Well, here’s the second installment of our attempt to be confused for a real GM. In this piece we’ll focus on assembling the best pitching staff from Blue Jays history.
Roger Clemens (1997)
“Rocket” is one of the two greatest pitchers in Blue Jays history. Clemens’ 1997 and 1998 seasons were fantastic, but 1997 was in a class by itself. That year Clemens (11.1) was outstanding, putting to rest any fears that the Jays paid for a former great who was past his prime. It also infused the fanbase with hope. If only they could have surrounded him with a playoff-calibre team.
Roy Halladay (2003)
‘Doc’ is the other greatest pitcher in Blue Jays history. Whereas Clemens’ greatness was short-lived, Roy Halladay (8.0) was a product of Toronto’s farm who proved his greatness year after year. Doc’s first Cy Young campaign was a gem and earns him the honour as the #2 starter behind Roger Clemens.
David Wells (2000)
Wells is the reason that you give lefties chance after chance to reach their potential. A long-time Jay who moved around after the title years, Wells (6.8) came back to Toronto in the deal that sent Clemens to the Yankees. In his second stint with Toronto he was better than solid, paving the way to one of the worst trades in Jays’ history.
Pat Hentgen (1996)
It wasn’t his “stuff” that overpowered hitters, it was his tenacity. Pat Hentgen (6.4) pitched his way to the first Cy Young award in Jays’ history on the strength of decent stats (league-leading CG and SO), 265+ IP, and fairly weak competition. That’s not to say Hentgen was undeserving, or that his CYA is tarnished in any way. But he’s no higher than a fourth starter on this team, and a strong case could be made for him to be the #5 or #6, regardless of his hardware.
Jimmy Key (1987)
Rounding out the rotation is Toronto’s best homegrown lefty. His ’87 campaign was one of the first times that I believed the wrong player was chosen for an award. I was wrong, but it’s a testimony to how well Jimmy Key (6.1) pitched that year. The only reason Key didn’t win a Cy Young that year is that Roger Clemens was awesome.
Dave Stieb (1984)
Dave Stieb as the #6 guy? Sure. I chose Key for the #5 spot because he’s a lefty, but Stieb (6.1) was equally valuable as the Jays were poised to become a playoff team. He used his slider the way Mariano Rivera uses his cutter and was super competitive. But ’84 was the year of the Reliever, as Guillermo (Willie) Hernandez and Dan Quisenberry finished 1-2 in Cy Young voting. Interestingly, Stieb had the highest bWAR (aka rWAR) among pitchers receiving votes that year. So, how would you like to have the fiery Stieb for depth?
Tom Henke (1989)
There’s no question that’The Terminator’ is the greatest closer in Jays’ history. He was a very good strikeout pitcher with a good fastball and a close-up-the-shop-and-turn-off-the-lights forkball. He didn’t get beat by the walk or home run very often and, well, he was just pretty reliable. Just before the Jays began their four years of glory, Tom Henke (3.7) put together his best season as a Blue Jay, with excellent K/9 (11.7) and ERA (1.92) numbers.
Duane Ward (1991)
It’s virtually impossible for me to think of Henke without also thinking of Ward. Much to my surprise, Duane Ward (4.1) had the second best season by a reliever in Blue Jays’ history. Ward retains his position as Henke’s set-up man on the all-time team by virtue of his outstanding season in ’91 when he was—you guessed it—Henke’s set-up man. However, when Henke was injured that season, guess who stepped up and became a dominant closer. Hmm, two top-shelf closers. Tough problem to have.
Mark Eichhorn (1986)
I always equate the ’86 season with disappointment. I suppose it’s because the Jays took a step back from their success in 1985. However, a number of players enjoyed career years in ’86 and Mark Eichhorn (5.3) was one of them. Not only did the sidewinder have the best season of his career, but it remains the best season ever by a Blue Jays reliever. His funky delivery baffled opponents all season long, ensuring that the Blue Jays were competitive even though they didn’t win the division.
B.J. Ryan (2006)
He signed a big contract, so fans’ expectations were proportionately high. In his first season as a Blue Jay, B.J. Ryan (2.9) delivered. Career lows in H/9, BB/9, a career high in saves, and giving up a scant 11 ER all season set the bar pretty high. Unfortunately ’06 was Ryan’s high-water mark as a Jay, and that contract just kept haunting the Jays. For one season, though, B.J. Ryan was an overpowering lefty who finished games very effectively.
Pete Vuckovich (1977)
One year with the Jays and Vuke’s on the team. Vuckovich (2.9) pitched an astounding 148 innings in his lone season despite making only 8 starts. He struck out batters, didn’t hurt himself with walks, and didn’t give up many home runs. All in all, he had a pretty good season. Then, unfortunately, the Jays traded him to the Cards for Victor Cruz and Tom Underwood. Pete Vuckovich became a pretty good pitcher; Cruz and Underwood did not. You can’t win ’em all.
Dennis Lamp (1985)
Ah, the first playoff team in Jays’ history, 1985, and Dennis Lamp (2.3) was a significant part of it. The starters had high innings-counts, and the man that Bobby Cox turned to in the middle of the game was Dennis Lamp. A converted starter who was able to give the Jays 100+ IP out of the ‘pen, Lamp’s record in ’85 was 11-0.
Roy Lee Jackson (1982)
Jackson averaged 2 IP per appearance in 1982 and his H/9 were very, very good. Roy Lee (2.0) was just about everything that you’d want out of a reliever who was part of Bobby Cox’s closer by committee (with Dale Murray and Joey McLaughlin). Surprisingly, Roy Lee was second to Steve Senteney in K/BB in the Jays’ ‘pen that year.
Scott Downs (2010)
Every ‘pen needs a lefty specialist because a good LOOGY can neutralize a left-handed hitter when your team’s in a tight spot. Scott Downs (1.3) is that guy. Darren Oliver was excellent, and Garry LaVelle pitched well but they both enjoyed a broader role. Downs was about as good as it gets in ’10. I thought the Jays erred when they let him get away.
Because of Rule #4, B.J. Ryan would be on the DL. Dave Stieb would be a swingman, spot starting and pitching some long relief out of the ‘pen.
Dave Stieb as a spot starter and long reliever? Are you nuts? Maybe. Roy Lee Jackson isn’t a serious selection, is it? Well, yes and no. Most of the players in the early days were replacement level, but Roy Lee’s solid ’82 season (48 G, 97 IP) means he earned a spot as a long reliever. Long relievers aren’t real tough to find, but Roy Lee, Lamp, and Vuckovich would take care of the middle innings nicely
As you can see, this all-time team isn’t littered with sentimental selections from the World Series/playoff teams. Yes, by definition, those were some of the best players in Jays’ history but, no, the best seasons in Jays’ history didn’t necessarily coincide with postseason appearances or successes.
Will 2013 be an historic season for the Toronto Blue Jays? I don’t know, but one thing I can say definitively is that there’s more excitement now than there has been in a long, long time.