When the Cardinals suffered injuries to mainstays in their rotation like Chris Carpenter, they had youngsters like Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller step up and contribute to the starting rotation.
When the Blue Jays were using virtually anybody to start a game, they only had two rookies total take the hill: Sean Nolin and Todd Redmond. While Redmond was serviceable down the stretch in 13 starts, Nolin only pitched a mere 1.1 innings in the big leagues this season.
While a team should never outright rely on young rookies to carry a starting rotation, there comes a point during the season in which a team's starting rotation suffers injuries ... and that's when depth becomes extremely important.
At this point, when I think of the Blue Jays starting rotation depth, I think of the following pitchers: Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers and maybe even Ricky Romero.
These are all guys who could possibly come in make a string of starts, but by no means should the Blue Jays be committed to using any of them if there are better options out there.
I think it would be presumptuous to pencil any of those pitchers in as even the fourth or fifth guys in the Blue Jays starting rotation for the 2014 season. All of them come with question marks, and frankly one wonders if they're even high enough calibre to be part of a successful starting five.
I would say that particular group of starting pitching depth should only be called upon on an "as needed" basis. Unless one or multiple pitchers show particular promise in Spring Training or another pitcher gets hurt, ideally those guys should stay in the minors.
So the remedy for the Blue Jays seems to be that they need to fix the starting rotation at the top, and that will hopefully have a trickle-down effect. If they can bring in a starting pitcher or two and that bumps Brandon Morrow or J.A. Happ down on the depth chart ... so be it.
Above all else, the Blue Jays need to go out and get quality starting pitching this offseason; we're talking young, elite, starting pitching. One wonders where or how Alex Anthopoulos is exactly going to do that, but that should be his primary goal this winter; to fix the starting rotation.
It's no coincidence that the four teams left in the playoffs boast some of the most impressive pitching staffs in all of baseball ... because pitching not only gets teams into the postseason, it wins championships as well.
Image courtesy of SI