The Blue Jays’ 2014 season is going to be defined by its starting pitching.
Last year’s rotation came off the rails worse than anyone could have imagined. Brandon Morrow got hurt (again), R.A. Dickey laboured through back trouble and got routinely blown up. And everyone else, save for Mark Buerhle, was just kinda useless.
If we want to look more at just how bad the starters were, here’s some unsettling stats:
– Jays starters managed a measly 899.1 innings pitched, putting them at 28th in the league, right behind the Astros.
– As a group, they managed about 6.9 WAR, good for 26th in the league. For reference, middle of the pack was around 12, and Detroit’s group (unsurprisingly) lead the league with 25.3.
It’s not exactly a lack of run support hurting the Blue Jays either. Their offence ranked ninth in the league in runs scored with 712, while the starting rotation was second worst in the league with a 4.81 ERA. That’s a fairly simplistic look at it, but if the Jays are going to have a better year, it stands to reason the pitching will have to pull it’s weight this time around.
So far there hasn’t been much noise from the free agent hot stove, so if the Jays don’t wind up with a Masahiro Tanaka, or a Matt Garza, or one of the other free agent class, then they’ll need to bank on the farm.
This isn’t ideal. Surely a team with deep pockets could make a run at some of the formidable free agents left on the market. But fans shouldn’t dismay too much at the other option, which is that an organizational prospect could come in and save the day.
Enter Marcus Stroman.
The diminutive righty represents one of the Jays’ best chances at having a young guy come in and make an impact. There are some other candidates, but Stroman looks most likely to have an impact in 2014.
So who is Stroman, and what can he bring?
Well, the Duke alumnus started the year finishing off a 50 game suspension for using a stimulant (he claims the positive test came from accidentally taking a supplement he shouldn’t have).
He throws a four-seam (sits around 95mph!), a cutter, a slider (86), and a change-up (85).
Most scouts seem to expect him to end up in the bullpen as a fastball-slider guy, but a lot of this is because people are worried about his height – or lack thereof – and how he’s unable to generate the same downward plane as taller starters.
There’s some merit to this, and generally speaking, shorter guys don’t pan out as starters.
But, the thing about it is he’s been posting most of his numbers as a starter, and looked pretty good doing it.
In 2013, with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Stroman went 9-5 over 20 starts with a 3.30 ERA.
He had some other pretty sexy looking peripheral numbers to go with that too. During that same stretch in double-A he had a K% of 28.1% and a BB% of 5.9%. Granted this is double-A, but those are good looking numbers.
The good news is that all those numbers came as a starter. And as per Harry Pavlidis, maybe that’s the way the Jays see him:
teaching Stroman a cutter is a hint that the Jays see him as a starter
— Harry Pavlidis (@harrypav) November 8, 2013
The relief label is probably going to follow the guy for a while though… After all, he was basically lights-out in the Arizona Fall League this year, and those of course were all one or two inning appearances. With the Salt River Rafters in the AFL he posted a fantastic 10.03 K/9 including 5 strikeouts against 6 batters in his second last game. His FIP was also just 1.74.
He only really had one ugly day in the AFL (out of 9 appearances) where he went 1.2 innings and allowed 3 runs. So obviously the future looks pretty bright as a reliever as well. I have confidence in him as a starter though. If you scroll through the game log from his double-A starts, he is posting solid numbers day in and day out. The odd rough outing happens, but on the whole, his solid numbers speak volumes about his potential. Scout-types believe in him as a starter too:
Stroman is short but he’s athletic and strong, and I really like his delivery. He has all the characteristics of a frontline #2 starter.
— Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) December 3, 2013
I hope this all means the Jays will just let him do his thing as a starter until he can’t anymore. And if that’s the case, the bullpen will be right there for him.
This blog post may not win a Pulitzer, but in a roundabout way I think it kind of says:
The rotation was trash, so adding arms is important. If free agency is a bust, be confident with Stroman as an option… until of course he isn’t, and then becomes a weapon in the bullpen. See you in 2014, Marcus.
*And pray to whatever you believe in that his elbow/shoulder/arm is good and healthy, ‘cause if not then the Jays are up shit creek, sans paddle.