Last season, Ricky Romero was a shell of his 2011 self. After his breakout 2011 season it seemed that despite his equivocal numbers in the minors, Romero, the number six overall pick in the 2005 draft (ahead of Troy Tulowitzki who propelled the Rockies to the 2007 World Series while Romero stagnated in Double-A with shoulder issues), had finally proven his worth.
Any time a starter can throw over 220 innings and record a sub-3.00 ERA in the American League East, he is worth keeping around. And that is exactly what the Jays front office did in the dog days of his 2011 breakout season: locked him in. In the middle of an August month in which Romero was 5-0 with a torrid 2.05 ERA and .91 WHIP, the Jays signed him to a five-year, $30-million deal with a lucrative club option. Who wouldn’t? It appeared that Romero would be the Jays’ ace for the next half-decade.
The first installment in Romero’s multi-year deal – 2012 – was, well, utterly terrible. I don’t want to belabor what has already received considerable analysis in various post-mortem and state-of-the-franchise pieces, so I will just give you the raw, hard numbers. Take a look at Romero’s 2012 season. For perspective, I included his 2011 numbers, too.
The Star said it best in in its early October season recap: “[Romero’s] ace status isn’t gone; [but] it is in question.” While Brandon Morrow will enter spring training as the Jays’ presumptive ace, 2011 did not erase what Romero was able to achieve in 2012. One thing’s for sure, though. In the minds of Jays fans, it certainly did cast doubt on Romero’s ability to replicate that performance in 2013 and beyond.
What should we make of Romero’s 2011 performance? Was it an anomalous showing from a top prospect that didn’t exactly pan out? A flash in the pan, if you will? Only posterity will know for sure, but Jays fans hope that it’s the 2012 version of Romero which will be remembered as the outlier.
This entry, which is certainly a digression from the central focus of this blog (although, after watching Romero last season, it’s not farfetched to imagine him with Buffalo in 2013 if he continues where he left off), will explore two questions.
First, I will look for the trends and habits that buried Romero in 2012. One diagnosis I will not accept for Romero’s implosion is the temperamental excuse: i.e. “Romero just needs to straighten his head out.” While baseball is a psychological sport and some soul-searching might benefit Romero, I am looking for data, not platitudes. Second, I will compare Romero’s pitch data from the last two seasons to see if there was a substantial loss in velocity or movement in 2012.
Between these two question, I will attempt to parse some sort of explanation for Romero’s lackluster performance last season.
I know baseball is not a sport which lends itself to simple but-for causation – in fact, my conclusion is decidedly inconclusive – but I will try to identify the main culprits. “It’s the process, not the end result,” I was told when a track season replete with 100-mile training weeks ended in a bust. I think some sort of rationale for Romero’s disappointment might provide some closure for the trainwreck that was 2012.
Looking at Romero’s 2012 numbers, the most glaring statistic is his walk rate. While Romero walked 3.2/9 in 2012, that figure rose to 5.2/9 last season. The principle of regression to the mean does not account for this dramatic increase in free passes. In 2010 Romero walked 3.5 per 9 innings; in 2009 4.0/9 innings.
To what do you attribute this dramatic uptick in walk percentage? This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s not reducible to Romero’s inability to find the strike zone. Romero actually threw pitches in the strike zone at a higher rate in 2012 (42.7%) than he did in 2011 (42.4%). What really troubled Romero, however, was his ability to get ahead in the count and throw strikes at the right time. This is evidenced by Romero’s career low first-strike rate. While Romero had first-strike rates of 58.1% and 57.9% in 2010 and 2011, respectively, in 2012 Romero sported a first-strike rate of 53.3%. The league average is 59.9%. Woof.
When the count sits in the hitter’s favor, Romero is forced to throw hittable pitches within the zone – lest increase an already unacceptable walk-rate. Romero’s career-high zone-contact percentage of 90.9% in 2012 – almost three percent greater than the league average – is consistent with this.
In 2011, when behind in the count, Romero threw his fourseamer only 64% of the time against lefties and 53% against righties. This relatively sparing use of his fastball allowed him to mix up his pitches, keeping batters off balance. In 2012, however, instead of mixing in his secondary pitches, when the batter was ahead Romero relied on his fourseamer a whopping 81% of the time against lefties and 68% against righties.
Let’s face it: Romero’s pitch selection was predictable when behind in the count, and he was behind in the count often. Couple that predictability with a slight downtick in the velocity of Romero’s fourseamer (92.72mph in 2011 v. 91.92mph 2012) and – as we’ll explore later, decreased life – and the more disciplined, pitch-selective batters were seeing volleyballs from Romero.
Hence, the second-most dramatic difference in Romero’s statistics between 2011 and 2012: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). BABIP measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits, or how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits, excluding homeruns. Romero’s 2011 BABIP (.242) was an impressive .49 lower than the league average (.291). In 2012, however, Romero’s .311 BABIP Romero was .18 over the league average. Generally speaking, BABIP is not a highly-regarded metric. It is thought to be a function of defense and luck, rather than replicable skill. On a long enough timeline, it is asserted that every pitcher’s BABIP should be more or less equal.
But such a marked variance between Romero’s 2011 and 2012 BABIPs, coupled with the dramatic increase in Romero’s line-drive percentage (14.2% in 2011 to 20.1% in 2012), is telling. It demonstrates that when hitters were putting the ball in play off Romero, they were doing so emphatically. By pitching into hitter-advantageous counts, Romero found himself in batters’ clutches. Consistent with our earlier assessment that Romero was over-utilizing his fourseamer in hitter’s counts, Romero’s BABIP for his fastball is most egregious. While in 2011 Romero’s fastball BABIP was .290, in 2012 it stood at .368. With one ball on the count, that figure rose to an incredible .384.
Romero’s difficulty in getting ahead in the count fundamentally altered his pitch usage in 2012. Rather than drawing from his four-pitch arsenal, Romero seemed to aim his most reliable pitch into the zone. This defensive-minded “must-throw-strikes” approach might explain why Romero rationed his sinker so much last season.
In 2011 Romero threw his sinker 22% of the time, often as a put-away pitch toward the back-end of the at bat. The sinker worked well for Romero in that breakthrough season. Netting a groundball in 67% of balls in play, Romero accrued a .185 BABIP when throwing the hard, biting 92mph pitch. In 2012, however, the pitch was used infrequently, accounting for just 11% of pitches thrown – his eminently hittable fourseamer compensating for the difference (up from 48% of pitches in 2011 to 57% in 2012). Romero’s groundball rate remained relatively stable in 2012 despite the decrease in sinkers (54.7% in 2011 to 53.5% in 2012), but those groundballs obviously went for hits more often. While, among the rest of Romero’s career, his high sinker usage in 2012 is certainly an outlier, give his demonstrated success with the pitch late in the count, perhaps it would behoove him to throw it more often 2013.
I am not about to reduce Romero’s 2012 struggles entirely to his inability to throw first-pitch strikes, but I think it was a culprit. The first pitch establishes the tenor of the at bat. In a lot of ways, it dictates whether the pitcher is the hunter or hunted. Romero has quality stuff, but he doesn’t boast an overpowering, dominant pitch that can he can rely on to miss bats down in the count. Instead, as he did well in 2011, it is imperative that Romero keep hitters off-balance and in a defensive mindset so that harmless contact can be induced. This is not achieved by consistently falling behind in counts. It is common knowledge that pitchers enjoy better results when they get ahead in the count. Romero is no exception.
To what do you attribute Romero’s early-count control issues? Is it a mechanical or psychological problem? It does not seem to be the former. A recent article at Baseball Prospectus compared Romero’s 2011 and 2012 deliveries and concluded that, in a lot of ways, last season’s mechanics were actually superior to the “exaggerated drop-and-dive” and “severe spine tilt” that characterized his delivery during his breakthrough 2011 campaign. The article concluded that because Romero’s 2012 delivery provided him with a stronger foundation for pitch repetition, it should have left him with better control and consistency. Not the case. Theory and practice do not always jibe.
So it must be psychological then, right? This would be my cue to embark on a pseudo-psychological diatribe about Romero’s lack of focus and his need to temper a volatile temperament, but I won’t. Maybe, after his exemplary 2011 showing and the addition of a second wild-card berth, the ace expectations were too much for Romero to shoulder in 2012. Perhaps Romero was simply in a funk. I have neither the data nor desire to psychoanalyze the man. Suffice it to say that if Romero wants to remain in the starting rotation in 2013, let alone lead it, he will need to throw more first pitch strikes.
But there’s more to the story. A tendency to fall into hitter-advantageous counts could lead to a parade of horribles for a pitcher, but does it explain career low swing and miss (8.3%) and K/9 (6.2/9) rates? In part, yes, it could. With regard to the strikeout rate, obviously it takes more work to earn the K from a count that stands at 1-0 than an 0-1 count. However, there does not seem to be an apparent causal link between low first-strike and swing-and-miss rates. The metric yearns for some other explanation: depreciation in Romero’s stuff.
Did Romero simply throw more effective pitches in 2011? Let’s take a gander
As the charts show, in terms of velocity, the differences are negligible. We see slight decreases in Romero’s fourseamer (-.80mph), and sinker (-.91mph), and a more substantial decrease in his changeup (-2.15mph). His curveball remained virtually the same speed (77.79mph to 77.67mph). So it does not appear that Romero suffered from an arm strength issue in 2012 of the sort that the Yankees’ Phil Hughes or Reds’ Arlodis Chapman endured in early 2011.
Regarding movement, while horizontal movement remained steady, Romero’s fourseamer lost about an inch in vertical movement last season. This might seem like a de minimis loss of “life” on a pitch over a distance of 52-55 feet, but it’s not. An inch of late movement could mean the difference between the batter hitting the pitch directly on the screws, or fouling it to the backstop. This flatness on Romero’s 2012 fastball could help to explain why hitters teed off on the pitch with such regularity (See .368 BABIP).
But, for the most part, there was not an egregious loss of vertical or horizontal movement in Romero’s pitches in 2012. The graphics below present a nice visual on the similarity in movement of Romero’s pitches in 2011 and 2012, replete with RHH and LHH splits.
If Romero’s 2012 ills had to reside in his stuff, the main suspect would have to be his changeup. Romero’s swing-and-miss and whiff/swing rates decreased markedly for his changeup in 2012. While in 2011 Romero possessed a whiff rate of 23.61% and a whiff/swing rate of 44.74%, in 2012 he recorded rates of 16.57% and 35.32%, respectively.
A good changeup is largely a function of its release point and the pitch’s velocity relative to the pitcher’s fastball. It is a pitch of deception. The longer it looks like a fastball to the hitter, the better. The substantial velocity decrease in the changeup (-2.15mph) should not be viewed in isolation as a cause for the pitch’s loss of effectiveness. It should instead be viewed in relation to Romero’s fastball, which lost about one mile per hour in velocity in 2012.
Typical FB-CU discrepancies in the MLB ranges from 4mph to 15mph, with a mean of around 8mph. Romero’s discrepancy, which was 7.02mph in 2011, actually increased in 2012 to 8.37mph. Thus the discrepancies for both years hovered right around the league average, making it impossible to impute hitters’ success off Romero’s changeup on this basis.
The release point of the pitch, however, is another story. Romero’s changeup was so effective in 2011 due in part to its release point, which virtually mirrored that of his fastball. The tight cluster of delivery points in the graphic below shows that in 2011 batters could not easily discern pitches based on their point of release from Romero’s hand. Instead they were required to gauge the spin and trajectory of the ball to determine the type of pitch. A consequence to this uniformity of release point meant that batters had less time to react to the pitch and decide whether to swing.
In 2012, however, the uniformity in Romero’s release point became disparate. As shown by the graphic below, Romero routinely delivered his different pitches from discrete release points. This allowed hitters to detect the pitch type upon release from Romero’s hand, giving them increased time to weigh the merits and demerits of swinging.
So, I have identified three main issues that hamstrung Romero in 2012. From these issues flow a variety of other problems that caused 2012 to be such a disappointment for the young lefty. First, he needs to throw more first-pitch strikes which, in turn, should remediate what was a career-worst BB/9 rate in 2012 and result in a lower BABIP. By getting ahead in the count, Romero would also be more apt to use his secondary pitches late in the count – namely his hard sinker – and avoid simply laying fastballs in the zone. Second, while his delivery mechanics appear sound, it is crucial that Romero work with pitching coach Bruce Walton to adjust the release point on his secondary pitches. The greater the uniformity and consistency in his release, the greater his deception, and ultimately, success. Third, Romero’s fastball lost some life in 2012 and could use some “giddy-up” to miss more bats. Hopefully he will toe the mound rejuvenated and ready to do work next spring. The Jays will need him to look like his 2011 iteration if they want to avoid a 20 year postseason drought.
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I am currently covering the Blue Jays’ delegates in the Arizona Fall League, as well as representatives in the Dominican and Mexican leagues.
The Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) commenced this week and the Salt River Rafters – composed of the Jays’ seven delegates and other top prospects from the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rockies, and White Sox – are off to an auspicious 2-0 start. That’s right. If watching the postseason has simply been a reminder of what the highly-lauded 2012 Jays were not, you can follow the organization’s lifeblood as they strut their stuff in spring training facilities along the Sunbelt.
Since I want to begin posting these entries with some regularity and – in accordance with Commissioner Selig’s no-news-during-playoffs edict – there have been minimal Blue Jays/Bisons developments, I figured I could profile one of the Blue Jays’ AFL delegates each day. I can’t guarantee I will post daily, but I am hoping to post an entry at least every other day.
I think there are two main audiences for this blog. First, there are Jays fans looking for the down-low on when their much-anticipated prospects could don the red, white and blue and contribute in the AL East. Second, there are Bisons fans that are more attuned to the here and now; i.e. whether the Las Vegas transplants can compete for an International League Championship.
I’m not saying that both of these demographics are mutually exclusive; there will obviously be some readers who don’t fit neatly within either category. You can obviously root for the Bisons’ immediate success while at the same time valuing the long-term development of the players. But by-and-large, readers of this blog are looking for gratification at varying times: some immediate, others delayed.
As such, I will cater these profiles to both audiences. Not only will I inquire into what each player has to offer today, but I will try to gauge their overall trajectory: when can we expect this player to be big-league ready, if at all? For each player, I will explore three questions.
Where have they been? This encompasses pedigree/draft information, as well as prior accomplishments.
What do they have? This includes skill-sets and tendencies, as well as current level of performance.
Where are they going? This is a nice way of asking if they will ever enjoy success in the majors.
This first entry will focus on RHP Sam Dyson who, regrettably, had a pretty rough first outing for the River Rafters. Yesterday Sam pitched 2 innings in relief, collecting two strikeouts, but surrendering 2 earned runs; the fatal blow coming off a 420 foot bomb to dead center by Astros 1B prospect Jonathan Singleton. We can hope for a better performance from Sam in the weeks to come.
Where has Sam Dyson been?
Dyson, a former South Carolina Gamecock, was drafted in the 4th Round by the Jays in 2010. The euphoria of winning a College World Series title probably subsided quickly for Sam in 2011, when he had to sit out the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. While he saw 2/3 of an inning of big-league action this season – surrendering three runs – Sam spent the majority of the season with Class A+ Dundein, where he posted decent numbers (2-0, 4.08, 1.40), and Double-A New Hampshire where he excelled (2-2, 2.38, 1.17). In fact, during his first 15 games working out of the New Hampshire bullpen, Sam compiled a stellar 0.75 ERA, the likely stimulus for his brief promotion to the majors.
What does Sam Dyson have?
This might come as a surprise given his dominance out of the pen for New Hampshire last season – the marking of an overpowering strikeout pitcher – but Sam is not a strikeout guy. At least not anymore. Instead, he’s a pure sinkerballer whose bread-and-butter is inducing groundball outs.
At South Carolina, Sam had a different approach to the game. He was the number two starter and sported a diverse repertoire, including a four-seam fastball that hovered around 94-95mph. Gone are those days. Dyson can still rear back and throw a low-90s fastball – usually in the 91-92mph range – but it is the sharp dive on his sinker that has allowed him to transcend within the organization in one season’s time.
During his minor league stint last season, Sam converted 350% more ground outs than flyouts. Keeping the ball on the ground is a redeeming attribute for any pitcher, but unfortunately Sam doesn’t miss many bats. Sam averaged only 5 K/9 with Dundein, 4.37 K/9 with New Hampshire and an overall strikeout rate of around 12%. That means, seven out of every eight batters will put the ball in play; not the sort of guy you want relieving with runners on base.
Nevertheless, Sam’s success last year speaks for itself. What he lacks in the inability to miss bats, he compensates in his ability to coax harmless groundballs in big spots. From a full-breadth starter to a dominant reliever, Sam has adapted to his circumstances and carved out a niche-role within the organization. There remains a glimmer of possibility that Sam regains the arm-strength he lost from the Tommy John procedure but, assuming he doesn’t, the complexion of his game has fundamentally changed. While his move from the rotation to the bullpen might have originated as a rehabilitative expedient – monitoring his innings and re-strengthening his arm – Sam will probably remain in the bullpen.
He probably won’t be getting the call in high-leverage situations with runners on base, but he throws strikes (1.57 BB/9 with Dundein, 2.98 BB/9 with New Hampshire) and can rack up scoreless relief innings.
Sam has a minimalist delivery, which ostensibly places a lot of stress on his arm.
Sam’s selection for the AFL might seem a bit peculiar. He is not a top prospect. His health is also a concern. If the basis for his move to the bullpen was to ration his innings, why convert his comeback season into a protracted 8 month relief marathon? He is fresh off of Tommy John surgery.
So, what gives? I think the Jays are taking a calculated risk with Sam. Recognizing his susceptibility for injury, scouts nonetheless need a larger sample size of performance to determine whether Sam can contribute to the Jays in 2013. The AFL will serve as a litmus test for Sam Dyson’s 2013 assignment. After just one successful season in the farm system, Dyson touts a resume that indicates major league potential. How he fares against beefed up AFL lineups will indicate whether that potential can be realized in 2013.
Where is Sam Dyson going?
If Sam Dyson stays healthy, he could become a fixture in the Blue Jays bullpen. His major league debut – consisting of two dismal outings last year – left much to be desired, but given the Jays solid infield defense (See Edwin Encarnacion .994 fld%; Kelly Johnson .983 fld%; Yunel Escobar 982 fld%), his propensity to generate groundball outs could be a major boon to a staff that surrendered an MLB-leading 204 homeruns this season.
Of course his performance in the AFL will play a substantial role in his initial assignment, but I project Sam beginning the season at AA-NH and concluding it with the Jays.
A prevailing sentiment among the Blue Jay’s fanbase – as well as the organization’s front office – is a strong need for starting pitching. In a team press release, Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos addressed the issue head-on. “The focus [this offseason] is really on the rotation” stated Anthopoulos. “It doesn’t mean we’re not going to look to get better, offensively or in the bullpen, but you see teams that have pitched but didn’t score as many runs and [remained ] in contention.” A cursory examination of the expanded standings confirms Anthopoulos’ observation. Where the Jays were a respectable sixth in the AL in runs scored with 716, they surrendered 784, fourth-highest in the league. If the Jays want to realize their postseason aspirations in 2012 – a feat likely requiring over 90 wins – the starting rotation certainly needs to be shored up.
What does this all mean for the Jays’ new Triple-A affiliate? Who will throw the first pitch of the Bisons’ season? It is over four months until spring training, so any speculation is, well, speculation; but let’s engage in a little conjecture on this brisk October morning. Obviously, because Bisons personnel are always at the disposal of their parent organization, the logical starting point is the Jays’ rotation.
Realistically, there are only two slots that are secured in the Jays rotation for 2013: Brandon Morrow (10-7, 2.96 ERA, 108 SO in 2012) and Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.77 ERA, 124 SO in 2012). Despite being restricted to only 124.2 innings pitched due to an oblique injury, Morrow was the lifeblood of the Jays rotation in 2012. When he went down in mid-June, the Jays were in the thick of the Wild Card chase, only 2.5 games back. During his absence, the Jays foundered, accumulating a dismal 25-39 record, and dropping to over 13 games behind the second wild card berth. His return to the rotation brought stability and reliability every five days, and in the final stretch following his August 25th return, the Jays managed a very decent 17-19 clip. Morrow is the Jays’ ace and mainstay. A sub 3.00 ERA in the AL East is superlative. Barring an injury or significant free agent acquisition, he will get the nod on opening day against the Indians at Rogers Centre.
Romero took a giant step back in 2012 – his Earned Run Average of 5.77 nearly doubling from 2011, when he averaged 2.92. Nevertheless, despite a retrograde year, Romero is a promising young pitcher within the organization and his prior successes likely solidifies his place in the rotation.
Two slots confirmed. Slot three is where the uncertainty begins. No date has been set for the return of Drew Hutchison (4-3, 4.60 ERA), who sustained a season-ending injury in mid-June. Same story for Kyle Drabek (4-7, 4.67 ERA, 47 SO), who underwent his second Tommy John procedure last season. Both young hurlers showed glimpses of promise during their truncated 2012 campaigns, and would probably figure in as four-five starters. Each will begin their 2013 seasons with the Bisons – Drabek a bit before the All-Star Break, Hutchison a bit after.
Despite an overall disappointing year, Henderson Alvarez (9-14, 4.85 ERA, 1.44 WHIP) is the apparent number three starter at this point. Jays fans will hope for a comeback year from Alvarez who, by most accounts, has solid stuff. Averaging just 3.8 K/9, however, the main issue is that he allows too many balls in play. While his groundball rate of 57.0 % improved last year – a good sign for anyone pitching-to-contact – when batters did lift the ball on Alvarez, it was frequently bad news. Almost twenty-percent (18.2 %) of fly balls left the yard. More aggressive use of his fastball/changeup tandem could help that situation.
Carlos Villanueva, Aaron Laffey, and J.A. Happ round out the remainder of the Jays’ 2012 starters. Villaneueva (7-7, 4.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) is free-agent eligible, and expected to test the waters. The Royals have reportedly scouted him and expressed interest in him. For our purposes, we will assume he walks. Houston export, Happ (10-11, 4.70, 1.40 WHIP) is arbitration eligible in 2013, and is expected to return. Laffey (4-6, 4.56 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) is arbitration eligible, too. He played a valuable role in 2012 eating some innings for an invalid Jays staff, but if the Jays want to push 90 wins in 2013, it is unlikely he will remain in the starting rotation.
While that rounds out the viable in-house options for 2013, it is not a full survey of possible arms. In terms of free agent signings, the Jays have been relatively quiet in recent years. However, the underwhelming 73-89 record the Jays accrued in 2012 could serve as an impetus for change. The time to hesitate is through. The high expectations for 2012 resulted in a sour outcome for the Blue Jays’ fanbase. If the Jays want to avoid alienating its fanbase, they will need to assemble a team that can compete in the AL East in 2013.
Not only is the Jays’ payroll expected to climb from the $75.5m spent in 2012 – affording Anthopoulous the funds to seriously contend for top free-agents – but the front office may be willing to exchange some of its top prospects for a frontline starter. While the Jays were willing to part with top prospects last winter, Anthopoulous wasn’t able to seal the big deal. He indicated last week that he believes he wasn’t able to induce a big transaction because other clubs weren’t willing to part with their stud for low-minor prospects who had not demonstrated they could contribute at “the show.” Since those top prospects have now matured within the organization – seeing success at the AA level – their ability to contribute in the majors is no longer an if, but a when. According to a Jays press release, Anthopoulous now believes those top prospects could induce an exchange for a veritable ace. Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard – who all exceled at low-A Lansing – have all been identified as potential trade-bait.
Free agent starting pitchers that come to mind this winter include Zach Greinke, Edwin Jackson, Shaun Marcum, Brandon McCarthy, Ryan Dempster, RA Dickey, Kyle Lohse, Hiroki Kuroda, Dan Haren (Angels have club option for 2013 which will likely be exercised), and Anibal Sanchez. They are all expensive options – with Greinke likely commanding a long-term contract, averaging over 20m per year – but if the Jays want to compete in the short-term, they will need to pay upfront. As far as potential trade candidates, the Marlins, Phillies and Dodgers are all teams loaded with talented starters and high-payrolls that might be looking to unload. The Phillies might be looking to unload Halladay, and a return to Rogers Centre could revitalize the two-time Cy Young winner. Hopefully 2012 was an aberration for Halladay and not the beginning of a rapid decline. Also, the Miami Marlins experiment is over and Josh Johnson or Ricky Nolasco might be on the block. Nolasco would be a gamble in the offensive-laden AL East, but a healthy Johnson could thrive in Toronto. Given Anthopoulous’ stated focus on the rotation and the increase in payroll, I will assume that the Jays acquire a frontline starter of the Marcum-caliber this offseason.
That leaves us with a tentative starting rotation of
1. Brandon Morrow
2. Expected trade or free agency acquisition
3. Ricky Romero
4. Henderson Alvarez
5. JA Happ
What does this mean for our Buffalo Bisons? It means that Hutchison and Drabek, both of whom were fixtures in the Jays rotation in 2012, will either displace Alvarez and/or Happ, or remain with the Bisons deep into the summer. After he is rehabilitated, I project Hutchison earning a spot in the rotation, with Happ being relegated to long-man duty. While the raw stats from Hutchison’s modest 58.1 IP in the majors aren’t particularly compelling, he made huge strides in his final six starts before the injury, touting a 3.49 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Once recovered, the young 23 year old right-hander could become a staple in the Jays’ rotation.
As for Drabek, I’m not so sure. With Villaneuva pitching effectively in his wake, Drabek’s prolonged absence from the rotation in 2012 might have actually worked to the Jays’ advantage. Drabek doesn’t factor to be an appreciable improvement from an Alvarez or Happ, so don’t be surprised to see him linger in Buffalo until possibly the September call-up.
I hope this early discussion does not seem like a digression. I know the purpose of this entry was to examine the Bisons’ starting rotation. It is important to remember, however, that the personnel on the field at Coca-Cola field will always be a function of the needs and wants of the Jays. It goes without saying that the Bisons will be on the field in 2013 to compete for an International League championship. The team’s other purpose, however, is to provide a springboard for players into Toronto. Because of this, it is always important to be mindful of the Jays’ status and future plans.
Now I will cut to the chase. Come April, your Bisons starting rotation could look like this:
1. Aaron Laffey (4-6, 4.56 ERA, 1.36 WHIP w/ TOR) (3-5, 4.52 ERA, 1.52 w/ AAA-LV)
2. Sean O’Sullivan (14-7, 4.34 ERA, 1.39 WHIP w/ AAA-LV, AAA-OMAHA).
3. Shawn Hill (9-2, 4.52 ERA, 1.53 WHIP w/ AAA- LV).
4. Bill Murphy (8-5, 4.38 ERA, 1.55 WHIP w/ AAA-LV).
5. Chad Jenkins (1-3, 4.50 ERA, 1.34 WHIP w/ TOR) (5-9, 4.96 ERA, 1.54 WHIP w/ AA-NH)
Laffey, 27, was the number one starter for Triple-A Las Vegas before elbows started popping in Toronto. He will probably reassume that role in the spring. Laffey seemed to take some flak from fans this season, but he really played an invaluable role for the organization amidst crisis. Laffey was able to eat up a lot of innings (100.2) and keep the Jays in some close ballgames. Be it at a major or minor league level, he still has a lot to contribute to this organization.
O’Sullivan, 25, was traded from the Royals last June for cash considerations. While his numbers with the Royals’ Triple-A affiliate left much to be desired (5-4, 6.92 ERA, 1.86 WHIP), his numbers with Triple-A Las Vegas were nothing short of exemplary. In 89.1 innings with the Area 51s, O’Sullivan posted a 9-3 record, replete with a 2.82 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. While Cashman Field’s capacious center field – measured at 433 feet – might have bolstered these stats, O’Sullivan has certainly earned a spot in the rotation.
Hill, 31, joined Triple-A Las Vegas in mid-June after dominating in the independent Atlantic League. After compiling a scoreless innings streak of 27.2 innings, the Jays purchased Hill’s contract from the York Revolution. Hill is perseverance embodied. He suffered from serious circulation issues which ultimately required him to undergo two Tommy John surgeries and a stem cell procedure. After posting a quality 9-2 record with Las Vegas, he was called up to Toronto for the final week of the season for a bullpen stint. In his only appearance he shut down the Yankees, pitching three scoreless innings in relief and earning the win. It should be fun to see Hill in action this season.
Murphy, 31, rejoined the Blue Jays organization last season after a two year stint with the Lotte Giants of Japan. With Lotte Murphy went 14-11 with a 3.81 ERA and 158 Ks in 196 innings. He was a third-round draft pick for the A’s in their seminal “moneyball” draft of 2002 and has been traded at various points of his career for the likes of Mark Redman and Steve Finley. Obviously Murphy has distinguished himself to scouts through the years. Murphy throws an 89-90mph fastball, an 80mph slider, an 84mph changeup, and a cutter that hovers around 80mph. Last year, his fastball and changeup accounted for over 80% of pitches thrown.
With Andrew Carpenter (6-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) now with the Mets organization and Scott Richmond (11-7, 5.61 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) electing free agency, the Bisons’ fifth starter will probably be promoted from Double-A New Hampshire. There are three main candidates: Yohan Pino (10-8, 3.56 ERA, 1.13 WHIP @ AA-NH), Chad Jenkins (5-9, 4.96 ERA, 1.54 WHIP), and Deck McGuire (5-15, 5.88 ERA, 1.55 WHIP w/ AAA-NH).
Obviously, at the Double-A level, Pino’s numbers shine. Throwing 134 innings of sound baseball, Pino was undoubtedly the ace of the Fisher Cats last season. While he was essentially lit up when he was elevated to Las Vegas on two occasions (0-2, 22.18 ERA), his 9.1 inning sample size at that level is unrepresentative. After dominating at the Double-A level, Pino should probably get an honest shot as the fifth starter in the Bisons rotation. Given his meltdowns at the Triple-A level, I am not sure he will get that opportunity in April 2013.
Twenty-three year old Deck McGuire definitely took a major step back last season. McGuire was an up-and-coming force in the organization when he started with Single-A Lansing in 2011. In his debut he went 7-4 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in over one-hundred innings pitched. While pitching soundly with New Hampshire after his 2011 elevation (2-1 4.35 ERA in 20.2 IP), last year was disappointing.
McGuire, drafted 11th in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft, is a top prospect. At 6’6” and 235, McGuire is strong yet tactful. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has described McGuire as “a finesse pitcher packed into a power body.” Scouts have projected him as an eventual number three or four starter at the major league level. While his numbers at Double-A New Hampshire last season (5-15, 5.88 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) were definitely forgettable, they are not representative of what McGuire brings to the table. He can be an impact player for the Jays by season’s end. Expect to see him in Bisons dubs at some point – probably by midseason – but not on the opening day roster.
First round draft pick Chad Jenkins had a stellar stint with the Jays in 2012. In 32 innings at the major league level, Jenkins posted a 1-3 record, 4.50 ERA and 1.34 WHIP line. I project Chad Jenkins as the fifth starter for the Bisons in 2013. Having shown the ability to compete and succeed at the major league level, in the event of an emergency call-up, the Jays front office would probably rather see him down the road in Buffalo than castaway in New Hampshire.
Thanks for hearing me out. A million things can happen in the next six months, so don’t hold me to anything.