Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Blue Jays Starting Rotation is in Rough Shape


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Exactly one year ago, the Toronto Blue Jays had arguably the best starting rotation in all of baseball. R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ; it appeared to be the makings of a playoff-worthy rotation.

As we all know, it didn't quite unfold as it was supposed to.

Fast forward one year later, and the state of the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation is in a much more dire situation. Instead of boasting four "aces", their starting five comprises of the following.

R.A. Dickey: a 39-year old knuckleballer who was particularly prone to the long ball last season, and hasn't quite gotten the hang of keeping his signature pitch within the confines of the Rogers Centre.

Mark Buehrle: a finesse pitcher who's entering his age 35 season and whose velocity has been steadily declining over the years. Despite his durability, he's making $37 million dollars over the next two seasons.

That makes Mark Buehrle the fifth highest paid starting pitcher in the American League. Buster Olney described him best as a "plow horse being paid like a racehorse".

Brandon Morrow: a power-pitching right hander who is a true wild card and possesses a world of potential, but just hasn't been able to avoid the disabled list these past few seasons.

J.A. Happ: another guy who missed significant time due to injuries last season, and one whom there are still question marks surrounding whether his repertoire plays in the AL East.

Then take your pick of about another half dozen guys fighting it out for the final spot; some without options, some coming back from significant injuries, others are highly-touted prospects, and others relievers turned starters and turned back into starters.

If you ask me, that just doesn't sound like the kind of starting rotation that's going to help the Toronto Blue Jays reach the postseason.

But that's the starting rotation they have right now: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and one of Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Dustin McGowan, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman or Sean Nolin.

Just for fun, I looked up FanGraphs Steamer projections for the current version of the Blue Jays starting rotation. Not that projections should be treated like gospel, but they don't exactly paint a picture of a solid starting five for Toronto.

PitcherWLGSIPK/9BB/9HR/9ERAFIPWAR
R.A. Dickey121033203.26.142.251.064.154.12.5
Mark Buehrle1112301925.532.31.054.564.192.2
Brandon Morrow98231347.623.171.094.214.091.8
J.A. Happ6617967.353.971.174.564.51
Esmil Rogers6617966.433.450.94.594.21
Todd Redmond338487.322.951.264.264.350.6
Marcus Stroman5513777.853.230.974.13.881.2

The projections here look eerily similar to how the Blue Jays rotation fared last season. And notice how there isn't a single starter's ERA under four? It's doesn't exactly strike me as "playoff calibre".

It's no surprise that many of the teams that made the postseason in 2013 did so on the backs of impressive starting rotations. Many of those teams had one, and in some cases even two "aces" in their rotation.

Forgive me if this criticism seems harsh, but the Blue Jays starting rotation is more like a couple of threes (Dickey and Buehrle), potentially a two if he can stay healthy (Morrow), and then a handful of fives and sixes.

The Blue Jays are somehow expected to compete with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays with a rotation anchored by a 39-year old knuckleballer and a 35-year old finesse pitcher who tops out at 84 MPH.

Maybe it's just because the Yankees went a little nuts this offseason, but I'm beginning to get really worried about this Blue Jays starting rotation. I don't doubt that they could have a solid year, but I'm afraid there are just too many variables where things could go wrong.


Keep in mind, Dickey and Buehrle are the two best bets that the Blue Jays have when it comes to starting pitchers in 2014. They're the only two guys guaranteed to claim spots in the starting five, which doesn't instill a lot of hope in this pitching staff.

Signing one of Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana doesn't miraculously transform the Blue Jays rotation into one of the best, but what it does is it takes away starts from the bottom tier pitchers. It prevents the Blue Jays from depending on Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers or somebody else to make 30 starts this season.

The other benefit of inking Jimenez or Santana is it gives Toronto even more wiggle room in the depth department. It's a buffer for any eventual injuries, because it will almost certainly happen to at least one starting pitcher.

Not that I'm trying to jinx it, but say a starter sustains a freak injury (which happens way too often around these parts), then the Blue Jays don't have to reach quite as far down the depth chart as they were originally anticipating.

The upside with guys like Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin is pretty huge, but they are still unproven commodities. They're lottery tickets, essentially. While Stroman could be the next Michael Wacha, there's just as much if not more of a chance that he won't be (at least not right out of the gate).

Not that I'm anti-Marcus Stroman, but it seems like a big jump for someone who's never pitched above AA to be suddenly expected to throw 150 big league innings. I'd much rather give those innings to a known commodity, like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana.

It would be great to see Stroman break camp, but the Blue Jays should really be keeping him in their back pocket for later in the season ... not the onset of the 2014 campaign.

Alex Anthopoulos stressed the importance of having starting pitching depth, and this time around the Blue Jays have ample arms to choose from. But it seems like they have quantity in lieu of quality in the starting pitching department.

For whatever reason; whether it be budget constraints, an unabashed confidence in the starting pitching depth, or just an overall unwillingness to sign a free agent pitcher, the Blue Jays will officially report to Spring Training in just over two weeks with the rotation they currently have.

And in its current form, the starting rotation is already in pretty rough shape. Admittedly, it's an extremely cynical perspective to have ... I just think the cold, boring offseason has made me particularly unoptimistic about the Blue Jays rotation.

Images courtesy of Toronto Star, National Post and Jays Journal

7 comments:

  1. Hard to argue with any of this. I'm really looking forward to Stroman, but ideally he starts in AAA, succeeds, and is then the first call up when the inevitable injury occurs to one of the other 5 starters.

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  2. Well, can't really argue with anything you've said, but I don't think there's any real reason to question Buehrle's abilities. He's been at it for quite some time, and there's no real indication that he's slowing down. His velocity was never a strength- it's the command that does everybody in. I'm not too concerned about him. An inning-eater with an average ERA should do us fine.

    Dickey. A question mark off the start. We never knew how he'd perform in the AL, and while the long-bomb is, and always will be, a concern, I think there's a good chance coming into this year he'll have figured things out slightly better than last year.

    Morrow. Sigh.... I, along with the rest of the world, would love to see him become the ace we once knew he'd be, but injuries have a funny way of getting in his way. Hopefully this is the year.

    Last year, I got nervous every time we had a pitcher who wasn't one of the above pitching, and don't think that's going to change this year. Even guys like Jimenez and Santana don't particularly excite me.

    While it's obvious that starting pitching is the backbone of any playoff team, I think we have a better chance of putting together a monstrous offensive season that will mitigate our pitching woes. I don't think it's a stretch to say that EE and Rasmus will maintain their current offensive output. While Bautista and Reyes are question marks in the health department, Reyes was a freak injury caused by base-stealing which we will definitely see slowing down as he ages, and Bautista I'd imagine will see more time as a DH than we've seen to date. Navarro isn't JP, so we've definitely improved in that department. I'm betting that Seitzer will help Lawrie and Goins improve offensively, but even if not, between the two of them, they're what makes our defense not look like clowns out there. I'll sacrifice a run or two (or three of four) for that. Yes, there are a lot of "albeit's" and qualifications in what I've written, but I don't think it's thaaaat far of a stretch.

    While I would love to see another starter added, I don't think we're ever going to be close to happy with the starting rotation. It's a foregone conclusion that the Jays won't lead the league in ERA. I wouldn't be terribly surprised- ok, I would, but only because it is the Blue Jays- if we led the league in runs scored. That's what I'm hanging my cap on for this upcoming season.

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  3. Brutally honest. Love it. They may have quantity over quality but even saying that means it is better than last year. Just not good enough for this coming year. Neither Jiminez or Santana will be the saviour, but it pushes everyone else back a notch. That can only help.

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  4. I'd much rather have Jimenez over Santana, but neither of them are great and probably not much of an improvement over Stroman. My real concern is JA Happ getting a spot in the rotation all year only to continue a career of mediocrity. I may prefer Drabek or Hutchinson over Happ, even though I'd expect both of them to really stuggle this year, at least there is still hope for them over the long term.

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  6. It's amazing what a year does. Last year we were viewed as one of the best rotations in baseball, but everyone had a miserable year. Now we are seen as a weak rotation with the exact same guys minus Johnson. I think we are somewhere in between these two. I didn't think we were quite as good last year as everyone thought we were in the starter department, but I also don't think we are in as much trouble as many believe we are this year. Almost like any team, we need our players to be healthy, and I think our numbers will drastically improve. I still think we will challenge for the playoffs this year, but I think to really to give us that upper hand is we do need one more guy, whether it is a free agent, or have a depth guy step in and have a good year. If the top 4 guys can stay healthy, and at least have average years, we will be miles ahead of last year...... But maybe I'm just being optimistic

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