Archive for October, 2013

Blue Jays Interested in Light Hitting 2B Gordon Beckham?

Let the fun and games begin.  As we near the beginning of the always interesting offseason I am sure there will be a ton of rumours and notes about various free agent and trade targets.  We will try our best to keep up with them.

As per MLBTR:

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos is no stranger to the trade market. Early reports have already pegged Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta as potential trade targets for Toronto, and nowScott Merkin and Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com report that the Jays are targeting White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham as well.

Beckham, 27, hit .267/.322/.372 with a career-low five homers in a career-low 103 games this season. A broken hamate bone in his right hand cost him nearly two months of the 2013 campaign, which could have something to do with the decline in home runs. However, Beckham has never lived up to the hype that surrounded him after being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft, slashing just .249/.314/.380 in 2,217 big league plate appearances.

Beckham is eligible for arbitration for the second time this offseason, and MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projects a raise from $2.9MM to $3.5MM. He is under team control through the 2015 season.

The article they reference also included a quick tidbit on the possibility of dealing Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez.  Unless the entire franchise is coming back for Stroman or Sanchez I do not see a fit with the White Sox at all.  They do not have anything of interest in my opinion.

Gordon Beckham is terrible, and not young.  He owns a career .308 wOBA, 86 wRC+ and has slashed a paltry 249/313/380 in 2217 PAs.  Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos is letting it be known that he is willing to go all-in and deal his last remaining pitching prospects to continue his attempt at building a contender that can win now.  Or perhaps this is just unfounded rumour and speculation that is rampant at this time of year.

Mission ’13: Pitching, Pitchers, and ERA

Dave Cameron wrote a good piece about Tim Lincecum re-upping with the San Francisco Giants.  As the Jays head into an offseason filled with question marks (again), this piece should be mandatory reading for Jays’ fans as they consider whomever the Jays acquire.

Take a look when/if you get the chance.  Whether you agree, disagree, or you fall somewhere in between, it’s well worth the time spent.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Jays Interested in Angels’ Catchers

Per mlbtraderumors.com:

Catcher is known to be a priority for the Blue Jays this offseason, and Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reports that the team is interested in Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger of the Angels. According to Elliott, the Blue Jays have already begun their efforts to acquire one of Anaheim’s backstops.

As MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk noted in analyzing the Blue Jays’ upcoming offseason, the team is set at most offensive positions with the exception of catcher and second base. Mark noted that while incumbent J.P. Arencibia may not be non-tendered, his days as the team’s starter are likely over. Toronto’s desire to acquire one of the Angels’ catchers and their interest in Washington’s Wilson Ramos seem to support that line of thinking.

Iannetta, who turns 31 next April, might at first appear to be similar to Arencibia given his low batting averages and escalating strikeout rate (25.1 percent in 2013). However, Iannetta has always been adept at drawing a walk. In fact, he drew nearly as many walks in 399 plate appearances in 2013 (68) as Arencibia has in his entire career (74). Overall, Iannetta batted .225/.358/.372 for the Halos in the first season of a three-year, $15.5MM extension. He’ll earn $4.975MM in 2014 and $5.525MM in 2015. In each of those seasons, his contract calls for an additional $100K bonus for starting 90 games at catcher and $125K when he reaches each of 100, 110, 115, 120 and 125 starts behind the dish.

The switch-hitting Conger batted .249/.310/.403 in 2013. He’ll turn just 26 years old in January and won’t be eligible for arbitration until next offseason. Originally selected by the Angels with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Conger has never gotten a full season’s worth of at-bats with the Halos despite a robust .298/.371/.470 slash line in 854 career plate appearances at Triple-A.

As we saw last offseason, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has no problem dealing young talent to fill holes on his big league roster. Though the Blue Jays’ farm system was depleted after acquiring R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in trades, the team still has plenty of minor league pitchers that would pique the Angels’ interest. According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, the Blue Jays’ top six prospects are all pitchers, though a top prospect along the lines of Aaron Sanchez would seem far too steep a price for either of the catchers in question.

If the Blue Jays really want to get aggressive, they could look to structure a deal that would land one of Iannetta or Conger as well as second baseman Howie Kendrick, who is known to be available. While that scenario is purely my speculation, such a trade would address both of the major holes highlighted in Polishuk’s outlook. The Blue Jays own two of the first 11 picks in next year’s draft, so they would have ample opportunity to add high-end talent to their farm system following another aggressive winter on the trade market.

Okay, a few bits of house cleaning regarding this latest rumour. First, CAN WE STOP LOOKING AT LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM CATCHERS PLEASE. Napoli, Mathis, and now Iannetta and Conger? There are 28 other teams in Major League Baseball: feel free to consider them occasionally.

Second, yes Aaron Sanchez is too steep of a price unless you’re throwing in 2B Kendrick and OF Bourjos with either of those humps.

Third, yes Iannetta drew a bunch of walks but he still can’t hit. Moving to The Rog may boost his offense but I hope the ship has sailed on poor-hitting catchers in Toronto.

That said, we all know how important defense and staff handling are for catchers. Fangraphs has him as a negative hitter for his career. He struck out 160 times in his last 652 PAs. He’s a plus defensive catcher albeit a weak plus defender lately. He’ll be 31 in early April and he’s never caught a knuckle ball. I have very little about ‘staff handling’ to pass on to you.

Fourth, Iannetta’s not terribly durable. He’s exceeded 100 games 3 times (’13, ’11, ’08) in a career that began in 2006.

Fifth, is Iannetta really a $5MM catcher? Really?

Sixth, does anyone consider “.298/.371/.470 slash line in 854 career plate appearances” with Salt Lake in the PCL to be “robust”? JP Arencibia was a .267/.320/.530 hitter in AAA, including a .301/.359/.626 line as the PCL MVP in 2010. Perhaps Conger’s .225/.295/.368 with 107 K in 457 AB at the ML level is indicative.

Finally, www.tsn.ca says it all in their scouting report about Chris Iannetta. They tell us that he calls a good game behind the dish but, wait, it gets better.  And I quote: “Can be all-or-nothing at the dish: takes a huge cut when he swings and strikes out too much. Has holes in his swing (and would benefit by shortening it up)”, “Inconsistent catcher with power”, and “Needs work on throwing runners out”. This sounds awfully familiar…

Frankly I prefer the Wilson Ramos rumour myself.

Wes Kepstro

Blue Jays Arizona Fall League Prospect Report – October 15, 2013

Well, many thanks to Wes for his continued torrid streak of awesome baseball writing!  A ton of great pieces pertaining to the Blue Jays and baseball in general.

Here are a few Blue Jays updates from the Arizona Fall League. Drew Hutchison took the mound and gave up a couple of unearned runs in 2.2 innings.

Hitters:

TOR AFL Kenny Wilson, CF, 3-5, .556, 2 SB (4)

Pitchers:

TOR AFL Drew Hutchison 2.2 3 2 0 0 2 0.00
TOR AFL John Stilson 1 1 0 0 0 2 33.75

Mission ’13: A Mindset Informed by Chris Carpenter

I’ve been following the 2013 playoffs, but not very closely. A story that’s emerged is that Chris Carpenter may be at the end of a storied successful career. Perhaps it’s ironic that his career will come to a close with him on the 60-day DL. Perhaps it’s not. An imposing physical specimen (6’6”, 230 lbs.), Carpenter has struggled to stay healthy. He’s made no fewer than 13 trips to the disabled list. Five of those occasions saw Carp on the 60-day DL.

Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the first round of the 1993 draft, the Jays believed he was an ace-in-waiting.

The timing was good as the team was coming off back-to-back World Series titles and everyone knows that good teams are built on the talent that’s drafted and developed from within, don’t they? I guess we could say that, of all the things it takes to become a champion, talent developed from within the organization is indispensable. And the immensely talented Chris Carpenter was at the top of the class within the Jays’ organization.

Carpenter developed steadily and made the jump to the Majors in his 4th season of pro ball. The results in the minors from 1994-1997 were mixed, and he looked overmatched in his first taste of the big leagues (81.1 IP/108 H/5.09 ERA). He walked 37 and only struck out 55. It’s not Matt Harvey territory, but it was a start.

Everything improved in 1998, as Carp appeared in 33 games, 24 of which were starts. But the really important thing was that he was learning from fellow starters Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen, and from veteran catchers Benito Santiago and Charlie O’Brien. Sunshine and lollipops, man, sunshine and lollipops.

Chris Carpenter was an established major league pitcher by 1999 and made 92 starts (24, 34, then 34) over the next 3 seasons. He also suffered his first minor injury in 2001, as he was bothered by right elbow pain. Looking back it’s sort of ominous, but that’s what hindsight does: it makes us all seem like geniuses.

2002 was a different story. He missed 108 games, making 13 relatively ineffective starts in and around visits to the disabled list. Out of options and with 2 separate trips to the DL (a 15-day stint and a 15-day-transferred-to-the-60-day stint), the Jays tried to assign him to the minors. He refused and became a free agent. Chris Carpenter’s career with the Toronto Blue Jays was over after 152 G (135 starts), during which he compiled a maudlin 49-50 record and 4.83 ERA in 870.2 IP. The dream of a 1-2 punch of Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay barely got off the tarmac before it crashed and burned.

His career with the St. Louis Cardinals has been somewhat different. He’s compiled a 95-44 record and 3.07 ERA over 1348.2 IP. The disparity is painful for Toronto Blue Jays’ fans. Did the Jays’ brass err in allowing him to get away? What would it have cost them to keep him? Well, the Cards took a chance and knew they were taking a chance, but Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan were at the helm. They’d been responsible for more than one career resurrection over the years: think Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, and Bob Welch. All 3 had been effective pitchers previously, but their careers were on the wane; all 3 enjoyed a resurgence under LaRussa’s and Duncan’s guidance.

Chris Carpenter was a different kettle of fish, though. The upside is that he was much younger than their other reclamation projects. The downside was that he represented much more of an injury risk than their other reclamation projects.

This is where LaRussa, Duncan and the St. Louis Cardinals’ brass needs to be commended. They signed Chris Carpenter as a free agent just before Christmas, 2002 (12/13/2002), to a 1 year deal worth $300,000 with an option for 2004. He missed the entire 2003 season because of shoulder surgery; they declined his option. The Cards signed him to another 1-year deal at the beginning of December (12/01/2003) with an option for 2005, and he was Comeback Player of the Year in 2004 (15-5, 182.0 IP, 3.46 ERA). They exercised his 2005 option and then he went out and won the Cy Young Award (21-5, 2.83). He made $2.6MM in bonuses in 2005 and $200,000 in bonuses in ’04

It was a gutsy move by the Cards and it worked out well. Or did it? He started 28 G in ’03-’04, and was left off the playoff roster after both seasons. The Cards are sort of the NL version of the Boston Red Sox: they aim for the playoffs, and when they get there, they expect to go deep. Chris Carpenter didn’t pitch at all in ’03 and helped them make the playoffs in ’04. But in 2005, he was brilliant. He pitched well in the playoffs before the Cards were dispatched in the NLCS. What to do, what to do, what to do…?

The Cards signed him to a 2-year, $13MM deal, laden with incentives and a 3rd year option that would vest based on reaching various performance-related goals. Carp was very good in 2006 (15-8, 221.2 IP, 3.09). It wasn’t up to the standard he set during 2005, but no one was complaining. Oh, and the Cards won the World Series. Carp pitched 8 innings of 3-hit ball, didn’t walk anyone, and struck out 6 in his only start. He pitched 32.1 innings in the playoffs and, though the Mets knocked him around, his postseason ERA was 2.78 in 5 starts.

Then he started 5 ML games total in ’07-’08. Then he made 97 starts from ’09-’11, with 2011 culminating with another strong playoff performance and another World Series win for the Cards. They went to the NLCS in 2012 and Chris Carpenter pitched well again.

Since he established himself as a major league pitcher (1997-1998), Chris Carpenter pitched 3 different sets of 3 ‘full’ seasons in his career: 1999-2001, 2004-2006, and 2009-2011. The other years have seen Chris Carpenter’s career decimated by injuries: 13 G in 2002-2003, 5 G in 2007-2008, and 3 G in 2012-2013, or 21 G in 6 years.

Why did the Cardinals stick with him? Frankly, I don’t know. Toronto also saw the talent and the injuries, and still tried to hang on to him. He chose free agency then missed sizable chunks of his Cardinals career, including his entire first year with them.

Is there a lesson here for the Jays? I think so. The Jays currently have 4 pitchers who are very talented but also very injury prone: Dustin McGowan, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Josh Johnson. I suspect that at least one of those pitchers will make a significant contribution in 2014, and all of them have the talent to do it. The Jays showed that they were learning when they signed the oft-injured Dustin McGowan to a 2-year contract, and he made a contribution in 2013. The other 3 represent 3 pretty different situations:

  • Morrow’s a shoe-in for the 2014 rotation if he’s healthy;
  • Kyle Drabek is coming off his second Tommy John surgery, but threw the ball well in AAA and the ML when given the chance—his control/command are the main issue;
  • Josh Johnson pitched poorly for the most part in a free agent year and has a checkered history when it comes to injuries.

The average of the top 125 ML salaries is $14.1MM; this is the value of the qualifying offer that a team can make on a one-year deal to their own prospective free agent. The Jays would be looney tunes to make a QO to Johnson. However, a one-year deal loaded with incentives makes sense, n’est-ce pas?

The Toronto Blue Jays have a chance to sign a pitcher the calibre of Josh Johnson to a peanuts-level contract loaded with incentives, and turn him into a mid-to-bottom-of-the-rotation guy. After all Chris Carpenter went from $3.45MM to $300K contract with an option and incentives. I know it’s not a straight-line comparison, but why the heck wouldn’t they do it? If they’re all healthy and in the rotation, can Morrow, McGowan, and Johnson average 2.5-3.0 fWAR each? The entire starting rotation produced 7.0 fWAR in 2013.

Wes Kepstro

Mission ’13: Pitching: Whatever Went Wrong, It Wasn’t the ‘Pen’s Fault…

Welcome to installment #2 in our end-of-season-mop-up-with-a-view-to-2014 look at the pitching staff. I knew installment #1 was long, but I didn’t realize how long. Hopefully in keeping with their relative length of stay in a game, our overview of the relief corps will be shorter. No promises, though.

We’ll use the same motif to try to get a handle on what the bullpen did, and perhaps even what it can offer in 2014. Without further ado, here’s our table:

RP

G

ERA

FIP

xFIP

fWAR

Delabar

55

3.22

2.72

3.35

1.4

Janssen

56

2.56

2.74

3.09

1.3

Cecil

60

2.82

2.88

2.99

1.0

Santos

29

1.75

1.84

2.61

0.9

Loup

64

2.47

3.32

3.31

0.8

J Perez

19

3.69

3.71

3.39

0.2

Jenkins

10

2.70

3.95

4.25

0.2

McGowan

25

2.45

3.67

4.20

0.2

Wagner

36

3.79

4.13

3.53

0.2

L Perez

6

5.40

1.85

2.67

0.1

Jeffress

10

0.87

3.43

2.44

0.1

Lincoln

22

3.98

5.48

5.91

-0.3

By the way, the TP samples handed out with this material by Fangraphs weren’t used: 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

  • minimum 10 appearances (except L Perez);
  • notable exclusions: the recently-retired Darren Oliver, Ricky Romero, & Kyle Drabek;
  • using our parameters the ‘pen produced 6.1 fWAR (the starters produced 7.1 fWAR);
  • 2 All Stars and a solid-if-unspectacular Closer led Hentgen’s boys in the ‘pen;
  • this table is ranked according to fWAR, but if you peruse the FIP/xFIP columns, they confirm that the Jays’ ‘pen was pretty strong;
  • AA’s desire to get RP who miss bats was successful, as 9 RP recorded 9.0 K/9 or higher;
  • at 0.85, Juan Perez recorded the highest HR/9 rate among the top 7 RP;
  • Steve Delabar made me think of Tom Henke in his early days: if Delabar wasn’t striking batters out (12.58 K/9), they hit their way on (.338 Babip) or walked (4.45 BB/9);
  • aside from Delabar, walks weren’t much of a problem with the guys who made the most appearances: of the 9 guys with at least 30 IP, only Cecil, J Perez, and Lincoln were above 3.25 BB/9;
  • of those 3 RP, 9 of Cecil’s 23 BB came in 11 July APP (9.1 IP), and 9 of Juan Perez’s 15 BB came in his last 5 APP (9.2 IP): not surprisingly, Cecil’s ERA rose from 1.47 to 2.81 and Perez’s ERA spiked from 0.00 to 3.69;

Okay, now to the tie some of this info together. We’ll use the same process as with the starters, but having 3 groups instead of 4: Keepers, On the Bubble, and Goner(s).

Keepers

  1. Steve Delabar
    • Re-sign this guy, and as soon as the ink’s dry get him in touch with the heavy ball program co-ordinator (who’s now an instructor with the Jays);
    • he has shut down stuff and was recognized with an All Star selection;
    • there’s no hint of complaint that he isn’t the Closer or desiring a more prominent role, more money, etc.;
    • he tired and was injured later in the season, but there’s no (major) concern;
    • he’s a high-quality set-up man: perhaps the Jays’ best since Duane Ward;
  1. Casey Janssen
    • Who would have thought that the Jays would get 2 high-quality seasons as the Closer from Casey Janssen?;
    • he has 117 SO, a 2.55 ERA and is 56-61 in save opportunities in his last 2 seasons as the CL, covering 116.1 IP, but he’s been terrific since the start of 2011;
    • It’s a lead pipe cinch that the Jays pick up his $4MM option for 2014;
  1. Brett Cecil
    • Cecil broke out as a RP after using the heavy ball program recommended to him by Steve Delabar;
    • an All Star selection highlighted a solid all-round season;
    • two wrenches have been thrown in the works, though: he ended the season on the DL, and he expressed a desire to move back into the rotation;
    • he’s arbitration-eligible and mlbtraderumors.com guesses that he’ll get ~$900K;
    • get him signed, give him a shot at starting in ST, then move him into the BP where his real value is found;
  1. Sergio Santos
    • 2 long, injury-filled seasons gave way to a successful recovery and a brilliant 29-game stint in 2013 (25.2 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 28 SO);
    • an effective, healthy Santos combined with an effective, healthy Delabar giving way to an effective Janssen is the stuff of dreams;
  1. Aaron Loup
    • Loup was barely on the radar prior to his initial call-up in 2012;
    • Darren Oliver’s last 2 seasons allowed Loup time to develop into a good LHP out of the ‘pen, effectively replacing Oliver;
    • owing to his tendency to pound the zone (1.69 BB/9), he can get hit a little hard (.299 Babip; 10.6% HR/FB), but it’s a small price to pay for a LHRP of his quality;
  1. Dustin McGowan
    • he spent some time on the DL in 2013 but, as he pointed out, it’s the first time that he’s gone on the DL with something other than an arm/shoulder injury;
    • that said, like Cecil, he’s expressed a desire to return to the rotation;
    • he was effective without being stellar in 25.2 IP: he still has a high-90s fastball and can get hitters out pretty well (2.45 ERA) but the question is, and always has been, his durability/fragility;
    • I like him out of the ‘pen but drool at the prospect of having him offer legitimate rotation depth: he may be the perfect swingman;
  1. Luis Perez
    • I’ve always liked Perez, and sometimes that’s been a little irrational: he tends to be inconsistent;
    • he has 45 SO and 18 BB in his last 47 IP, covering 2012-2013: the BB rate is high(er) but the 2.5:1 ratio is nice;
    • I like his fastball, he seems to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, and a surplus of LHP is like having too much ice cream: it’s a nice problem to have;

On the Bubble

  1. Juan Perez
    • I honestly thought they should have dealt Juan at the deadline: he’s 34 years old and was having a career year, but alas…;
    • His injury status clouds his future as a part of the Jays’ organization;
    • If he’s healthy, I’d like to see them sign him to a Minor League deal, send him for rehab, then let him excel at Buffalo;
  1. Chad Jenkins
    • he’s a young guy who pitched well regardless of the role they gave him;
    • the problem is that his stuff doesn’t really “play” over the long haul: his BB/9 was super-low (0.98) in his brief stint (7 APP; 18.1 IP), thereby obscuring his very low K/9 rate (4.42);
    • Frankly, I think this guy would be solid in a big park with long grass or lots of foul territory, like O.co or Safeco;
    • otherwise, I’d like to see him in Buffalo for depth;
  1. Neal Wagner
    • I like Wagner: he put it all together in his age-29 season, was rewarded with a call-up, and pitched effectively;
    • he has a good, live fastball and dominated AAA;
    • if he’s willing, sign him to another minor league deal and have him start the year in AAA;
  1. Jeremy Jeffress
    • my oldest daughter has epilepsy so I have a soft spot for Jeffress;
    • the news that it was diagnosed this season and is being treated effectively with a medication regimen is very good: this may be the first time in his career that he has a realistic chance to reach, or even surpass, his potential and I think we got a glimpse of that after his call-up;
    • this means that I’d like to see him signed to a minor league deal, and send him to AAA to get established;

Goner(s)

  1. Brad Lincoln
    • I don’t care if he goes to Buffalo or is run over by a herd of buffalo: if I see him pitching in Toronto again, I may throw something through my screen. Seriously though, my arm’s not strong enough to do anything like that, but I think the disdain-fueled adrenaline rush gives me the extra MPH to get the job done. Think ‘Edsel’.

Okay, this is longer than I thought but you had nothing better to do anyways, right? Since we’re so many words into it (I confess to using some more than once), we might as well finish it. Here’s what I see from my admittedly-flawed perspective, based on a 13-man pitching staff:

Starters

Bullpen

Potential Swingmen

On the Bubble

1. ???

1. C Janssen, CL

JA Happ, LHP

J Perez, LHP

2. RA Dickey

2. S Delabar

T Redmond

C Jenkins

3. ???

3. S Santos

E Rogers

N Wagner

4. M Buehrle, LHP

4. B Cecil, LHP

C Jenkins

J Jeffress

5. J Johnson

5. A Loup, LHP

D McGowan

B Morrow (inj.)

6. L Perez, LHP

B Cecil, LHP

JA Happ

7. D McGowan

K Drabek

E Rogers

8.

T Redmond

D Hutchison

K Drabek

Obviously there’s room for pitchers to be moved around in this scheme and we haven’t given contractual status much consideration, but this is merely a skeletal framework based on the past. Equally as obvious is that some pitchers potentially fill more than one role. In that case, as you’ve probably noticed, I put them into all the categories into which I believe they fit. Other than AA’s stated desire to acquire at least a mid-rotation starter I have very little idea what the Jays plan to do, so I can comment meaningfully but I lack conviction.

Hopefully this serves as a decent guide or reference point for you as we look forward to the 2013-2014 offseason. The Jays have work to do, yes, but as you can see, there are a lot of pieces (20) with which to work and many of these pieces are high(er) quality. How many other teams have 5 quality LHP from which to choose? At the very least, their ML-calibre depth is encouraging: even the guys ‘on the bubble’ are pretty good options.

Wes Kepstro

It is with gratitude that I acknowledge that files from http://www.fangraphs.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com, http://www.mlbtraderumors.com and http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/al-east/toronto-blue-jays/ were used in the creation of this and the previous piece about the Toronto Blue jays’ pitching staff.

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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