Blue Jays Rotation: Standing Still On The Speedway

Title: Blue Jays Rotation: Standing Still On The Speedway
Date: February 20, 2014
Original Source: Rotographs
Synopsis: As part of Rotographs’ season in review/2014 preview series, this article looked at the Blue Jays’ rotation, which they surprisingly opted not to solidify.

The answer was probably not “stand pat.”

The Toronto Blue Jays had an incredibly disappointing 2013 season, coming in well below expectations. While part of it was statistical anomaly – not often will so many players have sub-par seasons simultaneously – it turns out that parts of the team had been overrated entering the season. Hindsight, and all that.

So when the Jays rotation ended up 26th in total value based on Wins Above Replacement, 29th in ERA, 28th in FIP and 28th in innings pitched, many expected the Jays to fortify the sizeable investment they made the prior offseason.

But one of the longest MLB Trade Rumors tags has borne little fruit. Josh Johnson is out and replacing him is…still to be determined. Any improvement from the staff will have to come from in-house, a scary proposition considering that the team’s would-be-appreciable depth is really just a large competition at the back end masquerading as a plethora of options. After the top two names, it’s a whole lot of question marks, leaving the excellent Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans to throw his hands up at the entire mess:

That sort of moment, should we run headlong into it in the next week, will fade into memory like they all do, I know. Surely the club will weather it like they always do. But for (expletive) sakes, here we are again, like November 2012 never happened. And how many of these moments — even just these potential moments — must we endure? It’s not a whole lot of fun leaving so much emotional investment to the mercy and whims of humourless corporate (expletive)heels, even when there’s still a chance they might do right by it.

The “Aces”
R.A. Dickey
Mark Buehrle

Dickey will be getting the opening-day nod this season and will be looking to build on a relatively successful second half of 2013. When the calendar flipped to August, Dickey found an additional two miles an hour on his knuckleball, resulting in a spike in strikeout rate and a drop in ERA and WHIP. This is hardly a new phenomenon for him, so the question becomes whether he can start the season off around the 77 MPH mark instead of the 75 MPH mark. The ballpark will never be friendly but there were signs late in the year that he can succeed there, so you wouldn’t be blamed for betting he can beat his projections (a 39-year-old knuckleballer isn’t exactly easy to predict). Buehrle has far less fantasy upside due to his sub-pedestrian strikeout rates, but for a Jays fan, he’s a savior. As Getting Blanked’s Drew Fairservice is fond of saying (and I’m paraphrasing), just give me 200 innings of mediocrity. That’s not ideal for a fantasy team, but it’s something Buehrle has provided his actual employer for 13 straight seasons, the most of any active pitcher by far. He’s simply an innings eater, and unless your format requires such an arm, he’s a replacement player.

The Wildcard
Brandon Morrow
If you have a handle on what to expect from Morrow in 2014, congratulations, because you’re the first. The oft-injured, oft-intriguing righty had his 2013 cut short because of a vaguely-defined and relatively-unknown injury known as radial nerve entrapment, an injury that also appeared to hurt his performance a great deal (he had a career-low 17.4 percent strikeout rate, career-high 5.63 ERA and 5.42 FIP). Morrow is captaining this year’s Muscle Watch All-Stars, having reportedly added 20 pounds, and the hope is that the added bulk can improve his durability and keep his velocity in the high-93 range. If all of that works together, the fastball-slider-splitter combo can be nasty. He’s a very intriguing play later in drafts (remember, his ADP was almost identical to Max Scherzer’s last season).

The Filler
J.A. Happ
Esmil Rogers
Todd Redmond

Happ is all but assured a rotation spot with a $5.2 million salary and a proven track record of at least being mediocre, something the other options here are only hopeful for. He’s flashed potential as a back-end fantasy arm in the past but hasn’t been able to sustain it since 2010. Rogers had a mini-breakout in 2013 thanks to an improved sinker, but he lost all of that progress as the season wore on. He’s out of options and would be a trade candidate if he doesn’t make the rotation, and he could have some value as an NL arm. Redmond is a tough guy to trust despite a strikeout an inning simply because 28-year-old rookies don’t tend to post their best professional seasons in the majors. He’s probably going to be a frequent passenger on the Buffalo-Toronto shuttle, at which point he could be an occasional streaming option.

Even Wilder Cards
Kyle Drabek
Drew Hutchison
Dustin McGowan

Drabek has now had a pair of Tommy John Surgeries and finds himself a 26-year-old former prospect fighting for a job. The upside has always been there but the control has never caught up. Of anyone outside of Morrow, Drabek’s talent makes him the most interesting of the bunch but he’s also probably the riskiest. Hutchison is working his way back from injury, too, and his brief 2012 stint left some optimistic about his future. The upside is pretty modest, however, and it’s unlikely he’s worth a pick even if he nabs the No. 5 job. McGowan is yet another injury story, a major positive this time as he pitched 25.2 innings in 2013, his most since 2008. He’ll reportedly be given a chance to earn a starting job, which is cool and all, but maybe it’s best for his body if he just stays in the pen at this point.

Future Plays
Marcus Stroman
Sean Nolin

Stroman is reportedly a long-shot to break camp with the team but make no mistake, when he joins the Jays he’ll be worth an add. If you can afford the bench spot, he’s not a bad stash play, anyway, given the names in front of him on the depth chart and the fact that he should be good for over 160 innings on the season. Nolin had a disastrous debut in 2013 but was generally effective in the minors. How he starts 2014 will determine where he stacks up with the Chad Jenkinses and Deck McGuires of the world.

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