Gas Cans and Matches – The 2013 Toronto Blue Jays Starting Pitchers

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There’s an old saying that misery loves company and it couldn’t be more truthful when describing the state of sports fans in Toronto. It’s not a shock that if you google “Disappointed Toronto Fans” the first images that appear are those heartbroken Leafs fans. As I said not a huge shock seeing that the Leafs eat first in Toronto. Luckily, thanks to the 2013 season, those disappointed Leaf fans will soon be accompanied by the members of Blue Jay nation who had once #LoveThisTeam, but are now #DoneWithThisTeam.

The 2013 baseball season has been a complete nightmare for both the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. All the hype and hope that was built up following aggressive post season transactions has all but vanished. 2013 was suppose to be the year that the Blue Jays regained their swagger, the year that they threw their hat back into the ring of contenders; the year that they played meaningful baseball down the stretch again. Instead it’s shaping up to be another year of disappointment, another year of malcontent; another year until next year…

There’s always next season we’ll say… Just wait ‘til next year….

This is the motto of the underachiever; the losers lament. They’re hollow words. More false hope that we can feed ourselves and help drown out the heartbreak and disappointment of this year. Were we naive as fans, gullible even? It didn’t help that all the talking heads and so called “experts” were jumping on the bandwagon quicker than the fans were. Maybe this could be our year after all.

How did we get to this point? Wasn’t this supposed to be our year?

The extra wild card slot gave everyone in Blue Jay land hope. The ownership, finally realizing that they were playing in a major North American market, acted accordingly and opened up the cheque book and gave the go ahead; build us a winner. GM Alex Anthopolous made a huge splash by cashing in on the Marlins latest fire sale and landed two impact arms for the rotation in Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, as well as the multi-talented Jose Reyes. The cost for these players was steep – three top prospects and three major league ready players – but that didn’t matter because the time to win was now, not three years down the road.

Anthopolous and the Jays weren’t done there though; they knew that they needed to fortify their rotation at any cost. What they were looking for was a legitimate number one starting pitcher; a so-called “Ace.” Enter the New York Mets and their “ace” Robert Allen Dickey, the 2012 NL Cy Young Winner. Once again Anthopolous and the Blue Jays decided to trade the future for the present, this time it came at the cost of the organization’s two top prospects: Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard (the Mets would also receive catcher John Buck). Those of us who were weary of trading our two top prospects for the likes of a 38 year old novelty pitch artist were pushed to the side with promises like “Banners fly forever” hurled at us.

The Blue Jays and AA didn’t stop there though. They would go on to sign OF Melky Cabrera to a 2 year/$16 million dollar deal. Many viewed this signing as a bargain based on the fact that Melky was in contention for the NL batting title following a .350 season. Others viewed the Blue Jays as fools for wasting that money on someone who was a known PED user and had just sat out a 50 game suspension in the SAME season that saw him hit .350. That didn’t matter though because Cabrera had served his time

On paper the 2013 Blue Jays were a contender. On paper they were heavily favoured to not only make the playoffs, but also to make it to the World Series. That’s why things always work out and look good when they are on paper.

Here we are at the beginning of August. The Blue Jays currently sit 8 games below .500 (52-60) and are 15 games back of catching the division leading Red Sox. Yes those Red Sox who were suppose to be old and past their prime. Yes those Red Sox who are now managed by the 2012 Blue Jays managing staff. Don’t worry though; we’re only 10.5 games back of the Rays and Rangers for the Wild Card spots.

Where did this all go wrong? When did the train leave the tracks? Somewhere you have to imagine Shea Hillenbrand is smirking about the floundering of this ship.

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For starters, it starts with our starting rotation; or lack of it. When AA made those two trades with the Marlins and the Mets he did so in order to fortify what he viewed as the Jays biggest weakness; the rotation. In those two trades the Blue Jays added the likes of R.A Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle to a rotation that already featured Brandon Morrow, and the one time de facto ace; Ricky Romero. How has that gone you ask? Well lets take a look. (Apologies to the Todd Redmonds, Ramon Ortiz’s and Chien-Ming Wang’s of the world… we all know how you faired while up with the big club)

R.A Dickey: the man we brought in to become the “ace” of this team has looked more like a back of the rotation starter than the ace of a staff. In 2012 Dickey won 20 games on his way to the NL Cy Young this year. This is what R.A’s stats looked like going into tonight’s game versus the Mariners:

23 G • 8 – 11 • 4.66 ERA • 146.2 IP • 111 K /51 BB • 1.30 WHIP • 1.5 HR/9

Last year Dickey looked untouchable, this year he has looked pedestrian at best. Yes he has had a few good outings, but he has also had multiple starts in which he got rocked for 5+ runs. Dickey has had some serious issues with the long ball too. Last season he surrendered a total of 24 home runs, this season he has already matched that total, and he has pitched in 10 less games. What really worries me is the fact R.A is ALREADY 38 years old and he is already showing signs of wear and tear. I understand that knuckleballers have the benefit of longevity, and Dickey will never require Tommy John surgery, but the fact that he is already breaking down scares me for the future. Dickey is signed through 2015 with an option in 2016; he’ll be 40 by then.

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It also doesn’t help that Noah Syndergaard has TORN UP the minor leagues so far as a member of the Mets farm system and the oft injured d’Arnaud is in line an imminent call up with incumbent starter John Buck on the DL.

The only thing more disappointing then the Blue Jays season thus far has been the absolute abysmal performance of Josh Johnson.

JJ looks more like Josh Towers 2.0 then the former NL ERA champion. Hell at least Towers managed to win 13 games in a season for the Jays. Josh Johnson has been a heart breaker for all the wrong reasons this season. The 6’7 righty has looked utterly lost on the mound in a Jays uniform. The main concern going into the season with Johnson was his durability and injury history. Now an injury would be best case scenario instead of him taking
his can of gasoline and matches out to the mound every 5th day. Here is JJ piss poor line so far:

15 G • 1 – 8 • 6.60 ERA • 76.1 IP • 78 K /28 BB • 1.68 WHIP • 1.8 HR/9

It should be noted that JJ had one of the best career HR/9 in the MLB for the past decade. In 8 seasons with the Marlins, JJ had a 0.6 HR/9 ratio. Active leaders were Mariano Rivera (0.47), Clayton Kershaw (0.57) and then JJ. In 2010 JJ led all of baseball with a 0.34 HR/9. If he had enough innings to qualify this season, he would rank 44th out of 45 AL pitchers; narrowly beating out Joe Blanton.

One of the other concerns with acquiring Johnson was the fact that he was a free agent at the end of the season and would possibly command something in the $100 million dollar region. Now it looks like the Blue Jays probably won’t even extend him a qualifying offer thus allowing him to walk free with no compensation in return.

You can’t really say anything bad about what Mark Buehrle has done this year. He’s putting up exactly the type of season you would expect from the 34 year old lefty. You could even make the argument that Buehrle has been the Jays best starter this year; or at least their most consistant.

23 G • 7 – 7 • 4.41 ERA • 145 IP • 97 K/37 BB • 1.31 WHIP • 1.1 HR/9

The only issue with Buehrle is the fact that he will be getting paid $18 and $19 million dollars in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Those are big numbers to someone who will most likely be your 4th or 5th starter at that point.

Speaking of 4th and 5th starters, why have we not discussed Romero and Morrow yet?

Well Ricky is trying to figure himself out in AAA Buffalo at the current time, and Morrow is most likely done for the season with nerve damage in his right forearm. It’s hard to say which one of the twos season has been more of a disappointment. Morrow was pitching so-so before initially being shut down with an oblique injury. In 2012 Morrow was the surprise of the Jays rotation and looked poised to have a big 2013 campaign. 2012 Brandon Morrow looked like this:

21 G • 10 – 7 • 2.96 ERA • 124.2 IP • 1.12 WHIP • 108 K/41 BB • 0.9 HR/9

2013 Morrow looks like this:

10 G • 2 – 3 • 5.63 ERA • 54.1 IP • 1.49 WHIP • 42 K/18 BB • 2.0 HR/9
Luckily most fans forget about Morrow’s lost season with all the other disappointment pushing it to the background.

Ricky Ro on the other deserves a whole chapter on himself. The one-time all-star and “ace” of the team has fallen so far that he was actually removed from the 40 man roster. Romero is the only Blue Jays pitcher who looks more lost on the mound than Josh Johnson.

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The 28 year old Romero had a 2012 season that no one wants to remember. After starting 8-0, he went on to win only one more game all season long. The low point was a 13 start losing streak.

2012: 32 G • 9 – 14 • 5.77 ERA • 181.1 IP • 1.67 WHIP • 124 K/105 BB • 1.0 HR/9

2013 started off with disappointment right out of the gate when Romero lost the 5th starters job to J.A Happ and was sent down to AAA Buffalo. Romero has made two starts for the Jays in 2013, but they were terrible to say the least. Here is Rickys 2013 stats:

2 G • 0-2 • 12.46 ERA • 4.1 IP • 2.77 WHIP • 4 K/5 BB • 2.1 HR/9

And for those of you thinking that he has finally righted the ship in the minors, here are his stats through 17 games across three minor league levels:

3 – 5 • 5.32 ERA • 86.1 IP • 1.73 WHIP • 58 K/50 BB

Although with the way JJ has pitched this year, I don’t know why you can’t let Ricky try and figure himself out with the big league club. For his sake, and the sake of the Blue Jays, I hope he finds it sooner rather than later.

The man who beat Romero out for the 5th starters position has had a season to forget from a personal point of view. Then again, he might not remember much about the 2013 campaign anyway.

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Poor J.A Happ. Happ was our best starter in what was a dreary April and then on a fateful night in Tampa Bay he took a line drive from Desmond Jennings to the side of the head. It was pound for pound the worst injury I have witnessed while watching a game live. Thankfully Happ would be okay, but he twisted his knee when he collapsed and has been on the DL since. In fact, Happ is scheduled to come off the DL on Wednesday. Happ was having a decent season before the injury, and the Jays could really use him to come back and pitch effectively. Before his injury Happ had started 7 games and had pitched above average. His 2013 line so far:

7 G • 2 – 2 • 4.91 ERA • 33 IP • 1.54 WHIP • 26 K/19 BB • 0.8 HR/9

His numbers look similar when you view his 5 rehab games in the minors:

0-2 • 4.22 ERA • 21.1 IP • 1.50WHIP • 20 K/8 BB

Here’s hoping that J.A can help both the team, and the bullpen out when he comes back.

There have been very few bright spots on the 2013 Blue Jays, but one of them has to be the performance of Esmil Rogers. Rogers was acquired from the Indians for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. Although he started the season as John gibbons favourite option out of the pen, he soon became a spot starter and an eventual mainstay in the rotation with the injuries to Happ and Romero. Although Rogers has struggled lately, you cannot forget about the early successes he has had. He has pitched in 35 games including 12 as a starter and has faired above average:

3 – 6 • 4.61 ERA • 65 K/28 BB • 1.47 WHIP • 1.1 HR/9

I’m not completely sold on Rogers long term as a starter, but I haven’t completely hated the Esmil Rogers experiment in 2013. I do believe his struggles could be attributed to his increased innings and workload in the past two months though.

Heading into this season our starting rotation was viewed as a strength on paper. It’s early August now and we can safely say that our rotation has been our biggest weakness and disappointment. If we think that we can possibly contend in 2014 with a rotation like this, we better give our head a shake. Yes we will be aided by the returns of both Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison within the next month, but they are not our saving graces. Drabek has been madly inconsistent and wild in his short major league career, and Hutchison has played a total of 11 games in the major leagues. Drabek has a miserable looking career record, mind you he has pitched over three seasons since he was 22.

Kyle Drabek: 34 G • 8 – 15 • 5.34 ERA • 167 IP • 1.67 WHIP • 110 K/107 BB • 1.2 HR/9

His minor league rehab stats have been encouraging though. His second Tommy John surgery in under 7 years is less encouraging though.

2013 Rehab: 9G • 0-1 • 2.55 ERA • 24.1 IP • 0.77 WHIP • 23 K/4 BB

Hutch looked great last year before going down with a torn UCL. His stats were quite impressive, especially for a 21 year old

5 – 3 • 4.60 ERA • 58.2 IP • 1.35 WHIP • 49 K /20 BB • 1.2 HR/9

His numbers in his rehab starts have also been rather positive:

5 G • 0 -1 • 2.76 ERA • 16.1 IP • 1.04 WHIP • 22 K /8 BB

Here’s hoping that he can come back and help our depleted rotation.

Yes the rotation for 2014 is not set in stone yet; not by a long shot. But one thing that is concrete is the fact that the Blue Jays must do more to fortify and strengthen their rotation than they have this year. If AA truly believes that the Blue Jays have a legit chance in the next 3 years, then he must go and get a legit tier one starting pitcher. It’s just a shame that his 2013 plan has not worked out the way it did on paper.

– $

(Bullpen and Player features to come)

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