The Blue Jays’ most effective pitcher over the last two seasons, Carlos Villanueva, is a free agent when the season ends. Several comments have been made publicly by both pitcher and GM over the past week or so, and it hasn’t been as pleasant as one might hope. MLBTradeRumors.com quotes GM Alex Anthopoulos as saying,
“When you’re looking at a starter you’re looking at 32 or 34 starts, 200 innings, durability, things like that, that’s part of the equation,” Anthopoulos told reporters, including Brendan Kennedy of the Toronto Star. “There’s no question when he’s taken the ball he’s done a great job. But his [durability] is obviously part of the equation. That’s not to take anything away from him. But that’s the unknown with Carlos, he’s never had 200 innings, he’s never had 32 or 34 starts. I think we all would say you love what you see, what he’s done for us and he’s a great teammate and all those things. But again we’ve only had bits and pieces of him starting.”
Carlos Villanueva’s reply has an ‘eyebrow-furrowing’ feel to it: “Its a little disappointing. Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he told Sportsnet’s Tony Ambrogio. “I definitely don’t love the advertising of that being put out there.”
Let’s be clear at the outset: being the most effective pitcher does not mean he’s their best pitcher. That said he’s done pretty well. What should the Jays do?
Avoid him like the plague
Carlos was a ‘pen piece in Milwaukee, starting 27 times in 230 games over five seasons. This raises questions of durability, which, of course, is the heart of the issue. He doesn’t have a starter’s durability because, for the most part, he hasn’t been a starter.
In Toronto Carlos has been used primarily out of the ‘pen, getting starts only when another starter has been injured. Toronto brass knew this when they acquired him. He made 13 starts in ’11 and then was shelved with a forearm strain. This season he’s made 13 more starts. He’s remained healthy but his performance has declined over time.
The Jays’ injury woes this year aren’t significantly worse than you’ll find on other teams, but their impact has been substantial. What do the Jays risk on a starter who doesn’t have a starter’s stamina? They risk injury to him and potential setbacks for the team. He’s versatile but he’s pushing for a starter’s role, which means a starter’s contract.
Get a pen…quick!
Carlos Villanueva’s numbers suggest he’s an above average pitcher. Looking at the pitcher-related plate discipline trends of the past decade, CV holds his own and is improving. Topping out at about 89 mph, he’s not missing bats because of velocity. However, he uses the 13+ mph differential between his fastball and change-up effectively, causing batters to swing and miss at a greater rate than league average. Carlos is an above average pitcher with four decent-to-good pitches (six if you include an eephus pitch or two and a two-seam fastball) who misses bats. In other words, he’s a solid #5.
So, sign him or take door #2 (the matched luggage)?
Baseball lends itself to numbers, so let’s look at some numbers. This is Carlos Villanueva by (some of) the numbers culled from his 13 starts in 2012:
The grouping is unbalanced, but offers a glimpse at Villanueva’s effectiveness. One thing is clear: he’s declined after his initial five starts. The decline can be attributed reasonably to several factors (quality of opponent; scouting reports; fatigue; etc.) It’s also worthwhile to note that the Jays were 5-0 in his first five starts, but 3-5 in his next eight starts. The Jays’ reservations are well founded, but overall he’s pitched well and been the consummate professional. Again.
I see two competing perspectives. On one hand, the Jays don’t need another fourth/fifth starter. They’re relatively easy to find so if he wants more starts, then let him go. His decline is troubling, and the Jays don’t need another starter on the DL. This year’s been something out of a Stephen King novel, injury-wise, so let’s not ‘tempt fate’ any further.
On the other hand, as fifth starters go he’s pretty good. He’s versatile, he’s pitched better this year than last, he does what he’s asked and he does it pretty well. Spreading out his starts is a reasonable solution.
Sign him. If the Jays have plans to acquire two other starters, Carlos may become redundant. But even that’s no reason to let him go. This season has demonstrated pretty clearly that the Jays need pitching depth. Worst-case scenario? He’s a long man out of the ‘pen. Give him 15 or so starts sprinkled throughout the season, and it helps keep everyone fresh. Unless there’s an undeniably better option out there, signing Carlos Villanueva would be wise.