Reasons for Optimism – Pitching Depth
When the 2013 Blue Jays season was about to get under way, the fan base was brimming with a positivity that hadn’t been seen in almost 20 years. However, one element that I think that fans (not to mention analysts), failed to look at was the lack of depth the Blue Jays had in their pitching staff. While the Jays had seemingly upgraded the top end of their rotation with the additions of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson & R.A. Dickey, what was lurking underneath that talent was a void that when those top horses got injured (or merely underperformed), there was nothing to fall back upon. Coming out of spring training, the pitchers the Jays had as fall back options was the artist formerly known as Ricky Romero, 40 year old Ramon Ortiz, minor league journeyman Todd Redmond, and prospects like Sean Nolin and Chad Jenkins, who weren’t ready for prime-time.
As we now know, due to injuries to the likes of Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, and Josh Johnson, to name just a few, the Jays had to turn to those fall back options early and often.
- Todd Redmond – 57.1 IP (10 Starts) – 4.40 ERA, 0.4 bWAR, 0.5 fWAR
- Esmil Rogers – 125 IP (17 Starts) – 4.46 ERA, 0.9 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR
- Chien-Ming Wang – 27 IP (6 Starts) – 7.67 ERA, -0.7 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR
- Ramon Ortiz – 25.1 IP (4 Starts) – 6.04 ERA, -0.2 bWAR, -0.5 fWAR
- Chad Jenkins – 24 IP (3 Starts) – 3.75 ERA, 0.1 bWAR, 0.1 fWAR
- Ricky Romero – 6.1 IP (2 Starts) – 9.95 ERA, -0.2 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR
- Aaron Laffey – 2.2 IP (1 Start) – 6.75 ERA, -0.0 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR
- Sean Nolin – 1.1 IP (1 Start) – 40.50 ERA, -0.3 bWAR, -0.1 fWAR
Those 8 pitchers contributed 44 starts, or 30% of the teams total games started, and accrued exactly 0 WAR (by Baseball Reference), and 0.3 WAR (by Fangraphs). When people talk about replacement level players, the above group is the exact type of pitchers that SABRmetricians are referring to. Redmond, Wang, Ortiz & Laffey were acquired by either minor league free agency or waivers, Nolin & Jenkins were fringe prospects (or at least not ready for the majors yet), and Ricky Romero had passed through waivers unclaimed earlier in the season.
There is reason to believe that without making any additions to next year’s roster this area of weakness could actually be an area of strength when the season starts next year. The first way this will happen is by a return to health from Kyle Drabek & Drew Hutchison. The pair of former top prospects were on the shelf for most of the 2013 season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and there’s every reason to believe they will be at full strength in April when the season kicks off. While both have question marks around them, they at least have potential to be at least major league average starters, which is a massive upgrade from any of the pitchers listed above.
In addition to both Drabek & Hutchison returning from Tommy John surgery, the Blue Jays should have some pitching prospects who are ready for the major leagues at some point early in 2013.
The first is Sean Nolin, who had a disastrous MLB debut in May. In that start, Nolin was obviously not ready for the major leagues, he only recorded four outs, and gave up 6 runs without striking anyone out. Now, with another 17 starts under his belt in both AA & AAA its expected that he will be much more able to help patch holes that arise in 2014. While Nolin isn’t expected to have high end potential, it is expected that he will be a safe number 4 starter.
The other major option the Blue Jays will have is diminutive 5’9 Marcus Stroman. Ever since the Jays selected Stroman #22 overall in the 2012 Rule 4 Draft, there have always been questions whether he could make it as a starter. Scouts have always whispered that due to his small frame, he might be destined to be a closer, which would increase the effectiveness of his killer slider, and prevent him from breaking down. That being said, Stroman’s late season success has given me a good deal of faith that he at least deserves an opportunity at starting. In Stroman’s final 8 starts of the season (as you would expect him to be tiring), he posted 61 strikeouts (good for a 30.2 % of his batters faced), as opposed to 10 walks (just 4.9%).
When you add those four pitchers to Esmil Rogers, and Todd Redmond, who have both established themselves as decent fallback options, the Jays will finally have adequate pitching depth in order to serve as a fail-safe to account for the eventual injuries that we know will crop up during the season.
This doesnt solve the Jays primary issue which was the pitchers at the top of the rotation failing to either stay healthy, or produce to expected levels. If Brandon Morrow only pitches 50 innings next year, and if Josh Johnson (or whoever is brought in to replace him) fail as spectacularly as they did this past season, then the Jays will likely be bringing up the rear in the AL East just like they did in 2013.
However, its certainly nice to know that an area which has been a weakness for a very long time, could potentially be solved without raising a finger in the offseason.