WILL THE BLUE JAYS HAVE ENOUGH PITCHING?

Clearly, the Toronto Blue Jays can hit. Their hitters possess a cumulative .263/.333/.450 batting line for a 116 wRC+, the best mark in the major leagues by a comfortable margin. Jose BautistaEdwin Encarnacion and the rest of the crew have hit 76 home runs, which is seven more than the next closest team, the Colorado rockies” >Rockies. In the month of May the Jays have clubbed 44 home runs and produced a 129 wRC+. Consequently, the team has gone 20-7 in May, leaving them at 32-22, and first place in the American League East. Steamer gives them a 55 percent chance of winning the division and a 71 percent chance at making the playoffs. With two-thirds of the season left, the Jays are in the driver’s seat.

While the Blue Jays have baseball’s best offense, their pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired. As of now, their starters have posted a respectable 3.97 FIP and 4.3 fWAR, which puts them in 13th in the major leagues. However, most of this is based on a 7.7 percent HR/FB ratio, which should regress significantly. Their staff has a 111 xFIP-, the third worst mark in the major leagues.

Veteran Mark Buehrle boasts a 2.33 ERA despite strikeout and walk rates that are both worse than his career average. The left-hander is about as dependable as they come, but an 8.0 K-BB rate and a 6.1 percent swinging strike rate don’t make an elite pitcher, and going forward, his ERA will likely be in the high 3 or 4 range. A

After suffering through a dinger-prone 2013 season, R.A. Dickey has kept the ball in the park. But, his strikeout and walk rates are on the decline for the third year in a row. As a knuckleballer, Dickey gets more weak contact than most pitchers and he even makes the pitchers that follow him better. He’s more of an average pitcher than a top of the rotation guy.

Drew Hutchison has been solid after missing part of 2012 and most of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery. His last two outings haven’t been pretty, but overall he’s done a fine job. It’s unlikely he can make it out there 20 more times this year given his previous injury history and the fact that he’s never thrown more than 149.1 innings in a season, but he’s already matched his preseason Steamer projection.

Besides those three, who have been roughly average, the Blue Jays rotation is an amalgamation of injury-prone hurlers and washed-out arms. Dustin McGowan can light up the radar gun, but he hasn’t made 20 starts since 2007. After failing to post a single game xFIP below 4.32 in any of his eight starts, the Jays have moved him to the bullpen. He has strikeout and walk rates of 13.8 percent and 8.9 percent, respectively.

Brandon Morrow is intriguing when he’s healthy, which is to say once every blue moon. It’s hard to remember but he had the highest strikeout rate of any pitcher in baseball that had thrown at least 325 innings between 2010 and 2011. His six starts before hitting the DL this year showcased his usual plus fastball velocity and strikeout stuff but also a 13.8 percent walk rate.

J.A. Happ has transitioned back into the Jays rotation because there is nobody else. The left-hander has done his usual thing which is to combine mediocre stuff with subpar command. As his career FIP- and xFIP- indicate, he’s an emergency stopgap rather than a guy you want to rely on. Liam Hendriks has a 2.31 ERA in his two starts this year, but that comes with an xFIP of 4.96 and an FIP that is even higher. This is the same pitcher that has a 5.80 ERA in 30 career starts.

Looking within the system, Marcus Stroman got battered around in his five relief appearances, but has had his way with AAA hitters. It’s a safe bet that he will return to the big league club at some point, and next time it might be in a starting capacity. The other top pitching prospect in the Blue Jays system, Aaron Sanchez, has struggled mightily with his control, walking 16 percent of hitters. His walk rate of 12.8 percent across five minor league seasons is a clear indicator that he’s not ready for the Show yet. Kyle Drabek and Sean Nolin might be called up, but neither are very inspiring options.

Since Baseball Info Solutions began making batted ball data publicly available, the 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks rotation has the highest xFIP- of any playoff team at 107. No team has made the playoffs with a starting rotation that posted an xFIP- that ranked 26th or worse. The Jays could very well change that thanks to their powerful offense. However, expect them to be looking for rotation upgrades, which could come in the form of Chicago Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel. For a team that hasn’t tasted the postseason in 20 years, a slight overpay might be understandable.

Featured Image courtesy of www.ktgr.com

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