Mission ’13: Pitching: What Went Wrong? Can It Be Fixed?

Yesterday’s post about former Jays in the playoffs arose as an extension of that with which I was wrestling: the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching staff. It seems as if the universal opinion is that if the Jays don’t improve significantly on the mound, 2014 will be similar to 2013.

Since the acquisitions made in the offseason between 2012 and 2013 used up a lot of the Jays’ resources, the obvious question is ‘how can the Jays afford to make a high-quality pitcher (or two)?’ There’s no easy answer to that question. A better question is ‘what sort of pitcher do the Jays need?’ Now we’re talking.

I compiled a basic table of the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitchers. Then I realized that, even with the criteria I imposed, the list was still pretty unwieldy. It was unwieldy enough that I think we’re into 2 post territory. So, since every game begins this way let’s start with the starters.

SP

GS

ERA

FIP

xFIP

fWAR

Buehrle

33

4.15

4.10

4.09

2.5

Dickey

34

4.21

4.58

4.23

2.0

Happ

18

4.56

4.31

4.82

1.2

Redmond

14

4.32

4.40

4.16

0.8

Johnson

16

6.20

4.62

3.58

0.5

Rogers

20

4.77

4.73

4.06

0.3

Morrow

10

5.63

5.42

4.49

-0.1

Wang

6

7.67

5.42

4.07

-0.1

Fangraphs gave this info away with free toilet paper samples at: http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=0&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0&team=14&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0

Let’s make some preliminary comments and observations about the info in the table:

  • Only pitchers with at least 5 starts are included;
  • We didn’t separate Esmil Rogers’ and Todd Redmond’s starter/reliever splits;
  • Only 3 SP surpassed 100 IP: Buehrle (203.2), Dickey (224.2), and Rogers (137.2);
  • Injuries played a major role again as several of these guys (Redmond, Rogers, Wang) and others who didn’t make the cut (Ortiz, Nolin, Laffey, Romero, Jenkins), weren’t really even on the radar when the 2013 season began;
  • Home runs were a problem, as Buehrle (10.6), Dickey (12.7), Redmond (11.8), Johnson (18.5), Morrow (15.6), and Wang (20.8) all had double digit HR/FB rates;
  • these starters gave up 135 HR in 898.1 IP (1.35 HR/9); and
  • The cumulative fWAR of SP with 5 or more starts in 2013 was 7.1.

So, what went wrong? ‘Injuries and ineffectiveness’ is the short-and-easy answer. The same problem the Jays faced in 2012, and every team seemed to face in 2013—injuries—ensured that Toronto would scramble, having to start guys like Wang, Ortiz, Laffey and the like. It’s obviously not ideal, but it did expose a weakness in the Jays’ organizational strategy: quality depth. The same weakness was exposed in 2012.

The flip side of the coin, ineffectiveness, is a little harder to nail down since it’s so broad. Throwing a bunch of guys together and saying, ‘go out and win the AL East/pennant/World Series’ is tough to do, especially when everyone else is trying to do the same things. But that’s the rub. BOS finished last in the AL East in 2012 and are serious World Series contenders in 2013, on the basis of several key additions. They didn’t sign high-priced talent; they signed middle class (and lower) talent. And they’re winning. Now, with a season together under their belt, there are fewer excuses for poor play in TOR.

Okay, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. For the purpose of seeing what we have I’ll split the staff into 4 different groups: Keepers, Swingmen, Goner(s), and Status Unclear. As such, I will do some review and then offer an opinion as to what I think should happen with these guys.

Keepers

  1. Mark Buehrle
    • he pitched as advertised, eating a lot of innings, keeping them in games, competing hard, and offering a strong veteran presence;
    • his career numbers (3.84 ERA/4.14 FIP/4.21 xFIP) lined up nicely with his 2013 effort (4.15/4.10/4.09);
    • his contract isn’t pretty but it’s not my money, so I don’t care;
    • I believe that he should be the #4 starter in 2014;
  1. RA Dickey
    • He wasn’t as advertised, and injuries played a smallish role;
    • April/May were dismal, but there was significant improvement from June-September;
    • home runs (35) were a key problem;
    • I believe that he’s a good candidate for improvement in 2014;
    • I believe he should be the #2 starter in 2014;
  1. Brandon Morrow
    • Injuries prevented Jays’ fans from being exposed to too much radiation, as Morrow only managed 10 GS/54.1 IP;
    • he was no better than Chien-ming Wang when he did start;
    • a nerve problem is the significant factor here: he won’t throw a ball until mid-October and until then, the Jays won’t know a thing about his status;
    • Likely rotation spot: unknown.

Swingmen

  1. JA Happ
    • a freak injury played havoc with Happ’s season;
    • before the injury, Happ was a model of inconsistency; after the injury, Happ was a model of inconsistency;
    • they’ve monkeyed with his arm slot/delivery, and he likes it (sub-3.00 ERA in Sept)), which means he’ll probably be a strong candidate for the #5 spot;
    • I don’t think that his career shows enough consistency or that he’s an innings eater for the back end of the rotation;
    • because of that, I’d like to see him as a long man out of the ‘pen;
  1. Todd Redmond
    • I was suitably impressed with Redmond: with a little more control over the HR, I would have been very impressed;
    • as a back-end-of-the-rotation guy who’s a fly ball pitcher we expect HR (13 in 77 IP), but his K-rate (8.88/9) and BB-rate (2.69/9) were good;
    • I’d like to see him as a RHP long man out of the ‘pen;
  1. Esmil Rogers
    • at times Esmil showed flashes of brilliance, while at other times he was awful;
    • he’s a sinker baller who doesn’t miss enough bats (9.94 H/9), or pound the strike zone enough (6.28 K/9; 2.88 BB/9) in a rotation with Dickey and Buehrle;
    • I’d like to see him compete with Redmond to be the RHP long man out of the ‘pen.

Goner(s)

  1. Chien-ming Wang
    • He’s the only starter in this category: his first 2 starts were acceptable (even surprising), but his other 4 starts were terrible;
    • his career stalled when he was injured several years ago, but there’s no Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon, hidden gem here—he’s more like Jason Marquis;
    • if he’s willing, then sign him to a minor league deal for depth; other than that, his value is negligible.

Status Unclear

  1. Josh Johnson
    • Johnson’s intriguing case has been discussed here at AL Eastbound and elsewhere: as a free agent on the heels of a terrible year, what should the Jays do?
    • His year was so poor that a qualifying offer would be financially suicidal: ~$14MM could be better spent elsewhere, since it’s highly unlikely that another team would sign him and forfeit a draft pick;
    • injuries were a factor—again—but Dr. James Andrews performed surgery and was clear that the problem (1) was fixed, and (2) contributed to his struggles;
    • his agent mentioned that he has ‘unfinished business’ in TOR and that a 1-year deal loaded with incentives would be about right;
    • if that’s what he wants, I say sign him and make him the #5 starter and DO IT QUICKLY: he’s an excellent bounce-back candidate (3.58 xFIP);
    • he’s 29, has something to prove, likes TOR and John Gibbons, and is immensely talented (when he’s not of the DL): the likelihood that they will find a better candidate at that price to be a #5 is slim:
      • consider the LAA acquiring Joe Blanton to be their #5 starter for 2 years/$15MM plus an option for 2015;
      • using fWAR Johnson ranked 130th in MLB; Blanton ranked #142;
      • Johnson’s xFIP was 3.58, while Blanton’s was 3.84;
      • I think Johnson is a better candidate to bounce back than Blanton: based on several considerations I believe Johnson is (much) more likely to produce a 2.5-3 fWAR season;
      • 2.5-3 fWAR likely means there would be ample surplus value, which is something the Jays need, to an incentive-laden, 1-year deal.

The most notable exclusions from the analysis are Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. These 3, along with swingmen JA Happ, Esmil Rogers, and Todd Redmond offer admirable depth if another higher-end starter is in the crosshairs.

A rotation including Dickey, Buehrle, and Johnson as the #2, 4 and 5 starters is appealing, since 2 are bounce-back candidates and Buehrle is rock-steady. They don’t need to acquire a true ace; another #2 would do nicely.

Acquiring this #2 starter is the challenge. There aren’t many #2 level starters available via free agency but an intriguing option could be 24-year old Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. He’s more of a control pitcher than Yu Darvish (his BB/9 rate is very low), but the key question is whether his skills translate well into MLB.

There are several potential targets, including Matt Garza, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco, and Ervin Santana. The only MLB-related name specifically linked to the Jays so far has been Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo’s an innings-eater (200+ IP 8 times in 9 years; the other year, 2011, he reached 199 IP) who’s been very healthy (32+ starts every year since ’04). Is he a good fit for the AL East/Rogers Centre? Do the Jays need another back-end-of-the-rotation starter? Is Arroyo simply a right-handed Mark Buehrle? Is that a bad thing? Would Ubaldo and Arroyo, in concert with several bounce-back campaigns, help the Jays make up the 18 games between a 74-88 also-ran and a 92-70 wild card team?

Two blockbuster trades and a couple free agent signings were sabotaged by injuries and ineffectiveness, limiting the Jays to a one-win improvement in 2013 over 2012. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Wes Kepstro

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10 Responses to “Mission ’13: Pitching: What Went Wrong? Can It Be Fixed?”


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  6. 6 dr dre beats price January 25, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    I hardly leave a response, however after looking at a few of the comments on Mission 13: Pitching:
    What Went Wrong? Can It Be Fixed? | AL Eastbound & Down. I actually do
    have a couple of questions for you if you tend not to mind.

    Could it be simply me or does it look as if like a few
    of the responses come across like they are coming from brain dead people? :-P And, if you are posting on additional social sites, I’d like to follow you.

    Would you post a list of the complete urls of your public pages like your twitter
    feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  7. 7 Idiot Fan October 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Wow. This.

    Excellent article. Really no need for anyone else to cover this!

    I am in complete agreement. Dickey (2), Buehrle (4) and JJ (5 but could be 2a) is a good start. Need the 1 and another 2a


  1. 1 Toronto Blue Jays Morning Brew: Mottola Removed, Pitching Possibilities and '93 til' Infinity - Jays Journal - A Toronto Blue Jays Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and More Trackback on October 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

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